I’ve always been a writer. Ever since I was a little girl, I would write short essays in my first autobiographical work: my diary. It’s fascinating and helpful to me, creatively, as a writer, to see what I wrote about then and how those experiences affected me. But most of all, it’s so helpful to read back on my mom’s scathing (but totally understandable!) commentary on my elementary school experience. She’s an editor in her own right, and a demanding one at that, so it’s only natural she read my diary every day and made some notes.
For every crush confession covered in Lisa Frank stickers, there are 16 pages of red X’s, spelling corrections, and “I need a MOTIVATION for this character…Why didn’t you just do what Becky G. dared you to? Get it together.” So what if it is the source of my crippling adult anxiety—who knows! My mom’s vicious critiques of my most intimate insecurities were totally legit, honestly. See for yourself!
April 3, 1997—The Time I Wore a Dress to School
So I wasn’t the most feminine kid—sue me! I was more into climbing trees than climbing social ladders. But as my mom noted in several 1996 entries, “Your scabby knees are doing you no favors, Gracie. Soft hands invite more gentlemen to you.” Who can argue with that? So in April 1997, she shoved me in a cherry-print dress and sent me to school, looking girly as hell. My classmates were stunned—Isn’t that the mud creature? In a dress?!—and I hated the attention, especially from Dana C. I spilled everything in my diary, and mom wrote, “So… You felt weird in a dress? OK, that’s nice and all, but I need a resolution. Also, don’t even bother trying to spell ‘embarrassed’ at your age… Stick to single-syllable words, kid.” WOW. Honestly, the best editor I’ve ever had. She totally nailed my character while enhancing the quality of writing.
September 7, 1999—The First Day of Third Grade
I was really nervous for third grade. I was in a brand new class with kids I didn’t know very well, and I was already taller than all the boys. “I’m scared!” I wrote. “What if nobody likes me?” Of course, mom had all the answers: “Honey, you’ve chosen to wear a floor-length cat print dress to the first day of school. It’s kind of…to put it nicely…alienating and trollish. I want you to visualize what Becky G. is wearing, and try your best to emulate that.” Dang. That was exactly what I needed to hear! But I was too wrapped up in my head, and wore the cat dress anyway. It didn’t go over well. From that day on, I took my mom’s notes as gospel.
December 24, 2000—My Christmas Wish List
I had a ton in mind for the new millennium’s first Christmas— a Razor scooter (“Shooting for the X-Games, are we? No.”) a Furby (“…I’m not even going to touch this one.”), and the Backstreet Boys’ Millennium (“OK this one’s fine.”) I was super jazzed for Santa to come. In my diary, I detailed all the milk and cookies I would leave out for him. (The hope was the he’d magically see my diary and come to my house first!) But mom had her own suggestions: “Sweetheart, Santa’s going to have a bit of a headache after the big Christmas party. Please do not leave milk out for him, he’s just going to dump it out. If you could leave him a couple Advil and a glass of water….” Mom was unafraid to drop truth bombs in her notes. Incredible—editing is an art all its own.
February 14th, 2001—My First School Dance
It was fifth grade and I finally had a boyfriend: Jake D. He was nice and we talked on the phone and he gave me rocks for my rock collection. His real name was Jacob, but I started calling him Jake when mom wrote, “The name ‘Jacob’ though… It’s a little… I don’t know. Can we call him ‘Jake’ instead?” Done and done, Lady In Charge! At the dance, Jake and I had our first slow dance to “Truly, Madly, Deeply” by Savage Garden. It was amazing. I gushed about it in my diary for ten pages! Of course, mom had notes: “Oh my God, I’m so bored…” “Yet another cliché,” and, “Really? Slow dance? What is this, a sock hop? Where’s the sex appeal in this story; why didn’t you dance to Nelly?” Great point, Mom! No one’s optioning this 2001 diary, are they?
As you can see, I was a clueless dweeb and a terrible writer. Mom was just looking out for me—her borderline abusive notes made me the normal adult with devastating self-loathing I am today! I’m so lucky to have this amazing time capsule to look back on. No matter the age, I can always learn from my mother’s critique of my deepest insecurities as a child. Love you, Mom!