The Mother of Invention

Post Date: May 9th, 2010

“Throughout everything, my parents Stephen and Katherine Fairchild have been my biggest cheerleaders…”

— Acknowledgments, Teaching Julius Caesar: A Differentiated Approach

Growing up in California, I saw my mom prepare the earthquake kit. Underwear, graham crackers, five days’ worth of water: this plastic tub stowed in the most stable part of the house had it all. The ever-present kit never got tapped, even when the Loma Prieta quake struck in ’89 and houses in San Francisco buckled. But it didn’t matter. It was good knowing we always had it there.

That day in October, my mom felt the family home twist and turn on its axis, then come to rest. She stood in the doorway gripping the frame, wondering how those eternal seconds might end. Meanwhile, my dad dashed out of Candlestick from the World Series, beginning what would be a three-hour journey through the streets of the city. An hour away in the South Bay, I huddled with my classmates beneath a table on the second story of the Stanford quad.

Later that night I somehow broke through the snarled phone lines to tell them I was fine, crowded in a friend’s dorm with other homeless students, and to hear that they were fine, too.

Great parents are more than the granite foundation, because foundations can shift. Great parents are like the safety kit when foundations move.

Today when I pace across the floor, panicked my manuscript is a worthless endeavor, a voice of reassurance says, Everything’s okay. When I think, I lack the skill to get this thing done, there’s an internal nudge from a wise hand that knows better. When I question my writing obsession, afraid I’ve detoured down a narrow road too fast yet too late, I see that there’s still sunshine, still breath in me, and still tomorrow, whatever I choose.

This hope is my back-up and my safeguard. It comes from years of encouragement and belief my parents provided. It’s so fundamental that I never fully believe work I’ve done is worthless. What’s the point of thinking that? The point is, I tried. The point is, I struggle to be a good person and a good writer. And I know I do enough and that I am enough. My mother taught me that. She handed me this mental kit, this internal shelter to seek, and I can’t even name its price.

When you write acknowledgements for your book and give credit where credit is due, you are very blessed if you can mention your mother. If you can say, Thank you for teaching me the world is a safe place when you’re there…and that I belong in it.

I know many people who succeed in spite of their mothers. I believe I succeed because my parental foundation was so sure.

A writer friend once asked me how I could be so empathetic when I hadn’t suffered a horrible childhood like she had. I don’t recall my answer. But I do know that having this internal safeguard and the space that gave me to create makes a difference. I believe my empathy for others stems from a great start in life. I couldn’t write without empathy. I wouldn’t have time to care if my life had to be spent making up for what my mom had not done.

Thanks to my mom, the mother of my inventions. Happy Mother’s Day.

Writing Prompts: Please note that writing prompts should always be pursued in emotionally-safe environments with the supervision of someone who interested in encouraging good writing, self-awareness, and reflection. A wonderful resource is Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and With Others.

© Lyn Hawks. Writing prompts for one-time classroom use only and not for publication in any form elsewhere without permission of this author.

Note that these are mixed-age prompts this week.

— You have just received an award or honor for great achievements. Write a thank you speech that acknowledges the people who “got you there.”
— If your mother was a plant, what kind would she be? If your mother was a building, what kind would she be? If your mother was the weather, what kind would she be? If your mother was a landscape, what part of the land would she be?
— Thank the mother in your life–whomever she is–with a list of thank yous. List all the things this person (or people) has done for you.
— Finish a paragraph that begins with this statement: She was the mother of my inventions.
— Finish a paragraph with this statement: My mom is normal, right?
— Finish this statement: When I’m a mom or dad, I will… or, As a mom or dad, I am…
— Write your mother a letter.

1 Comment

  1. bobmust says:

    Empathy is a big deal, isn’t it? Obviously, we can’t be everyone, or visit every place. But just a whiff of place, or that gut feel for someone – real or imagined – and we have a story goin’ on!