When I was in Grade 5 (10 years old), I wrote a short story and a poem and submitted them in a contest. As a result, I was invited to attend the Young Authors of Canada conference in Montreal later that year. When my radtastical teacher, Mrs. Kirwin, told me the news, I practically levitated with excitement the entire way home. Unfortunately, when I told my mom the news, even though she was truly proud of me, she told me I couldn’t go to the conference.
I. was. pissed.
My 10-year-old brain could not even fathom the costs of flying a child and her mother across the entire country, so when mom told me that we just couldn’t afford it, I was less than gracious about it. I threw a tantrum.
I remember this so clearly, in such detail, that it must be one of those defining milestones in a child’s life. I was mid-tantrum when my mom slapped me across the face. It wasn’t a hard slap (and shit like that was perfectly acceptable back then), but it sure as shit stopped me in my tracks. She told me she didn’t want to hear another word unless I could lose my attitude and be nicer. I stormed off to my room and stewed for hours, screaming in frustration every now and then. (Yes, I was a complete SHIT when I was a child…)
Just before bedtime, mom came into my room and sat on my bed, where I was still pouting, arms crossed and glaring out the window. She told me that she understood how upset I was about not being able to go to the conference and that she was extremely proud that I’d been invited because she knew how much I loved writing stories and poems. But, she said, despite the reasons for not being able to go, she wasn’t going to apologize about not being able to afford the trip and that my behaviour and treatment of her was totally unacceptable. She said that, from that point on, when if I became extremely angry, I was to come to my room and write down everything I was feeling and thinking instead of speaking out loud about it. She said that it would give me the chance to get all of my anger out and it would stop me from hurting someone’s feelings by speaking unkind words. She also said that I didn’t have to apologize to her because she knew how upset I was, but she wanted me to really think about how I spoke to her from that point onward.
She placed something on my bed and walked out of my room. I looked down to see a cute little notebook and a pack of ballpoint pens in assorted colours. It was one of those old Hilroy books with the top half of the page blank and bottom half lined and she’d written “Jo’s Anger Journal” on the front in her neat printing.
Man alive, I was good at being a shithead.
Aside from the fact that I was THRILLED with the cool pens AND the gift of the new notebook, I immediately picked it up and wrote my mom an angry, assholish letter. I made sure to point out that she was a terrible mother, that she didn’t care about me, that if she really loved me she would find the money to make my dreams come true (hahaha, Jayzus, right!). One of the lines I wrote said, “My mom is such a bich. She is always trying to ruin my dreams. I don’t even like her at all.”
I was 10. What in the actual fuck?
I went to sleep that night with the book on the floor beside my bed and, when I woke up, I noticed the book was on my desk. Curious, I walked over and opened it to the entry I’d made the night before. My mom, with the rad sense of humour that she was famous for, had used a red pen to cross out “bich” and wrote “bitch” above it. 😂She’d also written, directly underneath the part where I’d said I didn’t like her, “Sometimes I don’t like your attitude or your smart mouth, but I always love you, am always be proud of you, and will always be here for you.”
I bolted out of my room to the kitchen, feeling a huge amount of remorse for being such an asshole and so childish, and wrapped my arms around her and told her how sorry I was.
I have been journaling ever since and it has helped me get through some of the darkest times in my life. That first journal turned into a lifelong therapy tool and, knowing how much writing helps me to process my own shit and connect with others, I am eternally grateful for her motherly insight and the push to get me started.