Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys


The Little Literati / Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

My husband and I have a few people in the world we absolutely and collectively adore. One of our friend’s fathers is such a person. He says things like “He’s driving like a cowboy!” which is to say that that the person has a complete and utter disregard for the law and which, naturally, we’ve adopted into our family-friendly traffic cursings.


I’ve adored the phrase and its nuances so much that it has become part of my grading vernacular: “He’s writing like a cowboy!” 

I don’t say this, of course, but I think it with an echoing contempt for what appears to be that complete and utter disregard for the law and an outright refusal to “share the road.”

I don’t say this, of course, not aloud, because it has become increasingly difficult to tell the difference between someone who hasn’t tried and someone who doesn’t know, and I would never want to accuse someone of the former when the latter is true. It would be simpler if these beginners could hang a sign on the back of their paper, like we see affixed on so many Civic bumpers, alerting us of learners’ status. Warning, they’d say, Student Writer. Proceed with caution (and a healthy slathering of traveling mercies).

I don’t say this, of course, never aloud, because I am busy worrying about how many times they must have seen the words don’t, can’t, or won’t in books and believed the apostrophes to be merely decorative. The gasp echoes again when I see a lonely lowercase I (see, I can’t even reproduce it here it’s so terrifying) and stop to think of how many first-person books they mustn’t have read along the long path to believing that (deep breath) “i” ever appears on its own in nature.

I don’t say this, of course, when I see I seen without room for the Holy Spirit and a helping verb left between them. 

And this isn’t the only thing I don’t say. 

I don’t tell them I can spot a reader from across a room, or worse, that I can spot a non-reader from across a parking lot. 

I try to keep quiet that, because I’ve read so much and so long, I can spot an accidentally italicized period after a book title in a works cited entry. They don’t need to know that my eyes have traced and memorized half the fonts in Word so that I can’t not see a header in Calibri 11 when it’s supposed to be Times New Roman 12. I don’t tell them I can spell words I can’t pronounce because I’ve seen more words in print than I’ve ever heard spoken. 

Instead, I tell them that to be better writers, they must be better readers. What I mean to say, though, is that they must have been better readers, and what I need to give I cannot: a time machine, a lap, a love, and a library card. 

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2 Replies to “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”

  1. Amen. One of the founding tenets of the Collegiate High School was “good readers make good writers.” (Also, “good readers make good thinkers.”) Our philosophy was not to judge the reading choices the students made, just getting their noses in books was the point.

    If you can't go back in time (although if any one could, it would be you), the best you can do is get students to start reading now; it may, at least, make them decent, if not good, writers. Besides, who knows, they may fall into the land of books and stay there forever. It could happen.

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