At 6 years old, I wanted nothing more than an elephant Webkinz. A silver-gray, smiling friend I could treasure both in the real world and online, for whom I could decorate a room and buy a potted plant or a cool lighting fixture.
I wanted that elephant. I pleaded to my mother, arguing how it was necessary to my fundamental happiness and a successful social life, but she denied my request because, evidently, four Webkinz were enough.
But it wasn’t. I needed more. And I would persuade her to see the light.
In a fit of devious exasperation, I planted myself in front of the family desktop and poured my juvenile heart out in a chaotic combination of comma splices, random apostrophes and exclamation points.
After two pages of fervent typing, I printed my essay and handed it to my mother, triumphant and satisfied.
Caught off-guard and somewhat surprised, my mother, a teacher and author, looked over my paper and slowly retrieved a red pen from her purse. My eyes widened and my stomach lurched. I’d seen her do this before, and more times than not, it left a paper looking like it was drowning in a sea of crimson criticism.
In other words, yes … yes, she did copy edit a 6-year-old.
But after I added in her edits, I got the news I was waiting for: She had changed her mind about the Webkinz.
Realizing that writing was my mother’s soft spot, I turned my little persuasive essays into a tradition. I wrote about why she should take me to see “Shrek 2” in theaters, why we should have breakfast for dinner and why my sister and I should not be forced to visit obscure family friends. And it worked — on the condition that I sat down and watched my mother edit the papers each time.
Over the years, I must have written dozens of persuasive essays, mock contracts and carefully crafted compromises, and by watching her edit, I became a better writer.
Looking over my mother’s shoulder as she copy edited my work was painful at first, but it’s now a coveted learning opportunity. I’m not living at home anymore, and I know there’s still so much she could teach me, so many more editing rules to learn.
These days I’m a copy editor at The Daily Californian, correcting grammar like it’s second nature. So I’d like to take a moment to thank my 6-year-old self for not giving up on a $15 plush elephant, because it made me a better writer and began a tradition that changed my life.