Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Child

I'm taking a writing course with the excellent writer and editor Lisa Romeo and one of our assignments asked for a list of sentences. Not paragraphs, not pages of prose, just thirteen sentences.

Oh I love lists, don't you? I love crossing items off the To Do list, reading to the girls the instructions for a new game, shopping (soon!) with the children's Christmas lists in my hand. The organized nature of a neat, numbered list satisfies in our overly complicated world.

Romeo's assignment, of course, turned out to be more complex than I imagined. And for that I am so grateful. Because asking me to look at one single moment in my day, and then approach it again from twelve different angles was a lesson not only in verbs, adverbs and adjectives, but one in thinking. Thinking about writing but also thinking about attitude and perception. My one brief interaction with Mia that crazy morning could have been the best of moments or the worst of moments. Creating multiple versions of it reminded me that I have the power to determine which it will be.

A sentence about something that happened yesterday.
1. When my daughter hesitated a moment on the stairs and leaned toward me the tiniest bit, I knew the argument was over.

A sentence in a more active voice.
2. Mia froze silent on the steps, looked in my eyes and swayed toward me, offering a sweet gift of reconciliation.

Passive voice.
3. I was relieved to see my daughter was leaning toward me because I knew that meant she was finished arguing.

Another character's point of view.
4. I don't like it when I have to eat mushy cereal, but I hate it even more when Mommy is mad.

As if I was happy.
5. The sweetest moment of my day took place on the turn of our stairs where my furious and sad daughter offered me the olive branch of a hug.

As if the event was of great importance to me.
6. A year, even two months ago, Mia would have continued screaming at me in blind rage and formless frustration; today she recognized a better way and I nearly cried with relief as I took her in my arms.

As if it had no consequence.
7. This morning required interceding between my brawling daughters, corralling them to the breakfast table, gleaning from the near empty fridge a healthy packed lunch for my picky oldest, attempting and failing to hide my frustration when her Grape Nuts got "too soggy," helping her to recover from her hissy fit with a hug on the stairs, and imploring her to grab coat, shoes, lunchbox and backpack in time for the school bus, all without the assistance of husband or coffee. (This one took some imaginative work. I had to picture the moment as if it meant very little to me, which it did not, it SO did not.)

As if it was the worst thing that happened all day.
8. "When will the yelling stop?" I couldn't stop thinking as Mia, once again, recovered in my arms after a horrible fight.

Present tense.
9. Mia says nothing, but moves toward me with a slight motion that only her mother can translate as both an entreaty for cessation of battle and a desire for the comfort of a warm embrace.

Without adjectives or adverbs.
10. Mia sighed, admitting defeat, and I hugged her. (Can you believe this sentence was one of the most difficult to write? You try describing a moment without adjectives or adverbs! And yes, "a," "an," and "the" are all off-limits.)

With as many descriptive and sensory details as possible.
11. Spent, forlorn and needing, little Mia opens her tiny mouth for yet another sally, finds absolutely nothing, so instead, mournful and silent, stares at me with a lost look that I can no more resist than the crunchy-creamy bite-sized Snickers I sneak from her dwindling Halloween stash.

As if it happened a long time ago.
12. She needed her mother that morning in an utterly simple way that I miss deeply, now that the healing power of each other's touch and our once-constant bending toward forgiveness have become much more complicated things. (Can you tell this is meant to read as if I was remembering a moment from long ago?)

13. My graceful daughter doesn't run back to her room to slam the door with operatic vehemence, doesn't wail a Valkyrie's aria, doesn't collapse into a ballerina's repose on the steps, but instead, leans toward me with the slightest, shyest invitation to join me in a mother-daughter dance of forgiveness.

No comments: