Kris Woll interviews Denise Ullem, 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?
My daughter, Abby, was and will always be my muse. My experience as her mother provides endless points for reflection, celebration, frustration and love. As she gets older, however, I shy away from writing pieces about her because I want her life to be her own sacred place; I write more now about my own experiences (and those of my younger son, Henry). This is difficult because I am still a mother of a growing daughter, experiencing just as much as I did when my children were younger. I just don’t feel like it’s mine to share anymore. When I do want to write about an experience with her, I always ask her permission first.
What is it about age 9 you liked the most? The least?
Watching Abby at 9 was like watching an explorer prepare for a long journey—the passage from child to tween. I saw her muscles strengthen, her mind broaden and her senses sharpen. She morphed before my eyes and it was beautiful. However, within each of these stunning milestones brewed a slight melancholy. Nine walloped me with the acute awareness of the end of her childhood journey.
What do you wish you knew before you had a 9-year-old, or what advice do you wish you could tell your former self about mothering at that particular stage?
Loosen your grip. Breathe in and out.
Besides your own piece, which other piece in the collection do you relate to the most? Why? (OR, if you don’t feel super familiar with the collection, what other age/stage in this collection—which explores 1-10—is one you would like to explore more—or do you often find yourself turning to—in your writing?)
My son Henry will be eight this summer. Just writing those words quickens my heart. EIGHT!? My baby’s continuing maturation serves as a further reminder to slow down to capture the intricacies of this splendid time:
Kisses from the bus window. The endless questions. His hand in mine. The small, quiet miracles of each day. The reassuring fact that I still provide refuge from any storm.
How do writing and mothering fit together for you? How has that fit over time?
Motherhood brought me to the page. I started writing to capture moments for my husband, who traveled extensively when my daughter was three and my son a newborn. I now realize that this chronicle of small moments is like a time-capsule to my future self. One day I hope, as I sit my quiet, still home after they’ve both left for college, that my words and essays will take me right back to this heady, physical, intense, wonderful time of motherhood.
What is your advice to other mother writers?
Recently, a Facebook friend asked for friends to relay the best writing advice they’ve received. As I scrolled down to add my own, one commenter simply wrote, “Write.” It struck me with its simplicity and truth. Whenever I start to get in my own way now, I say, through gritted teeth, “Write, Denise, write.”
What do you hope readers will take with them from your piece? From this collection?
Each day is a gift. Stop and savor it in your way, in a way that will help you celebrate that which is mundane today. Put the words on the paper. I believe those pedestrian moments are those which we’ll all hold up in our memories as time passes, sigh, and see them as glittering, rare gems.
Read Denise’s “This is Nine” essay in This is Childhood, a book and journal about the first years of childhood.