Kris Woll interviews Allison Slater Tate, a contributing writer in This is Childhood, a book and journal about the first years of childhood:
What was your inspiration for writing this piece? Have you written other things about this age/stage?
When Lindsey Mead brought this idea to me, my first reaction was that I wanted to write about the age of 5. My children range in age from 1 to 11, so I have been through every age in the series at least once, and I love 5. It is probably my favorite. Five marked the end of the hazy baby years and the beginning of the ages when I really see my children develop into full-fledged people.
What is it about age 5 you liked the most? The least?
I love the increasing independence, the beginning of school, the development of real friendships. I love that they really begin to discover the world on their own at 5. I don’t love the resulting strong opinions and negotiating, though I realize it’s all part of the deal.
What do you wish you knew before you had a 5-year-old, or what advice do you wish you could tell your former self about mothering at that particular stage?
I wish I had more assurances that for the most part, things do work themselves out and click into place. I worried with my first child because he didn’t read early. He is that kind of child who likes to do things well immediately, and he balked at reading. As a person whose whole life has revolved around reading and writing, I was a little terrified when he wasn’t an early reader. Of course, now I know that doesn’t matter, and he is a voracious reader. First children are scary. They don’t come with instructions.
Besides your own piece, which other piece in the collection do you relate to the most? Why?
I definitely related a lot to Lindsey’s essay on the age of 10, because my oldest child was 10 as well when we first wrote the series. Ten is also a watershed year that feels like a turning point to me between childhood and the Great Beyond (also known as middle school). It feels like that moment when a flame burns the brightest just before it starts to fade—the moment before your child becomes less your child and more a person of the world.
How do writing and mothering fit together for you? How has that fit over time?
I have processed my mothering through writing. Writing encourages me to see and remember the details of mothering my children—I use all the senses and try to use them in my writing. In many ways, I feel like I was reborn when I became a mother, like this is a whole different life than I had before. Writing has been a way to feel less alone.
What is your advice to other mother writers?
I think writing in and of itself is the reward. Sometimes I feel like I need to justify my writing as a “job” or as a purpose. Really, it’s enough just to write, to have captured both my children and myself in this moment in time. It doesn’t have to be a job to be meaningful.
What do you hope readers will take with them from your piece? From this collection?
I hope readers will see that little bit of awesome that is the age of 5 in my writing and that it will remind them of how, apart from the daily grind of living, this life has so many moments of beauty and joy and wonder in it. I think 5-year-olds just radiate joy. They are pretty special.
Read an excerpt from Allison’s “This is Five” essay