She stood with her arms crossed, although not in defiance, her eyes rolled slightly up into her head, and her lips pursed out of sheer frustration.
I stood with my mouth open yet making no sound, my hands down at my sides, and my shoulders shrugged in tense confusion. A pile of papers, haphazardly stapled and stamped with the words “It’s a Good Day!” lay on the kitchen table, open to reveal a single string of letters written in her best penmanship. They were written to convey the story that had been burning in her breast. The request was simple enough. A wave of joy and pride had even washed over me when she came to me eagerly waving the “book” in her hand. She had just given birth. At the young age of five, she knew what it was to labor over words, to push with exhaustion at the early onset of a thought, and to bond immediately with the creation that bore an imprint of your soul. The exhaustion and exuberance of being an author was hers in that moment.
“Read this, Daddy!”
I accepted the book from her hands and began to speak. I stared at the scraggly letters, obviously written by a Kindergartener, and I began the story as almost all good stories do, “Once upon a time…” She immediately interrupted me. There was no ‘W’ on the page, so the story could not have begun with the word “(W)Once.” I started at it again, this time trying to follow her instructions to read only what she had written. I had no idea what to say? But my fatherly heart desperately wanted to nurture her newfound love for writing. I wanted to read enthusiastically in order to build upon the sense of accomplishment she undoubtedly felt at seeing her first novel in print. Even if it was her own printed letters. She’s too young to know cursive.
I don’t even remember what I attempted to say that second time around, but it didn’t matter. Every word that came out of my mouth was struck down. Kindergarten, and the dangerous levels of knowledge she has learned there, suddenly became my worst enemy. She knew enough to identify the first letter in each word, and could recognize with great accuracy whether or not that letter was one she had written. After several attempts, I was left speechless. She became dejected, so much so that she actually took the papers out of my hand, went back to the table, erased what she had written and wrote again.
Oh, it was heartbreaking for me to watch. The way the pencil jerked back and forth vigorously across the page showed me how disappointed she felt, at me, at her early attempts to write and be understood, and how disappointed she was in herself. She learned at an early age; being a writer is hard.
She brought the second draft to me. I tried. I failed. Now the papers lay on the table and I stood before her in bewilderment. How could this possibly have a happy ending? That’s when it came to me! I asked her to tell me what it said. But through this process, she realized even some of the words she wanted to be there weren’t on the page. Her frustration levels went through the roof. It was a silent frustration.
I offered my help. We forgot about the paper for a minute. She shared her story. I got a new sheet of paper and wrote:
“Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Ella. Me and Pax were walking to the house. To say hello to the people. And I wanted to say, “I would love to give you a hug and maybe a kiss, too! The end”
She looked it over as I read it aloud. She was upset over something about u’s and it took a minute to register with me that she was critiquing how I write my double-u. I fixed them before she gave her nod of approval.
She has since gone on to write many other books. Big books about how much she likes worms, in which she proudly states that she is both the “author and the illustrator!” Thanks to her Kindergarten teacher, who has introduced these concepts to the giddy little tune of “The Farmer in the Dell,” she knows that “The Author Writes the Book” and we can never escape reading a title page at bedtime.
She’s written mini-books, too, that would fit into the palm of your hand. And she writes books for Nana and Papa. Books for me to take to work to show my friends. Books for practically every occasion. I can’t complain, though. I’m just glad our first editing session didn’t squelch the passion she has for writing. One day, I hope to be as good of a writer as she is.
The (pronounced “th/ǝ/” not “th-ee” according to my daughter) End