Monday, November 14, 2011

40 Years of Mother Daughter Collaboration

Forty years ago this month, my first article was published in Jack and Jill magazine. Well, sort of. My mother, Margery Facklam, actually wrote it with my help. At least I think I helped. I’m in the pictures anyway. The article was called “My Mother Works in a Science Museum” and tells all about my family and my mom’s job as Assistant Director of Education at the Buffalo Museum of Science.

I found an old, and probably the only, surviving copy of the November issue (50 cents) while cleaning out files in my office. While lots of it makes me smile and remember things I had long forgotten, I don’t remember working with my mother to write it. Did she interview me, or ask me how I’d describe her work or what we did as a family? The information is accurate. I was a member of safety patrol, and I did think it was fun. Our dog Barney did go to the supermarket and let himself in and out with the electric-eye door, and I do remember taking a class called the Wisdom of the Senecas, and going on Museum fieldtrips, and almost running into the backside of a cow. Lots of it sounds like a kid, but lots of it doesn’t. I don’t think I would have thought to write about how my mom earned her way through college or how she was trying to create a Children’s Science Activity Center at the museum and get a bus for a mobile exhibit. I hate to say it, but I was just there for the fun of it.

In 6th grade I would have focused more on how cool it was to have the whole museum to myself after hours. I loved the Hall of Dinosaurs the most. I would stand in the middle of the vast room and hold my breath waiting for the bones to creak to life. One time, someone brought a young fox to the museum. I got the job of walking it on a leash out in the nearby rose garden. Another time, my mother brought me along on a trip to visit naturalists and film makers Ken and Bertie Button. I don’t remember why, but they had a baby two-toed sloth at their home. I can still feel its sharp two-inch long claws dig in as it hung from my arm.

How I’d like to brag about being an accomplished writer at age 11. But I can’t. In fact when the free copies arrived in the mail at our house and mom told me to take them to school, I was mortified. The teacher stood up in front of the class and gushed over me – a real published author. Surely the teacher could see that I didn’t really write this, right? I felt like such a fraud. I stood there and read the article like a good kid, and kept my mouth shut about not really being a part of the writing process. I didn’t want my mom to look bad, either. But it always bothered me.

Maybe I became a writer, in part, to redeem myself. I wanted to make good on that first fraudulent piece. Along the way, my mother and I have had a wonderful time collaborating. Our first joint effort was The Kids’ World Almanac About Money, Math and Numbers in 1992, then New York: The Empire State in 2007, and most recently, Anatomy of Nonfiction. These projects I definitely do remember.

We have an easy working relationship because we both have similar working styles. After all I did learn from her. We usually divide up the project, each taking a chapter or subject to work on, and then get together once a week or so to share notes and revise. For the first two books, my mom was senior author. She had the job of going over the entire manuscript making sure we were of one voice. But for our last project, we sort of traded places. In her 80s, she was happy for me to take on the extra work corresponding with our editors, answering queries, verifying facts, and smoothing out voice. And we have come full circle. Sometimes, she is the one who doesn’t remember our collaboration.

Thanks Mom!!

1 comment:

  1. Reading this brought back memories of mine from 40-odd years ago. Your mention of Ken and Bertie Button reminds me of seeing their films in school. I have never heard anything more of them, or anything about their work, but it was those films more than any other things as a child, that made the natural world around us seem real and accessible. Is there any information on them?