How to Write a Personal Essay in 2017


I had a fairly mundane formative experience when I was younger. I describe that experience in a couple of paragraphs because when I skinned my knee on the playground at four years of age and collapsed onto the brown mulch, my mother cooing reassurance into my ear, I learned an important lesson.

My friends, towheaded, ringleted, dreadlocked alike, stood around me as I shouted my electric pain into the air. Every child skins his or her knee at some point, but this was different. This was epiphany. This was me. This was my knee. My blood.

I connect this fairly mundane formative experience to a contemporary issue. Although decades have passed since the day that shaped me, society has still not addressed the danger posed by playground equipment. We bring our children to these structures every day; they have become a modern Gethsemane for mothers everywhere, a place where we take postmodern Communion, hoping that the pilgrimage does something to alleviate the guilt that others constantly heap upon us.

Here’s where I bring in some other blog posts that are tangentially involved in some way. This social activist reminds us of the intersection between play and plague. When my children hold hands with others and sing about that ring around the rosy, those pockets full of posies, they don’t know that they are contemplating their own deaths, participating in the tragedy that began when Adam refused to nurture Eve’s desire for self-actualization. This Slate article is telling; the team that created the polyurethane foam that covers football field goal posts and reinforces the inside of field hockey helmets was not all-male, but the contributions of women . . . of mothers were overlooked. In this way, Nerf material represents the second wombs that mothers give their children.

Now I engage in some self-reflection. Should I comfort my children when they skin their knees? Am I participating in the false stereotype that my daughter can’t care for her own injuries? Will she internalize my well-intended attention and learn the lesson that all women take to heart in our patriarchal society? That women care and men are cared for?

I asked my daughter what she thought. I report the conversation in heightened, lofty, poetic language worthy of a guru because this is the climax of the essay. She looked up at me, a youngling searching her mother’s eyes for the affirmation that a flower needs from the sun. She blinked, the weight of the world pressing down her lids, only to have the deep core of her inner strength push them back open. “Mother,” she said, summoning the power of Delilah, the goddess from whence she gets her name. “Can we go to the park today?”

After a short paragraph, I will end with a couple pointed sentences that demonstrate I have learned something beautiful. New. Because that time and every subsequent time that we go to the park, my children and I know we are not just chatting with the other moms or seeing who can cross the monkey bars the fastest. We are celebrating a new sense of understanding. A sense of self.

It’s not a playground. It’s a blessing stone.  

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