family literacy

Laura Bentley tweeted this question to me, Kevin Hodgson and the rest of the world earlier today:

@poh @dogtrax Who Inspired You To Write? http://bit.ly/cHfBol I would love to hear reflections from more of my WP friends & all =) #nwp

Kevin and I, unbeknownst to each other (since we responded almost simultaneously on Laura’s blog), both wrote about the influence our mothers had on us as writers. This from Kevin’s comment:

 I guess my inspiration was my mom, who was not a writer but a reader, and she shared her books and encouraged me to read what I wanted. It was that love of reading that sparked the love of writing in me, and in the back of my teenage mind, I had this idea that I could become a writer.

My friend and colleague Casey Daugherty also mentions her mother in responding to this prompt:

Writing gave me a new insight to its value when I started reading my mother’s daily journal entries a few years ago, (she passed away 25 years earlier) and I noticed my own writing began to change with it. So did my motivation to write.

And Brian Fay, another NWP friend, followed up on Twitter by writing:

@poh My mother inspired me to write by showing me writers to read and then fostering the idea that I could be one of them.

This is what came to me, and what I posted to Laura’s blog:

I don’t believe any one person inspired me to write. But I do have a distinct memory of showing my mom a piece of paper while she was in the bathroom getting ready for work. I must have been 5 or 6. The paper was full of my scribbles – child-like attempts at cursive. Despite her busy-ness, my mom took time to pick out the accidental humps of w’s and m’s and probably a few other unintended letters. I was amazed. I had scribbled something and it actually had meaning for another person. I understood then the power of writing.

The thing I didn’t say, for the sake of brevity, is that my mom is not a native English speaker. She immigrated to this country after the Korean War and still has difficulty mastering the diabolical nuances of English. Both spoken and written. My mom to this day will send me letters she has written so that I can copy-edit, make revisions, help her convey intended meaning.

She would never call herself a writer.

And yet, here I am, profiting intellectually and professionally from this act of scribbling – more digitally these days – and sharing those scribbles with others.

Here’s to you, Mom. And to all the parents and siblings and grandparents and guardians who’ve ushered us down this path towards literacy.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “family literacy

  1. Thanks for posting this, Paul. Sometimes, while reading when I was 6-7, I couldn’t understand a word or two and I would stop and ask my mother what it was. We were in the kitchen mostly and she was busy tending to family cooking or cleaning. Instead of telling me the word, she always said, “just call it teakettle and read on, sugar.” I would, and somehow I learned the power of context cues.

    • Paul, thanks for sharing with us your memories of your mother’s inspiring guidance. How amazing that it is the tiniest thing that sustains us.
      Casey, I love that your mother said “call it teakettle!” There is something so warm and wonderful about that: sometimes it is more about just puzzling it out than getting to the “right” answer.

      My mother certainly was a literacy mentor for me: I was just thinking of that today as I was herding my kids to the beach and I threw a book into the diaper bag to read. My earliest memories of summer are playing in the sand while my mother read. With reading and writing so entangled, I’m sure that’s why I started writing all the time as soon as I could hold a pencil :)

  2. I also love the “just call it teakettle” strategy, Casey. Could be the name of a great book on teaching reading. Just saying.

    And I love the image of you throwing a book into your diaper bag, Andrea, on beach day just like your mom must have. Seems so appropriate – all your essentials for being out and about thrown together, equally important.

  3. Beautiful legacy, Paul. I think I love the story behind your story even better.

    And I agree. Just Call It Teakettle would make a great title for a book, Casey. Write it!

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