One of the complexities of being a writing mother, for me, lies in a passionate wish to catch my children’s lives, for good or bad. For example, when Anna was diagnosed with Lyme’s Disease for the third time, I wrote Duchess by Night, which includes a child infected by rat bite fever. (I also moved out of New Jersey, but that’s another story.)
Similarly—and more obviously—I wrote the memoir Paris in Love because I wanted to capture the year my family and I lived in France, rather than allow it to slide away in the easy, dreamy way by which happy years disappear. I wanted to remember for myself, but I also wanted Anna and Luca to remember details they might otherwise have forgotten.
Which this leads to one of the trickiest motherhood questions of all: what do you do with the boatloads of debris that accrue during childhood? Are they precious memories, to be frozen in amber, or candidates for the recycling bin? Yesterday Anna brought home multiple versions of a print made from a school bus gouged out of linoleum. It’s a nice school bus. Really. Great headlights.
Still, with a 13-year-old’s wisdom, she detected lack of enthusiasm in my face and cried: You never like anything I create! You think I’m a terrible artist! Leaving artistic judgments aside (Picasso would have trouble with a linoleum school bus too), what about all the art I’ve got framed and pinned all over this house? The lopsided purple candle-holder/monkey, who is carefully propped up in my bookshelf? The factory made out of cardboard and cotton balls that my husband refuses to throw away? The glittery, green paper maché turtle in the dining room?
It’s hard to give up those memories, both for her sake and mine. But we live in an apartment in New York City! We can’t keep everything. Not as important as to be or not to be, but still weighty!