This summer, as a part of my internship, I advise and help teach kids creative writing. This summer has been one of the best summers of my life, not only because I’ve been able to get back to my writing roots, but also because I’ve been able to mentor and help young people tell their own stories and express themselves through my favorite medium, which has been extremely rewarding.
Some days at my job are better than others. The other day a concerned parent dropped her child off at a workshop a few minutes early and sat there in the office until the instructor arrived, even though I assured her I was in charge and perfectly capable and that everyone else would get there in 5 minutes. I suggested that her kid could work on writing her story from yesterday if she wanted to get started, and tried to be friendly and ask her kid a question. I asked, “Have you ever been in a writing workshop before?” to make her feel more comfortable and at ease because she was looking pretty nervous. This lady ANSWERED FOR HER KID, like her child started to answer and she cut her off. Her daughter went “N–” and this woman put her hand up and went, “No, she’s never done it before,” and in my head I was thinking …
I ASKED YOUR DAUGHTER A QUESTION, NOT YOU, LADY CHILL. LET YOUR DAUGHTER SPEAK OR SHE WILL NEVER LEARN TO SPEAK FOR HERSELF. But instead of saying that, I just kind of smiled faintly and nodded, and then handed her kid a computer to work on her story with.
She did it again a little while later in the workshop week. It was at the end of the workshop, and she came 5 minutes early to pick up her kid. I saw her peering through the window, kind of signaling that the workshop was nearing the end, and I stepped out of the office to check on the other group with older kids. I saw that they’d already been let out, because one of the students in that group was waiting for her parents in the foyer.
So this lady was standing there and so was this older kid in the downstairs group who kind of has a confidence problem and doesn’t like sharing her work, so I very nicely asked her (the older kid), “Did your group let out?” just to confirm and just to make sure so I could start putting everything away, and the older kid opened her mouth like she was gonna say something.
And then THE LADY RESPONDED FOR HER. She went, “Yes, they just were let out.”
I immediately tensed up, but tried to maintain my smiley demeanor. Inside I was thinking…
I DIDN’T EVEN ASK YOU AND THIS ISN’T YOUR KID WHY WOULD YOU EVEN THINK IT’S OKAY TO CUT HER OFF? HOW WOULD YOU FEEL IF SOMEONE DID THIS TO YOU? HOW WOULD YOU FEEL IF SOMEONE CUT YOU OFF WHILE YOU WERE TRYING TO TALK? THIS GIRL HAS A PROBLEM TALKING IN THE FIRST PLACE, SO LET HER TRY AND RESPOND TO ME BEFORE YOU OPEN YOUR MOUTH, BECAUSE YOU’RE SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT, REALLY… LET HER TALK, MY GOD… HOW WOULD YOU EVEN KNOW ABOUT A WORKSHOP GROUP THAT NEITHER YOU OR YOUR CHILD IS IN?
*takes a deep breath*
I realize that this sounds stupid and not something that I should be angry about… But something that writing workshops do and that I fully believe in the importance of is they helps kids feel like they have a voice, whether they’re writing stories about themselves or about zombies taking over the world… Because writing and workshopping makes them feel like they matter as story tellers and as people. They can say whatever they want and talk about whatever they want, and they can expect us to be interested in what they write/them and find value within themselves where they (or others) don’t see it.
My reaction to this woman’s behavior, although kind of extreme, proved to me why kids so badly need this sort of thing… They need programs like this, they need mentors and teachers and support and encouragement. Parents and other adults so easily shut down and discourage kids from speaking and from feeling like what they have to say matters, even if they’re just asking questions to try and better themselves.
Kids are assumed to be naive, to not know how to do the right thing, or not know what they’re talking about half the time. What a lot of people don’t realize is that children have so much value. What they have to say matters. And dismissing them like this woman did teaches them and trains them to believe the exact opposite, because their minds are so malleable. They’ll grow up thinking that what they have to say doesn’t matter, and maybe even that they don’t matter. It makes me so sad.
When I showed the first draft of this blog post to my boss to make sure it was appropriate to post publicly on the Internet, she not only (surprisingly) approved it, but asked me to go deeper, and to think about why it really made me upset.
I think that a big part of why this woman treating her child and another student like what they had to say didn’t matter made me so angry is because I don’t like being made to feel like I don’t matter. (I mean, who does?) But I want to explain why.
I’ve made subtle and also fairly obvious hints on here about how I don’t get along with my mother. Just to clarify, I’m not on speaking terms with her anymore, and I don’t live in her house either. I’m fairly open with talking about my relationship with her, and this blog post is no exception.
My mom is one of the most aggressive and assertive people I have ever known. This can be a good thing sometimes, but most of the time it’s not. She undermines everyone she talks to. She manipulatively tries to make them feel small, and she tries to make them feel bad about themselves to make herself feel better. If you try to have a conversation with her she cuts you off, because of course what she has to say is more important than anything you have to say, no matter what it is. I believe that it has to do with how she wants to have a sense of control, not only over herself but over everyone that she interacts with. But that’s just not a realistic expectation to have for relationships with other people.
What the mother at the workshop did was exactly what my mother used to do to me, to my dad, and to everyone she meets and knows, on a lesser level. This is a primary reason as to why my mom and I have never gotten along– because when I was growing up, she was mean, aggressive, and she treated me like I didn’t matter in comparison to her. When I was old enough to consciously understand that this is what she was doing, (among other things that were blatantly wrong) that’s when our relationship began to deteriorate, and everything went downhill from there.
For a lot of kids growing up with parents like this, it’s awful. It makes them feel small. They are made to feel like they don’t matter, which is how I felt for a really long time and how I still feel a lot of the time. How my mom treated me when I was a kid growing up shaped me into a really sensitive person. When I was younger, I was so self conscious about everything I said because I was afraid that I was going to be shot down that I would apologize in between every word I said, every time I spoke. I was so shy, that most of the time, I didn’t even speak. I nitpicked at myself and became a perfectionist. I figured that if I tried exceedingly hard to get people to like me, and did basically everything correctly to the best of my ability, then no one would yell at me and put me down.
And that is no way to live. I’m still working through these issues that I had/have with my mom, and honestly, it’s something I might never get over. How she treated me helped shape me as a person. She made me afraid of people. She made me not like myself, and it’s taken a while to find parts of me that I do like, and to realize that it’s okay to make mistakes sometimes.
When I sit in workshops at my job, helping kids work on their stories, I think to myself about how much I wish I had this sort of thing when I was younger. I see how the instructors help give these kids a voice, how these young kid writers look up to them and look to them for advice and reassurement. I see how it helps their writing abilities and their confidence grow. I think about how much I needed that when I was a kid.
I wanted to write this blog post to make a point, which is that kids’ voices matter, and adults (especially parental figures) shouldn’t make them feel like they don’t. Adults should listen and encourage and love, so that kids can learn to be confident in themselves and what they have to say.