When Words Won’t Come


A woman writing in a journal.The other day, my six-year-old was sitting at the table doing his “writing” homework. I was in the kitchen making dinner when I heard him yell, “Mama! I need help with my words. I have no words!”

I wanted to rush over and help him, but to be honest, I’ve felt a bit at a loss for words myself lately. I’m not sure if it’s due to the state of the world at the moment that has me retreating from my typical coping mechanisms of reading, writing, and talking, but there’s definitely something happening. I have found myself in conversations thinking, I really have nothing worthwhile to add here. Like my son, I have no words!

There are other times when I honestly just want to be quiet. It feels good, and I just don’t have the energy, physical or mental, to come up with something funny or intelligent or endearing.

I was recently at a dear friend’s wedding, and they had this cool stand-in for the guest book. You pick up an old phone and record a message for the bride and groom. Each time I walked past it on the way to the bathroom or the bar, I told myself I’d do it later when I thought of something good to say. And each time, I kept right on walking until the night ended, and I realized I never got to record my message. On the car ride home, the perfect words popped into my mind, but alas, it was too late.

As parents, especially today, we worry so much about the impact our words will have on our children.

I see people all over social media suggesting how not to speak to your child, whether in praise or punishment. How will my phrasing influence my child’s behavior? Sense of self? Values? Somehow the words that bubble to the surface fastest are usually the ones we need to redact, revise, and rethink. And what happens when we let those slip?

What makes it even harder is that lately, it feels like my brain is operating on a delay. I don’t know if it’s because it’s summer and it’s just been so hot or if I’m simply tapped out. I get texts from my sisters or friends, and I want to reply but can’t think of what to say, and then the day slides through my fingers like the slime my kids love so much (it’s messy, moves slowly, but is difficult to grab onto) and now I worry that I look rude or flaky. 

It’s particularly upsetting because I’m a writer. I love words. They’re my life. All I ever want to be doing is either reading them or stringing them together on the page, or trying to figure out which ones fit together in the black and white squares of my crossword puzzle. I can close my eyes and see the answers to my daily word games in the air, and it’s so effortless! But then I realize that those words are out of context. They have no real attachment to anything in my life, so they feel easier and safer.

Because I know, more than anything, that words matter. I’m an English teacher, after all. If they didn’t, I’d be out of a job. 

So maybe it’s cowardly to take the quiet road. To let any words I might utter get sucked into the vacuum of my Insta feed and my Netflix queue and whatever nonsense my son is watching on YouTube now that he’s finished his writing homework. 

But then again, here we are. 

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Juliana is an English teacher, aspiring novelist, and mother to redheaded sons. (No, her husband doesn't have red hair. Yes, it was a surprise!) She grew up in Scarsdale and now teaches at her rival high school - Mamaroneck - where she also lives with her (brown-haired) husband, Mike, and their two (orange-haired, according to Noah) sons, Noah (2016) and Simon (2019). When she has a free moment (haha) she is reading something: YA Romance, humorous essays, poetry, thrillers, student work, and, sometimes, her own works-in-progress.