How Webkinz made me a better writer

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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.

Contact Maya Eliahou at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @MayaEliahou.