A few weeks ago, I visited my parents and stumbled across a short story I wrote in the seventh grade. Behold, “The Mice,” complete with illustration:
One day, two mice, Barry Mouse and Mary Mouse, looked out their home in the wall and saw a great, big piece of cheese.
“That cheese is as good as mine!” Barry Mouse exclaimed. “I have wonderful reflexes, and I’m a natural athlete!”
“Not so fast,” Mary Mouse interjected. “Maybe I could get the cheese before you.”
“Yeah, right,” Barry Mouse said sarcastically. “You’re just a girl! How could you reach it before I? I, the magnificent; I, the strong; I, the superior athlete. That piece of cheese is going to taste so good! It’ll be simply delicious! And why should I share any with you? I’ll get it myself without any help from anybody…”
Mary Mouse was sitting there, eating the piece of cheese she had stolen while Barry Mouse was going on and on about himself. Popping the last piece of cheese into her mouth, she grinned at him, “You were saying?”
Moral 1 – Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.
Moral 2 – Never underestimate the power of a female!
I had all the expected reactions after reading this story. I laughed, I sighed, I remembered fondly my childhood days. Then, I showed the story to my stepmom and my sister. As I waited for them to read it, I had another reaction that completely surprised me. A rush of protectiveness washed over me, and I felt fiercely defensive of the little girl who had written this story. One harsh word from the audience, and I would be ready to fight tooth and nail to defend this girl, to shield her from the kind of remark that tears down the spirit before it has the chance to solidify.
This didn’t happen, of course. My mom and sister laughed, and then we all went about our days.
But my reaction stayed with me. And puzzled me. I am not unfamiliar with this all-encompassing need to protect. I have felt it with my sister, who is 12 years younger than me. And now that I’m a mother, this emotion is a part of my daily existence.
But I have never felt it about myself. Why not? I’m not sure. I know I can’t go back in time and protect the 12 year-old girl, but isn’t there a writer inside me who is just as vulnerable, just as needy, just as deserving of my protection? Yet, instead of nurturing her, I have said terrible things to her over the years. Worse, I have believed the detractors who have doubted her dreams.
Would I have accepted these judgments so easily if they had been aimed at my children? Of course not. I would have been spitting mad. While I am slowly exposing them to the realities of life, there are some lessons I hope my children never learn. You can’t do it. You are not talented enough. You are not good enough.
As writers, I think we all struggle to unlearn these lessons, however they came to be taught. I can’t change the past, but I can alter my attitude going forward. The next time I find myself sliding back into these negative refrains, I will think of “The Mice” and remember that I, too, am deserving of my own protection.
Who knew a childhood story could have so much impact? So dig up your old stories and share them with me! I would love to read the words of so much budding talent. I promise, there will only be shared laughter and smiles and not a judgmental word in sight!