by Tanya Parker Mills
Today is my son's last day at school before summer break, and it made me think of how we'll be spending the summer. When he and his sister were younger, I would frequently design my own summer course of study for the both of them to make certain they were continuing to learn for at least a few hours each weekday. Now, his sister is off at college (yes, she's staying in classes through the summer) and I have only two things I want to teach him over the next three months: how to make his own grilled cheese sandwiches...and how to write fiction.
The culinary lesson is really a life-skill for a sixteen-year-old "Aspie" who subsists mainly on grilled cheese sandwiches--morning, noon, and night. It's a step forward in helping him to be independent. You might think it will be a simple process, but you've never seen my grilled cheese sandwiches and the very particular process followed to produce them (not by my choice, but his). I could easily see this summer course being extended over the next few summers. Grilled Cheese Sandwiches 101 will consist of the placement and buttering of the bread and, if we're lucky, the addition of the cheese slices. Grilled Cheese Sandwiches 102 (only after he has successfully completed course 101 to his satisfaction) will hopefully cover the grilling, flipping, and cutting of the sandwiches (in a very geometric fashion). Wish us both patience and luck, please.
The writing lessons are a whole different matter but, perhaps, no less a life skill. And I had never conceived of providing them until a couple of weeks ago.
My husband and I had been casting around over the last few years for some ideas of future career possibilities for our son. He has shown no particular love for any subject in school besides Mythology. While he does well enough academically, he really dislikes school (except for being able to hang out with his friends) and can't wait to graduate. He spends all of his free time at home searching Wikipedia or YouTube for favorite topics, or playing video games (at least they're not the violent kind), or watching favorite old movies on DVD, or reading (YAY!).
But two weeks ago, Jason let slip that he and a small group of friends at school had begun writing stories and sharing them. I have to admit I was bowled over. While he's always been strong in Language Arts, getting him to write any of his essays or stories was like pulling teeth (and dental work and Asperger's don't really go hand in hand, anyway). This year, however, I did notice a change. He finally seemed to be getting the hang of writing a decent paper--putting his thoughts on paper in a logical way that flowed well. Still, an essay and a short story are two very different beasts. So, I'll start him off slowly and give him a writing prompt or a writing exercise each week and see what he makes of it.
It will be interesting to see which course he masters best: Grilled Cheese 101 or Creative Writing 101.
His newly-expressed interest in writing got me to thinking. In my own family, it all began with my father. He has self-published a handful of novels now, but watching him begin to work at writing when we were living in Beirut (he was in his late 40's at the time) definitely had an impact on me. It sowed the seed in me as a teenager and now I'm writing. Since my first novel got published, I've also heard that one of my nieces is thinking about giving it a try (along with her mother, my sister). And now, perhaps, my son.
We may never get traditionally published or, if we do, we may never gain the level of skill we'd like, but we are sowing seeds through all our efforts. As mothers in Zion, we may not be the Miltons and Shakespeares spoken of by Orson F. Whitney, but our children or grandchildren might.
As long as we show them the path.