The Five Minute Memoir

Writing can be a link to sanity.  As a stay at home mom to a two year old and a newborn, my free time was portioned in fleeting moments, yet I had to have a creative outlet to feel connected to something other than the changing table.  I started writing a letter a day- a tether to the outside world.  Over the course of a few months, I wrote more than seventy letters.

I happened upon an article in Writer’s Digest called “The Five Minute Memoir.”  It asked writers to describe some aspect of the writing life in less than 600 words.  I gave it a go, and produced the memoir below:

The letter writing project began as a penance for watching bad television.  Every parent knows that the first three months of a child’s life are a blur of diapers, feedings, and sleepless nights.  In the evening, after putting both boys to sleep, my husband and I had an hour to ourselves.  We would spend them mindlessly tuning out while tuning in.  With free time in such short supply, why was I wasting it on such an unfulfilling activity?

As a stay at home mom with two children under the age of two, my biggest problem was isolation.  Most of my conversations were with people who could not even form complete sentences.  I pounced on my husband as soon as he entered the door after work, eager to talk about anything other than goldfish crackers and “Caillou.”  Even phonecalls to Adult World were out of the question.  If the boys were awake, I couldn’t focus.  If they were asleep, I didn’t risk stirring them.

I decided to start writing one letter a day- not an email or text.  I wanted to communicate something of importance to the recipient, and I thought my words would best be received if delivered in an envelope, on paper.

My first letter was to my mother.  My father had passed away ten months prior.  After forty years with a partner, my mother was struggling to create an independent life for herself.  I did not know how to comfort my mother, and was frightened by her deep mourning.  In my effort to end her suffering and ease my own pain, I pushed her to move on.  What she needed was for me to listen.

My letter gave her an opening to communicate with me.  We had always struggled to speak our true feelings when talking in person.  In a letter, we could say anything.  Her first letter opened my eyes to the pain of being a widow after living her entire adult life with a partner.  She wrote “The loneliness is chilling…I wait for him to come in the back door, ‘Honey I’m home.  Get your shoes on, let’s go get a milkshake.’”  It was heartbreaking, but I was glad to see behind the curtain of her usual reassurance.  She began to tell me the story of her love affair with my father.  My parents had a tumultuous relationship.  As a child, I sometimes wished they would separate just so I would not be subjected to anymore arguments.  I viewed them as a couple who spent their youth fighting and grew accustomed to it.

My mother’s writings proved how skewed my vision was.  She didn’t stay with my father because it was comfortable.  She stayed by his side because she was crazy in love.  For her, he was THE guy.  She wrote “Your dad could never stand to see me hurting.  He would always do something to make me feel better.  Tell me one of his silly jokes, bring me flowers, give me a piece of candy from work, or best of all give me a big hug…I miss his presence here, his voice, his touch, his gentleness, his silliness, his smell.”  As a child who had doubted the viability of my parents’ union, the gift of my mother’s insight went beyond words.  I was seeing my father with new eyes.

I still attempt to write a letter a day.  When I open my mailbox and find a letter, I feel a spark of anticipation as I wonder what words await me inside the envelope.  But the words that mean the most are the ones from Her.

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