You Can’t Have That!
The Perils of Being a Mother Who Writes YA
I write about teenagers. I own a teenager. I have a built-in focus group, a never-ending pool of research, and a highly critical fact-checker.
And half the time I get to use none of it.
My daughter, it turns out, doesn’t want her entire life on display. And tends to blanche when I sit near her bedroom door trying to eavesdrop on her conversations with her friends. Unlike your more over-protective parents, my intent is not to catch her planning nefarious deeds; no, I’m mining for good, realistic dialog.
And she knows it.
“You can’t have that, Mom.”
I hear that in my house probably more often than “What’s for dinner?” or “Please, stop.” (and that latter one I hear a lot; I am, apparently, the most embarrassing mother that ever lived.) When she hangs out with her friends, I get a glazed-over look in my eyes (or so I have been told) which telegraphs quite clearly that I am cataloguing their choice of clothing, and accessories. I notice the one who switches her weight from left to right foot six thousand and three times in a ten minute span. The one who obviously isn’t allowed to put make-up on at home, so when she gets to school, borrows from a friend’s collection. I notice this because she’s wearing a shade of foundation approximately fifteen shades darker than the skin tone of her hands, and a lip color that clashes so shockingly with her natural coloring, no person who isn’t either legally or at least color blind would ever slather onto their mouth. She’s a quiet, sweet girl, with a soft laugh, and a quick wit. When I write about her, I plan to name her Riley.
After her friends leave, my daughter turns on me. “Mom! You were totally stealing their souls!” she accuses, before the front door has barely closed.
“What? I...I...uh...I wasn’t...”
I have no defense. My palms are sweating, not because I’ve been caught so much as that I am anxious to run upstairs and jot down all the notes about Riley I can remember.
The other day, while reading my latest scene over my shoulder as I typed, I heard a loud, irritated sigh. I moved my eyes from my screen to my daughter’s face, eyebrows raised. She repeated the sigh. “That’s exactly what I was wearing yesterday. Your character just jacked my swag.”
Note to self: Have character say “jacked my swag.”
“So?” I ask.
“Mom! You can’t have that, okay?”
I have been a writer longer than my daughter has been alive. When I was pregnant with her, when she was a baby, then a toddler, I had visions of how cool she would think I was, how she would brag about me to her friends. They would all want to be characters in my writing. They would look for themselves on the pages of my books. “Look! Look!” they’d say, passing the much-loved, dog-eared, highlighted, annotated, copies of my books between them, “remember that?! How cool is it that Fanny” (of course they would call me Fanny, I’m much too young and hip to be Ms. Darling) “used our horrifying first dance tales for her bestseller!”
So far none of the things in that paragraph have happened. Well, my daughter’s friends call me Fanny, but other than that...
Turns out having a teenager, having a daughter, is like living with an actual living, breathing, autonomous human with feelings and a need of privacy. A girl who sometimes needs her mother to sit and listen and advise. It’s difficult to do that effectively if I am trying to remember the details of the latest school drama merely to recreate it on my own pages. And I don’t want to miss those moments. I’m incredibly lucky, my kid likes me. She makes terrible fun of me, sure, but we truly enjoy each other’s company. She’s smart, and funny. She’s a nerd. She’s cool. She makes my life so much more interesting every day than it ever was before I had her.
In my saner moments, I understand my daughter’s aversion to me stealing her soul and the souls of her friends. In her saner moments, she is complimented that I find them charming and amazing enough to want to steal their souls. Like everything else in parenting and writing, we’re working on the delicate balance.