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The Family Room by Michelle Martin

September 27, 2009

Whose life is it?

Caroline’s religion teacher sent an assignment home for parents: write something telling me about your child.

The assignment was not specific about length (one word to a million) or about format (bullet points, haiku, novel, anyone?). She just wanted to know a bit more about her new students.

As soon as she brought the assignment home to us, Caroline started telling me what I could not write about.

I honored her specific requests, and did my best to give the teacher an honest impression of my tween daughter without putting in anything too cringe-worthy.

Having written about Caroline and Frank for years, I like to think I have a good idea of what I can say about them and what I can’t. I usually try to limit what I write about to what I would say in public, in their hearing.

Sometimes, that leads to a somewhat sanitized version of our family life; I rarely write about anything either child gets in trouble for, although, like all children, there are occasional behavior problems.

I also tend to avoid the things they say that I find funny — but I know they didn’t mean them to be.

Part of that is consideration: I know some of their teachers and some of their friends’ parents read the Catholic New World, and things that adults find cute kids find mortifying.

Part of it is because everything lives forever in cyberspace, and I don’t want what I wrote when they were 5 or 8 or 11 following them around for the rest of their lives.

As parenting blogs have exploded in recent years, some people have recommended that parents never write about their kids, even with disguised names, because someone will always figure out who they are. I haven’t gone that far, because without my family, I wouldn’t have much to say. In some ways, they are the most interesting part of me.

Not just having children, but having my specific children, has made me who I am as much as having me for a mother has made them who they are. They make me think about things that never would have crossed my mind, get me interested in topics that I otherwise would have ignored and teach me activities that, without them, would have been about as appealing as a bucket of wallpaper paste.

It started in the early years, when I found myself with opinions on which PBS kids shows were entertaining (“Arthur”) and which were annoying (“Caillou”). Now I know way more about NHL hockey than I ever thought I would, and Harry Potter has become a shared interest for Caroline and me, spurring discussions of what would have happened if author J.K. Rowling had taken a character down a different road.

So thanks, guys, for giving me something to write about — and something to think about.

Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at [email protected].