I grew up with a mother (Suzanne Newton) who was a writer. Because of this, in the Newton family, expressing ourselves in writing came as naturally as speaking. Sometimes my written expression was positive: I opened a poetry business in my bedroom offering to write poems for any occasion (my mother was my only customer). Sometimes it wasn’t so positive. On the underside of the window frame in our downstairs bathroom, where you could only see it if you were sitting on the toilet, I wrote, “I hate mommy” in permanent marker.
My mother’s first two young adult books came out while I was in elementary school, so in third grade I decided to write a novel of my own. I bought a wonderful, fat, four-subject spiral notebook with different colors of notebook paper for each subject. The plot had something to do with girls climbing trees and a mystery that I’m sure Nancy Drew or the Boxcar Children would have been proud of. I never finished it because I got bogged down having to write all those darn quotation marks–my fine motor control lagged behind my vision and imagination.
In high school, my English teacher, Mrs. Allison, required us to write a short story every year to enter in the Raleigh Fine Arts Society short fiction contest. My junior year I won an honorable mention and my senior year I won first place. The judges included such North Carolina greats as Doris Betts and Guy Owen. Their comments on my stories (which I still have) gently pointed out the flaws but also included the magic words, “Keep writing!” By the end of my senior year I had decided I would keep writing, and I haven’t stopped since.
I have a daughter now. At twelve, she plans to be an art teacher and own a coffee shop, but she is also, already, a writer. On a recent drive back from Atlanta she was quiet in the back seat, typing something on our laptop. I assumed she was playing a video game but when I asked her about it she told me she was writing a poem. As embarrassing as her poem turned out to be for me personally, I celebrate her ease with the written word and the fact that she would find writing a poem to be as entertaining as YouTube, Poptropica or ourWorld.
Here, with the permission of the author, is her poem:
Mama’s Fat Pants, by Madeleine Cox
Mama has some pants.
They aren’t like her other pants.
She wears them when she knows we are the only ones looking at her.
Mama has her fat pants.
Her gray gateways to freedom.
She can fly like a bird
Or swim like a fish
Or dance to the stuff on the radio
Or just sit with me
and watch TV.
Mama has some fat pants
Her gray sweatpants
That have the bell bottoms and stick to her legs like honey.