Recently, I took Little e to a favourite children’s farm in the middle of the city (this one), so she could experience the animals and learn about the workings of a farm like I did at her age. In fact, my parents took me to the exact same farm when I was two (and three and five and seven and…well, I think I went once as a teen too because: nostalgia). Watching her marvel at the broad, soft face of a Jersey cow and the rotundness of a wiry-haired pig took me back to those early visits.
It also reminded me of my early writing. The stories about animals with thinly veiled plots taken from my own life (and I didn’t even know what Animal Farm was yet). Or stolen directly from a story I’d just read. Which reminded me of how embarrassing those stories can seem today. I mean, I can’t even get through some of that stuff now. Not to say it wasn’t important–and good–at the time. After all, how much can you critique a five-year-old’s story? But after a few decades of hard work improving my writing, seeing some of those early attempts is a stark contrast and a window into my brain at the time. Which is fascinating and a little scary. And aren’t good things a bit of both sometimes?
It reminds me that I am witnessing moments of my daughter’s that she may look back on and cringe over. Like I have about my own. [I can recall, while writing an epic poem called “The War of the Animals,” how bossy–nay, tyrannical–I was about the accompanying illustrations, done by a friend. I’d say now the drawings outshine the verse.] But above all, it reminds me that I have always had a writer’s mind, no matter how innocently it started out. And that is very comforting.
Sometimes Little e asks me to tell her a story in the car. Yesterday, the character development went like this:
Me: Who is this story about?
E: A cow.
Me: What’s the cow’s name?
Me: Anyone else in the story?
E: A goat.
Me: The goat’s name?
E: (Pause) Goat.
Me: And what do they eat for dinner?
Me: Excellent. I can feel the tension.
And as much as I love delving into complex and multi-faceted worlds in my novels, it’s really nice to go back to the beginning, the place where all our stories started, whether we are now writers or readers. For me, this is a nice little chance to rewrite the awkward stories of my six-year-old self, to make them appealing to my child (both offspring and inner) and to get her hooked on narrative the way I was. Because I think we all start out that way–loving stories, wanting to know what happens next. I never grew out of it, and I hope my kids* don’t either.
*Yes, that is plural for a reason. Little e will be a big sister in June. Which in her world is a loooooong time and in ours is barrelling up on us at frightening speed.