Bright Star

Henry 1Just before I got pregnant with Henry, I was helping a homebound patron edit her book.  She couldn’t come to writers’ group, so she sent me her pages each month, and I’d take them for feedback and send it back to her.  The book was on astrology, and she’d created a new system for reading the stars.  While she asked me not to share the details of the system, she did a reading for me as a thank you.  She said this decade, my thirties, would be the best of my life and most successful.

Now I am not much of a believer in anything beyond the physical world.  I have a thorny relationship with religion and am a skeptic about most everything else.  But this stuck with me.  Thirty was the age where I let go of fears, accepted my limitations, and came to terms with the fact that happiness was not a thing bestowed open me but a thing I had to work for. Things are not always easy – I’ve also dealt with some of the worst depressive episodes of my life – but overall, my thirties have been far and away more productive and happier than any other time in my life.  I have to attribute some of this happiness to Henry.

I don’t write about him much.  When I’m with him, I soak up every moment of him, good and bad.  That’s the way I parent, and it works for me.  But it makes me want to escape when I’m not with him.  At work, I focus on work; when he’s in bed, I’m thinking about other things.  He exhausts me.  There is also the background thought, all the time, that other people don’t want to read about him.  That people are inherently tired of children.  Children are so glorified in our society, seen as such a reason to be alive and to be fierce and proud, that we get tired of parents who are too vocal.

Today I wanted to write about him, though.  There are some things I wanted to document.  Henry, at almost 20 months, is a reason to be alive and fierce and proud, even if I don’t want to talk about it all the time.  He drove me crazy today, not wanting to sit in the cart at Target or Acme, and I had to alternately carry him and let him walk, pushing the cart with one hand.  I was sweating, as the temperature rocketed from 30 to 50 in two hours and my head began to pound with the change.  Yet there were small moments, like when we left the house and a random teenager was strolling past playing his guitar, and Henry stopped to dance.  When I asked him, “Do you love Mommy?” and he said “Yes!”  When Ed asked him if he had something he wanted to tell Facebook, and he said, “Bus.”  ”Bus” was today’s word of the day; everything was a bus.

He knows how to turn on my Nook and find his spelling game app.  He can spell words within the app.  He knows how to find his Babyphone app, too, and he knows how to turn on the Wii and start Donkey Kong Country.  He knows letters: O, I, A, M, E – but he’s confounded by W and J.  He will climb into the lap of a stranger and dance to cell phone ringtones.  He loves to sit with me and read.

Before he was born, I was so worried that having a child would mess up my life, the way it was.  That all my free time would be sucked away in an instant – that I would be a different person, an obnoxious person who thought and talked about her kid all the time.  I reminded myself that it was going to be hard, and that I needed to remember that life is not all about me anymore.  This is the way it is now: I am still me, like I said I would be.  I was prepared for the difficulties, so I wasn’t shocked.  There were only pieces of this life that I wasn’t prepared for.  He has so much power, this small bright star.  He has so much ahead of him, so much discovery, and I have so much to learn about being his mother.

Children don’t make you happy merely by existing.  No one wanting to improve their marriage or their lives in general should have a child to accomplish that.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you should or should not have a child.  That is your decision.  My decision was to create and shape this little person, and I’m glad I made it.  As Ed would say: “he’s pretty awesome.”  When he’s exhausting, when he’s fascinating, and when he’s shining.

 

PLA: The Good, the Bad, and the Migraine

pla-logoLast week I was at the Public Library Association conference.  I am the Library Liaison to Sisters in Crime, which means I put together a booth on the exhibit floor and talked to librarians about the group.  This is a perfect job for me because I am both of those things, so I can connect librarians to writers and writers to librarians – I know how each of those minds work.

But seriously, Sisters in Crime is a fabulous organization for anyone who loves mysteries.  My writing has gotten better because of it, and I’ve learned so much from my fellow Sisters and Misters about the business.  I have found mentors in my local chapter as well as on the national board and through other events.  I have had the opportunity to travel and meet librarians and writers across the country.  My life is so much better for it.

I also wore my regular library-work hat, which meant I attended sessions and visited vendors.  I have tons of ideas for our next two-year technology plan.  The sessions I saw were first-rate, too, especially the one by Simon Sinek, who talked about the biochemical human need to connect each other, not push each other away.  It’s a management style I have always embraced, so it was validating to see it on a big stage in front of hundreds, maybe even thousands of people.

On Friday night, I joined a group of teen librarians to see Rainbow Rowell and David Levithan, two of my YA idols.  Despite my terrible migraine, it was the best thing ever.  We ran into them in a cupcake shop just before the program started, so we got to meet them and talk to them before anyone else did.  That was great, because after we waited several hours to get their autographs, there wasn’t much time to tell them anything personal.  I was so glad I had the chance to tell them how much their books meant to me while we were all waiting for our delicious cupcakes.  Their talk and reading was great, too.  And teen librarians are the best to hang around with.  They are all so caring and fun.

I took away a few things from PLA:

You should always try.  Megan McArdle brought this up in her Big Ideas talk, and Rainbow Rowell and David Levithan reinforced it.  If you don’t write garbage, you’ll never write something worth reading.  If you don’t fail, you’ll never succeed.  Yoda may say there is only do or do not, but doing may come in stages.  Don’t give up.

What you do may not seem worthwhile at first, but you will reap the rewards later.  When you put other people first, the whole world opens to you.

Tell your story.  I’m an idea person, so at any given time, there are always several books roaming in my head.  I wish I could write at the same pace I read.  Rainbow Rowell said that writing is about telling the story you want to tell.  Over the past few weeks, I have been wondering if it is really possible that I can write a cozy mystery, a dark YA fantasy, and a multi-genre thriller involving robots and still build a career.  (And before that, I wrote chick lit… talk about a trend that’s crashed and burned).  But you know what’s most important?  Those stories.  Realistically, let’s face it, I’m not going to have a Fancy Writing Career.  So why should I spend time chasing trends and branding myself as X or Y?  I’m not.  I’m always having an identity crisis, hence my blog title.  So I might as well have one as a writer, too, and write all of it – those important stories.  One day, a trend will come around that one of them fits into, and I might sell a book.  We’ll see.

Don’t apologize.  Warren Graham said this in the Black Belt Librarian session.  When you need to tell someone at the library to follow the rules, you tell them, “I know you didn’t know the rule, but – ” but you don’t say you’re sorry.  I say I’m sorry to everyone and everything, so this is new to me.  A few times at PLA, people told me things I should and shouldn’t do.  I accepted (and still do accept) that criticism as graciously as possible, filed the information away in the back of my head – but I did say I was sorry.  Why should I be?  I ran that booth like a boss, got lots of compliments from authors, librarians, and even one of my library’s board members, and so many people went away happy.  There’s no reason to be sorry.  There may be reasons to do things differently next time, but I’m not going to apologize for any of the awesome things I did at PLA.  (And I’m not going to apologize the next time I have to kick someone out for swearing or doing some other stupid thing.)

I am so grateful for the opportunity to travel, champion the things I love, and connect with so many people.  My deepest thanks to Sisters in Crime and Twinsburg Public Library, the organizations that believe in me and send me to these things.  Next will be ALA in Las Vegas… and I hope the migraine doesn’t follow me there!

All Joy and No Fun

all joyAt Christmas, I was discussing children with my brother-in-law and sister.  They related how many people were trying to get them to “join the club,” and I remembered how awful that was before we had Henry.  I didn’t want to have a child because I wanted to be part of a group, I said to my sister.  I wanted to have one because… well, I didn’t really know why.  Not because I thought it would make my life better.  Far from that.  I knew firsthand how hard it would be to have a child, even as I listened to parents tell me I’d never truly know until I had one of my own.

“But it’s easier than you think it will be,” I heard myself saying, even though those weren’t the words I wanted to use.  ”There is a joy to it.  A reward you can’t define.”

I suppose that is the reason I had a child: because I knew that reward was there.  I just didn’t know how it would manifest.  And I suspect that is part of the reason Jennifer Senior wrote this book.  The other part is that collective teeth-gnashing all parents seem to participate in online, in storytime, at coffeehouses, no matter how old their children are.  What causes us to participate in this ritual, besides the cold reality of passing our genes along?  Why do we torture ourselves with sleepless nights, mommy wars, endless researching on how to be a better parent?  This book covers the effects of parenting on parents, along with a history of where parenting has been and a view of where it is now.

I was compelled by Senior’s accounts, chapter by chapter, of parents at each stage of their children’s lives: babies, young children, school-age, and teenagers.  She profiles individual parents and puts them in context of the greater picture.  For instance, we get a glimpse into the life of Jessie, a mom of three who works from home, and her frantic quest to keep up with everything.  As we see her multitasking, Senior intersperses research on how parents of young children today are constantly pulled in so many directions.  I was reminded of my friend Stacy, who balances her son on her hip while on a conference call on mute – and then I remembered that earlier today, I tried to hide while on a conference call of my own, but was thwarted by Henry suddenly learning how to turn a doorknob.

Senior’s chapters on school-age and adolescent children spooked me big-time, but I could understand exactly where they were coming from, since I see those kids in the library every day.  Those parents are even more stressed out than those with kids my son’s age.  They’ve got kids who are used to being coddled and distracted their whole lives, unable to amuse themselves independently.  They’re creating activities for those kids and helping with daunting homework assignments (and sometimes even doing the assignments for the kids).  Then, when those kids become teenagers, the teenagers have underdeveloped prefrontal cortices, and they’re mouthy and rude and more willing to take risks.  Parents, after sacrificing so much for so long, are exhausted.  No longer are teenagers an investment for the family, able to go out and work to earn the family money.  They’re a liability, getting ready to cost the parents so much both emotionally and financially (college, anyone?)

Granted, Senior only studied the middle class in America, and there are whole books that could be written on parents in different circumstances around the world.  But for a snapshot of that life, at least the one I’m living here in Northeast Ohio, this is a particularly accurate and definitive one.  When she gets to the last chapter, she gets back to the joy in the title, that reward I can never seem to put my finger on, and it’s astonishing.

I can say till I’m blue in the face that my son won’t be x or y.  He won’t be overscheduled, he’ll be accountable for his actions, blah blah.  The truth is, that’s not the case.  My son will do things that will surprise me, both for the good and for the bad.  That’s where the reward lies.  I know who I am, and I know where I’m going.  I’m happy and grateful for my life and what I’m doing with it.  I’m a writer, a musician, a wife, a librarian.  A servant, a worker, a woman, a friend.  I am both someone apart from my family and bound up in it. I’ve learned my lessons, paid my prices, confronted my own mistakes over and over again.  But Henry hasn’t.  He’s learning to be human.  His eyes light up, and he says, “Oh, wow!” when he encounters something new; I ask him, “Where’s Mommy’s toes?” and he grabs for my feet.  Those moments are my rewards.

Senior’s gem of a book helped me to realize these things and more, more than I could sum up in a review.  It is what I wish I could tell everyone who thinks about going on this journey.

Cover image does not belong to me and is used solely to promote the author and her work.