As I’ve been writing this column for 15 years, it’s natural that readers start to feel like they know me and my family. Nothing brings this fact home more than when we are in the middle of a restaurant (or a fair, grocery store, bookstore) and I snap at one of my children, using their first names, and someone nearby says, “Wait, a minute, I know who you are.”
Given this visibility, it’s natural that readers sometimes have questions. They ask them in emails, at book signings or while we’re both waiting at the checkout counter at the grocery store. I like to have answers, but for many years, when the questions involved my boys, now ages 15, 13 and 9, I could only guess at the responses.
Sometimes those guesses were easier than others. When Owen, then 8-years-old, came home, slammed the door, and told me to never write about him again (because of a column about breakfast), I would have bet money on him being angry. For the most part, however, the boys’ day-to-day relationship with my work is more subtle. And only recently have they been called to the stage during public speaking events to answer for themselves.
Nothing panics a writer of family memories more than when other family members are summoned to tell their side of the story.
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In any case, below are some of the most frequently asked questions I receive regarding the boys, plus my answers — and theirs!
How did you come up with two of your boys’ more unusual names, Ford and Lindell?
Lindell, 9, is named after my dad, and whenever he worries about being teased for having an unusual name, we remind him that Big Lindell flew F-14s and captained an aircraft carrier.
Ford, 15, is named for my maiden name but also as a nod to the fact that my dad only drives Fords and Dustin’s grandfather was a Ford mechanic.
There is nothing to tease about a name like Ford. Unless you like Chevys.
Did you ever consider naming one of your kids Chevy or Toyota?
Do you let your kids read columns in advance that include them or their stories?
I try. Honestly, I do. But when a column is going out every week, sometimes the kids lose interest.
Me: I wrote about what happened this weekend.
Them: Oh man, I knew you were going to!
Me: Do you want to read it before I hit submit?
Them: Meh. Whatever.
Occasionally, the kids preempt me. They lean over and say, “Don’t write about this,” and I don’t. But there are a few of these forbidden stories that I frequently check-up on.
Me: Can I write about that one time yet?
Me: But it was five years ago.
How do the boys feel about being the subject of your column?
Here’s where I literally turn over my laptop and let the kids answer for themselves. I promise not to edit.
Ford: I have always enjoyed my mom writing about me because it’s interesting to read another person’s perspective on what happens around me and involving our family. I also think about how one day, I will look back at these columns with nostalgia.
Owen: It’s quite the experience to go places and have strangers ask about the latest column, and I don’t always read them myself, so I am usually very confused about how they know so much about what happened over the weekend.
Lindell: I don’t mind.
What is your favorite thing your mom ever wrote? Least favorite?
Ford: My favorite of my mom’s columns is the one titled “Flamingoes Don’t Stand On Two Legs.” It’s a very funny column about a misunderstanding in which a high school put plastic flamingoes in our front yard to raise money, and I decided to remove and bury one leg of each flamingo so that they would be standing on the proper number of legs.
Owen: I like the Etch-a-sketch column [Owen drew a masterpiece on an Etch-a-sketch and was devastated it wasn’t permanent] because I have vague memories of that day, and it is funny to hear it from the other end.
Lindell: My favorite is about Sparky’s thoughts. I don’t have a least favorite.
Do you still eat frozen waffles?
Ford: No, I moved on to toast after eighth grade.
Owen: Nah, we cook ‘em first.
Lindell: I like pancakes more.
Are you glad all your childhood stories are captured in black and white?
Ford: I am very glad. I know that someday it will be really cool to look back at my childhood and have it so well documented in such a hilarious but also meaningful way by my mom. Thanks, Mom.
Owen: The good ones? Yes. The bad ones I could forget.
Lindell: I guess.
Maine writer and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She may be reached at facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.