I am in a strange season of life. A season of snatches. It is one I don’t dare complain about, because I know the one that is around the next corner, hiding within my next breath. The season I am in now is one my hairdresser warned me about when I announced there was a 4th child on the way.
Oh, get ready, he told me. You’ll be at the band concert. Your husband will be at the ball field. You’ll never see each other again.
I stopped letting him cut my hair shortly after that conversation. Not because he was bad at cutting hair, but because he talked too much.
For us, it wasn’t band and baseball. It was band and orchestra. And Smoothie King. And 3 schools for 4 kids. It was conference nights and open houses. It is, on occasion, a numbers nightmare. But on other occasions, there is magic.
Ordinary, mundane magic.
And as much as I’ve tried to skip steps and find loopholes around cooking traditional meals, the magic always seems to happen over a hot meal and around the 9′ table in the dining room. Not around the kitchen island that seats us all. Not in the family room with the TV on.
Around the table.
Sometimes the magic only lasts for 15 minutes, as one kid has a chemistry test the next day or a project to finish. Sometimes the magic is missing one, because my oldest had to go straight to work after school and won’t be home until 10:30.
Last Monday night, the magic was interrupted by a tech support call from Dell. Our 2nd born son had a laptop with a bad hard drive, still under warranty. So Todd took the call reluctantly, knowing if he didn’t, he might never hear from them again. He left the table. Andrew saw his dad leaving the table and looked at me with pleading eyes. He’s the introvert in the family. And though he is definitely part of the magic, he participates with some reticence.
“You can go,” I said. He was gone before my eyes could focus on the dust trail he left behind.
That left me at the table with Brady and Lucy and Jenna. For some reason, none of the rest of us moved. A conversation began about why there is evil and why things continue in the world as they do. Why does God love us? Why would He want us? There was back and forth between the older ones. The youngest wanted to shut the whole thing down and go play golf.
The table talk took a dark tone in the beginning, with a hint of hopelessness. What is the point of it all? But it ended with all kinds of light and hope. My daughter saw through all of that and piped up that she wanted to be baptized. Right then. That night. She was ready.
That night ended in the baptism of my sweet daughter, surrounded by family and friends. The moments leading up to her baptism found me in the air handler closet, because apparently I’ve never been backstage in the building where I’ve worshipped for 15 years. I had to be led to the staircase by a person deemed more “together” than myself. The moments following her baptism had me carrying around a bra wrapped in 19 paper towels and trying not to make eye contact with anyone.
Whose bra it was and how it came to be swaddled in cloths is another story for another day. Around a table, for sure. Because that’s where the magic happens.
I’ve been on a diet for 12 years. For 12 years I have steadily gained. There were a few exceptions here and there. In 2014, I did 30 days of the Whole 30. I lost 16 pounds in 30 days. I also lost my will to live.
A grainless, legumeless life is no life at all.
I am not a body-shaming, fit-into-my-wedding-dress kind of person. I don’t really care about that. What I want is to have energy again. To like wearing jeans again. And to have a single pair of shorts that says, “49 looks good on you, girl.” Simple stuff.
So here I am. In the middle of another attempt, without knowing exactly why it is so difficult. I was thinking about this yesterday when I walked into our pantry and lingered there. The pantry is never a good place for me to linger, mostly because there is nothing natural in the pantry. Nothing that grows from the ground. Nothing with less than 50 ingredients. The fruits and veggies are in the fridge. Sometimes the good stuff is already sitting out on the kitchen island. But things that are good for me long term are never, ever in the pantry.
I looked down yesterday afternoon, in the pantry, and found the case of Girl Scout cookies that I had voluntarily allowed through my door on Sunday afternoon. I paid $60 for them. And there they were. Saying hi. This is like kissing a person with the flu. Why would you do that?
After wondering for a few long seconds if I should make this particular choice, I walked away with a sleeve of Trefoils in my hand, saying to myself, “I’ll start again tomorrow.” I ate the whole sleeve in one sitting.
That’s when I figured out my problem. My problem is tomorrow. I mess up today, declaring a Mulligan of sorts. And I decide that I’ll fix it tomorrow. If there were still Girl Scout cookies I liked, I’d be doing the same thing today. But I ate them all, so I’m safe for the moment from Trefoils.
Tomorrow is my Today Ruiner. Because it gives me an excuse to never do anything today. I never truly get started.
I was turning these thoughts over in my mind this morning, trying to determine why I seem to be stuck in a decade-long rut, and thinking about today’s To Do list. I had two things that absolutely had to be done before school pick-ups: Exercise and writing. They are equal in importance, somewhat equal in effort, and not equal at all in likability. I hated the thought of going for a power walk without a friend, so that’s what I chose to do first. I knew if I did the writing first, the exercise was unlikely to happen. But if I walked first, I would sit down after to write.
In my quest to do the next right thing, if two are pressing and equal, I do the hateable first.
While I walked, I listened to several episodes of Emily P. Freeman’s podcast, “The Next Right Thing.” One of today’s listens was the episode called “8 Books for Soulful Decisions.” That felt like a kick in the knickerbockers, because (1) I’m trying to figure out what my next right thing is, and (2) I’m not allowed to buy any books right now. I opened up Amazon, thought about the gift card money that I was drowning in since Christmas and my birthday fall within the same week, and weighed my options. Two books seemed to be calling my name: Atomic Habits by James Clear and The Listening Life by Adam McHugh.
I think I need these books. All I have to do to get these books in my hands is to admit that I have a problem. I have to admit defeat. Is this my next right thing?
And is it even really defeat if James Clear can solve all my problems? Maybe he’s the solution to my clandestine Treefoil gormandizing. Maybe after reading Atomic Habits, I won’t be tempted to hoard books I never intend to read. Or buy 12 boxes of Girl Scout cookies, 2 of which only I like.
This is my next right thing.
I’m going to surrender.
But I’m going to do it tomorrow.
And if anyone out there reads this who happens to know Emily P. Freeman, give her my address. She owes me $10.
I am sitting under an overzealous ceiling fan, listening to the ambient noise of hushed voices and artistry. We are celebrating my youngest daughter’s 12th birthday at a pottery painting place. We’ve been here more times than I can count. I have finally reached the birthday that allows me to take a backseat in the creative process, which is good because I can’t paint. And I don’t like to. Past birthdays here ended in tears and black smudges in all the wrong places. I would inevitably spend $148 to go home with a ceramic hamster that looked a little too much like Michael Jackson. I have a drawer full of them.
But tonight is different. Tonight I am letting my two girls, my niece, and a friend do their thing, while I do mine. And my thing is to write.
It has been a strange week. On Sunday morning, a helicopter went down in Calabasas, CA and immediately took the lives of Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant, Christina Mauser, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, and Ara Zobayan. On Sunday afternoon, my 15-year-old son came into the family room looking devastated and told me the news.
On Tuesday, I woke up thinking about the 9 victims, seven of whom were unknown to the world until they became a tragic headline. I had been thinking about them for days. I woke up with words in my head in that velvety pre-dawn darkness before my alarm had sounded and sunk back into another half hour of sleep. Sometime after 10 a.m., with laundry steadily thumping in my attic, I sat down to write. I didn’t think I’d still have the words in my head from earlier that morning, because falling back asleep usually kills it. But oddly enough, the words flowed quickly and I typed out The Seven Others. Thirty minutes later, I thanked God for it and ran down my stairs to grab lunch before I headed out the door.
I continued to think about the victims, but I didn’t think any more about the post. Until much later.
It got shared a few times on Facebook. And then a few more times. And by Thursday night, a lot of people had read it. Like more than a million. Usually when I say a million, it’s hyperbole. It has never been literal. And to prove I’m telling the truth, my stats on this blog for the week of January 20-27 were 35. Thirty five people popped over for whatever reason entered their mind. And my previous post, The Shots you Don’t Take, got 77 reads the day I wrote it.
That just lets you know how big a star Kobe Bryant was. His wing span stretched all the way to Temple Terrace, FL, where some very average people were wishing Sunday’s accident had never happened. And as if by Laker magic, that blog post took off.
Like. TOOK. OFF.
On an average day, I get about 4 emails. Probably 3 of them are from Aeropostale. Absolutely all of them want me to purchase something. My phone stays pretty quiet. Not this week. This week I received hundreds of messages. Some of them made me laugh. Some of them accused me of cashing in on others’ suffering. (I assure you there is no cash in a readership of 35 and no forethought that the readership would be anything but that.) Some of them were laced with the raw grief of the writer’s own pain from a story only they have lived. Some of them wondered why I hate old people, more specifically Betty White.
So because I am low on sleep and high on observations, I will finish this out in bullet point style.
I don’t hate elderly people. At all. And I don’t wish them dead. Not one bit. I’m sure Kirk Douglas is still having great conversations with family and friends and he will be missed when he does pass on. He’s also seen some pretty major changes in the world, from cars, to planes, to smart phones. Betty White is funny and full of life. She dances better at 98 than I could at 20. I haven’t watched her much since Golden Girls, because I’m a little too prudish for the bawdy nature of certain shows. My own grandparents lived well into their 90s and my mother died at 74. If I could have given her 20 more years, you can be quite sure I would have. I love old people. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to be one someday.
America doesn’t think other types of accidents and deaths are less important or less sad than the death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter. But this one was deeply shocking because it killed one of the more brilliant NBA stars to ever play and along with him, it killed moms and dads and young girls on their way to an innocuous, family-friendly weekend tournament. Each one of the 9 people had such an extensive network of fans, family, teammates, staff, players, and friends, that the arm of grief seemed a little longer and the grip a little tighter than some of the stories we hear.
The world is full of good people. To this point in my life, I haven’t suffered like the Bryants or the Mausers or the Chesters or the Altobellis. But I certainly confirmed this week that many, many people have. People wrote me, identifying with this tragedy. One had lost their father in a fire when they were 7. Some had lost husbands or wives to cancer and then quietly leaned into the business of raising their small children without a spouse. Some had lost children to cancer or to sudden, horrific accidents. Most of these had a story to tell about the people that rallied around them in their darkest hour. Many of them have gone forward, dedicated to rallying around others.
These were the disjointed thoughts I was peacefully typing inside You Do the Dishes, away from all of the water and paint, when my older daughter, the same age as the girls who died on Sunday, walked up and held out the top of a ceramic box that she was making for her best friend at school.
I was so close…
“It’s ruined,” she said, trying to control the trembling in her voice. I looked at it, hoping to disagree with her and convince her that she was overreacting. But no, it was truly ruined. She had attempted to paint “bff” in black cursive letters. It looked like she had used the tube of 1988 Clinique mascara that we had found in my mother’s train case when she died. They were more lava rock than letters.
I spent the next hour, until the moment the place closed for the night, helping her redo those letters so she would have a gift for a friend she thinks so highly of. When we finished the grueling task, I’m not sure we were exactly proud of our work. But we weren’t embarrassed either, and the almost-tears of the hour before had turned to laughter and solution-based thinking, however shaky it was.
At the end of a week full of both sorrow and joy, I still hate ceramic. And I hate painting. But I love my daughters and, if I’ve learned nothing else this week, I’ve learned to live for the things that last and the people that matter. This was a little of both.
Everyone is talking about Kobe Bryant’s tragic death. I guess I am, too. Sort of. I understand it. He was a legend. An icon. A household name. Larger than life. Until he wasn’t alive. Two days ago he was alive. Now he isn’t. And it doesn’t matter that he was in top physical condition and could dunk a basketball from half court. Fog can kill giants, too.
The Kobe Bryant story made me sad. It made my son sad, as he walked down the stairs on Sunday afternoon to tell me about it–a full hour before CNN reported the news. It made me sad that Vanessa Bryant lost a husband AND a child. That her older daughter lost her sister and her father. That their 7-month-old baby won’t know her dad at all. That their 3-year-old is probably asking for him and her sister on repeat.
But that’s not the story that really got me in this tragedy.
What struck me was the seven others on board. Seven other indispensable, deeply-loved people. Seven other giants.
I’ve heard the media refer to them as the “seven others on board.” I understand this was more about responsible reporting than it was dismissive. There were next of kin to be notified and facts to sort out. But something about the way it was worded pulled me in. The crash claimed the lives of Kobe and Gianna Bryant and seven others on board.
I wish I hadn’t researched those seven others. I wish I didn’t know who they were and who they had left behind. And because I talk too much, some of you will read this and perhaps, like me, wish you could go back to mourning only the basketball icon.
Christina Mauser was a 38-year-old assistant coach with a husband, Matt, and 3 children, ages 3, 9, and 11, at home. They knew their mom was leaving. They knew when she’d be coming home. And now they know a completely different set of facts that they can’t untangle or climb out from under. They miss their mom. She wasn’t known by the world. But she was their world.
Sarah and Payton Chester were a mom and daughter duo, with two teen boys and a Mr. Chester that also expected to get some texts about how the tournament went. Maybe some pictures. And an ETA about when they were headed back to Newport Beach.
The pilot, Ara Zobayan, was highly trained. Highly trustworthy. Highly requested by celebrities. But no one is immune to zero visibility. Sometimes the weather takes no prisoners. So little has been said about the pilot, but he had a family, too. A tribe that would trade anything to have him back.
And then there was the Altobelli family. John, Keri, and Alyssa. A community college baseball coach, and his wife, accompanying their 13-year-old daughter to her game with Kobe Bryant’s more famous daughter. When I read about them, I closed my eyes and wished with all my heart for Alyssa to be an only child. Because this was 3 family members going down on the same helicopter. Alyssa was not an only child. She had a sister named Lexi, who probably had things to do on a Sunday, and a grown brother working for the Red Sox in Boston. Lexi is in high school. Old enough to stay alone in the house for a time. Old enough to drive herself around. But nowhere near old enough to be an orphan. To lose her sister. To be alone in a house where her family should be. This story made me cry. I’m going to pray for Lexi Altobelli until I forget her name. I hope I never forget her name.
There are people for whom life is long. Betty White is 98 and still making racy sitcoms. Kirk Douglas is currently 103. Did you even know that guy’s still alive? He is. If he still talks, I bet he doesn’t use the expression ‘life is short.’
I know people with grandparents who are nearing 100. Their friends are all gone. Younger relatives are even gone. They are ready to go, too. But for them, life is long.
On the other hand, there are people for whom life is very, very short. Tragically short. 41 years short. 30something years short. Babies at home short. 13 years short.
Something like Sunday’s tragedy brings us all into a shared space where we grieve a loss in common. We appreciate our next breath that much more and we overlook those people dropping dirty clothes in the wrong places or forgetting to tell us about the project board they need us to buy before the store closes at 9 p.m. A tragedy makes us think about ourselves. Our blessings. And our fragility. I’d like to think I’ll hit 85. And maybe I will. I’ve made it past 13. I’ve survived the afro and the braces and the middle school drama. My youngest is about to turn 12. I’ll probably survive her drama, her braces, too.
But I don’t know if my life will be long. I don’t know if I’ll get to see everything I want to see. Every graduation. Every wedding. Every birth.
None of us know.
The challenge is to live like the fog is coming. To hug the people within our reach. To be a legend. Because to a few, we are. And to love our people like they are legends. Because to us–they are.
Wayne Gretzky, hockey hall-of-famer with an asymmetrical face, once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
I used that inspirational quote to get the entire family out into the yard 2 Sundays ago to watch the SpaceX launch at 9:16 p.m.
“Guys, you can’t see it if you don’t come outside and look up.”
We stood around in 50 degrees and looked up in a southeasterly direction. We laughed and chatted as we stared at the sky. We stood there long past 9:16. We saw nothing.
So you miss a certain percentage of the shots you DO take, too. I was disappointed that night in how many people saw the launch that were not in my backyard. When I bemoaned our situation to Todd, he said, “Missy, when was the last time all 6 of us were together in the backyard looking up at the stars?” And then I realized that we hadn’t scored a traditional goal, but we had scored nonetheless.
These are the moments I’m trying to snapshot–emblazon like a woodburned plaque–into my mind. I don’t want to forget. Because in 212 days, my oldest son will graduate high school and begin his tentative journey into adulthood. And while he is a quiet, introverted kid who keeps to himself a lot anyway, the dynamic of our family will change. It changed a good bit from 2001 through 2008 as we added kid after kid and adjusted to the drama in our growing family. It changed again as the 2 boys inched toward adolescence and again when Andrew moved into his own space downstairs and the boys learned to love living in rooms by themselves.
But then it sort of stabilized inside our house, with the changes coming from without. My mother declined and then died. My dad remarried. My dad and his wife suffered their own health scares. The outside was brittle and ever changing. The inside stayed the same.
I’ve been savoring and trying to live by the “take your shots” and “do the next right thing” mentality, hoping I’ll be ready when my boy moves out. Hoping I’ll be ready for whatever.
In the meantime, I’ve been reading the books leftover on my bookshelf because I bet my friend, Melissa, that I could indeed finish all of my other impulse buys before my next impulse buy. Her response was to gladly accept my terms, remarking, “Easiest $10 I’ll ever make.”
Sigh. It would be easier to pay her $10 and move on to the list I have going on my phone of the books I will soon buy. She even baited me by handing me a Barnes and Noble Gift card for my birthday. I am persisting and trudging on through some pretty rough 2019 choices. Because it’s the next right thing. And because I hate losing.
In my attempt to read what was already in front of me, I picked up the latest issue of my Writer’s Digest magazine and read the cover article about an author named Dani Shapiro. She’s written a memoir called Inheritance that I very much intend to buy. Someday. And she has an author website at danishapiro.com. After listening to her podcast and visiting her website, it occurred to me: Every author has a website. Their name. Their website. It’s practically a requirement that an author build a social media presence and get a website. Now to be fair, I’m not an author. But I want to be. Someday. Maybe about the time I’m allowed to buy a new book.
Because I’m a forward thinking wannabe, I attempted to secure the domain name missysnapp.com. No one is named Missy Snapp (other than me), so imagine my shock when I discovered the domain name was already taken. Who would want want missysnapp.com? What in the world.
Todd looked it up but couldn’t tell who owned it. It was privately registered. The other Missy Snapp was a guarded person. So we decided it was probably worth paying a broker service to try to get the site for ourselves. It was $69.99. On top of that initial cost, I had to choose my minimum and maximum offers for the domain purchase. I was already in deeper than I wanted to be. I had tried to back out of the broker service and it was too late. Non-refundable. The best they could do for me was to offer me negotiating tips. Their top pro tip was that most sites sell for between $500-$5000. So, bid accordingly. Yeah. That’s a fat no. This is missysnapp.com. let’s keep it in perspective. So I offered $30 in the low range and $50 as my max.
And then I waited.
I didn’t think much more about it until Friday morning when a phone call came in from Phoenix, AZ. I was 90% certain it was a recorded woman offering to help secure a new warranty for my van and I answered in a fairly snarky tone. I caught the fella off guard.
“Oh, hello, may I speak to Missy Snapp?”
“That’s me,” I replied, knowing it couldn’t be a solicitation if they knew me by Missy.
“Uh, hi, this is Brett from GoDaddy Broker Services and you were trying to buy the site Missysnapp.com, correct?”
“Yes, that’s right,” I answered. “Hi.”
“Ok, hi,” he said. “I’ve done some research into this site and it looks like it’s registered to a Todd Snapp who lives at your same address.”
“What?!” I exclaimed. “Are you serious?”
He was. Quite serious.
“So you are telling me that I paid you $70 to buy me a site I already own?”
“Well, that’s actually why I’m calling. I’m refunding $69.99 back to your account. We decided not to call Mr. Snapp and get in the middle of all that.”
“I appreciate that, Brett,” I said. And at that point, we said an awkward goodbye and I hung up.
It had been a rough morning, getting the kids off to school. That morning deserves it’s own post but won’t get it because many persons would be harmed in the telling of that story. The broker’s news was a welcome wade into the ludicrous pool and I feel safer in a world where there is only one of me. Todd had no memory of purchasing the site and no idea why he did so privately. Maybe just so we could have fun buying it twice. And get some free “y’all should really talk more” counseling from GoDaddy.
As things stand now–this moment–I’ve misplaced the book I was 20 pages from finishing, I’m waiting for my $69.99 refund, and I’m dreaming big dreams for the future of that website.
And I’m thinking: In a world where you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, sometimes you take the same shot twice.
I’ve been thinking about Frozen 2 quite a lot lately. No one wants to admit this less than I do. I hated Frozen 1. Olaf was the only thing worth watching and even he could not save that movie for me. But the second one had some merit.
There is a scene in the second half of the movie where Anna is separated from Elsa, who has serious issues, for the 27th time. She feels hopeless and isolated and inadequate. But luckily, she has a fabulous voice and can write songs on the fly. So she belts out a little tune called, “The Next Right Thing.”
I’ve seen dark before, but not like this This is cold, this is empty, this is numb The life I knew is over, the lights are out Hello, darkness, I’m ready to succumb I follow you around, I always have But you’ve gone to a place I cannot find This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down But a tiny voice whispers in my mind You are lost, hope is gone But you must go on And do the next right thing Can there be a day beyond this night? I don’t know anymore what is true I can’t find my direction, I’m all alone The only star that guided me was you How to rise from the floor? But it’s not you I’m rising for Just do the next right thing Take a step, step again It is all that I can to do The next right thing I won’t look too far ahead It’s too much for me to take But break it down to this next breath, this next step This next choice is one that I can make So I’ll walk through this night Stumbling blindly toward the light And do the next right thing And, with it done, what comes then? When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again Then I’ll make the choice to hear that voice And do the next right.
I’ve heard the expression, “Just do the next thing,” and have, to some degree, lived by it. Sometimes life is too big. Too dark. Too intense. And when we try to take on the big picture and make sense of it, it can be too much. After my mother died, her dear friend said to me, “How do you eat at elephant? One bite at a time.” I don’t eat elephants and I didn’t turn her into the ASPCA for cruelty to elephants. I took it metaphorically and have had it hanging in an accessible place for 2 years now.
Do the next thing is good. But it’s not the same as do the next RIGHT thing. You can eat the elephant one bite at a time, but does the elephant need to be eaten? Is that the next right thing? Sometimes it is. When it is, take it a bite at a time. But sometimes there’s a little more to it than that. And that’s what I’ve been chewing on for weeks now.
I won’t look too far ahead It’s too much for me to take But break it down to this next breath, this next step This next choice is one that I can make So I’ll walk through this night Stumbling blindly toward the light And do the next right thing
Anna was struggling with the grief of silly animation. I struggle with an array of different obstacles and the tangle of emotions that come with each, some sillier than others. In those moments, under those obstacles, I sometimes allow the emotion to sit down on me and keep me from moving forward and producing. But when I push aside the heap of clutter I don’t need and focus on the next right thing, the answer is clear. The next right thing is almost always clear.
Figuring out the next right thing is assumed within the lines of the song. But it’s that other component that really trips me up. Do the next right thing.
Today I embark upon a New Year. Not a new me, exactly. There is no word of the year or unattainable list of pounds to lose or wisdom to gain. I’ve been there and failed at that. I’ll keep plugging at the same things I was plugging at before.
For me, for now, there are only two questions:
What’s the next right thing? and Am I willing to do it?
Crimson and gold cling to the maple trunks with the desperation of a dying season. They cannot hold on in the exhale of winter. With a flutter to the ground, it is finished. They know. And I know. With the color of harvest at my feet, I wrap myself against the cold And watch As the weaker leaves scuttle in the breath of the afternoon. They are never to been seen again. With the next rain, they will turn the color of earth and be gone. Separated from the tree that gave them life. Will they miss her? Do they realize? Have they willingly stepped aside for the promise that unfolds, velvety green, after the winter lifts? I give a nod to the rich carpet of leaves and turn my back to the trunks that are letting go. It is time. It is time to set aside my grief for the old and breathe in the new. Every season, Every promise, Every imprint, Every ceremonial transition, And the memory of each one that has gone before.
I try to go into situations with the proper education. If I don’t know a thing, I try to research the thing and come up to a speed I can manage. The internet is very helpful. Sometimes. Just last week, I used Google Images to discover what somebody famous looked like. So I’d be ready when I saw them. I prepared myself for success.
It was a disaster.
Let me back up a little.
Sometime last year, I started following the accounts of Madeleine L’Engle on Twitter and Instagram. These are not run by her. She’s been dead since September of 2007. Her granddaughter runs her social media accounts and keeps her legacy fresh in the minds of fans, both old and new. It is through this channel that I first heard about the conference I attended last week.
It was called Walking on Water. It was to be held in the church Madeleine attended toward the end of her life. In New York City. What’s not to like about any of that?
When I first read about the conference and the details of what and when and where it would be, I attempted to dismiss it from my mind. It’s not going to work. It will be impossible to pull off. It will be too expensive. But I kept going back to the posts and rereading them. The words kept finding little chinks in my armor to settle and take root. I couldn’t let it go.
Finally, I bought a ticket to the conference. And then a ticket to fly. And then secured a place to stay on the Upper West Side, 3 blocks from the church building where the event would take place.
The closer I got to November 15, the more nervous I became about traveling alone. As it turned out, a friend decided to come along for the ride and hang out on her own in the city while I was learning at the feet of folks that are smarter and more gifted than I am.
When it finally came time for me to walk to the conference, I did so with a nasty grilled cheese and last week’s blueberry scone in my belly. We had stopped into a NY grocery to eat breakfast. In a city as food-rich as NYC, it is a blubbering shame to eat a bad meal. You shouldn’t even have to eat a bad snack. But this food was bad. Good only to keep my stomach from announcing itself to other attendees of the conference. And so I entered the heavy wooden doors with a sour stomach and a pocketful of awkwardness.
I registered. I sat around at tables designed for mingling. I am terrible at mingling. I speak junior high and under. I have been casting around for my place in the writing world since I was 9. I haven’t found it yet. I doubt I’m going to find it here and now in New York amongst such obvious genius.
I texted my friend, who was sitting 3 blocks away in the Airbnb reading magazines. “I am so awkward. How did I not know I was this awkward?” “You’re not awkward, and if you were awkward, it would all be part of your charm. Relax and have fun.” “I just pulled a Failing at Life that I’m not sure I can share.” “That’s partly why you came. Embrace the awkward or embarrassing and do tell. You’ll never see these people again. I say play up the crazy and see how far you can take it.”
My friend had told me to find an old lady and introduce myself. I had decided to think on a grander scale. I wanted to find not just any old lady at the conference. I wanted to find THE old lady at the conference: Katherine Paterson herself.
For some reason, I thought getting to her would be easy. And I thought I had found her.
The opening session was everything I had hoped it would be. It was entertaining and inspiring. Sitting on the front row was a subset of speakers and organizers. To the immediate right of Charlotte Voiklis (L’Engle’s granddaughter) was an older woman. I had looked up Katherine Paterson. I knew what she looked like. This was her. The only difference was that now she had a more modern hairstyle than the picture I had seen on the internet.
I waited a couple of minutes after the closing of the first general session. No one was around Mrs. Paterson. That should have been a pretty large, flapping red flag. Emboldened by the empty praise of my friend in the Airbnb, I approached the award winning author with confidence. I moved down a row of chairs, touched her on the arm, and said,
“You are such a blessing to young people everywhere.”
I mean, if you’re going to go, go big, right? She scooped me up in a squeeze hug and said, “Well thank you, honey, but why would you say that?”
Oh, dear. I didn’t know what I was dealing with, but I already knew I was in flailing territory. I don’t recall my exact words as I attempted to answer her question. Probably because they weren’t English. I think I jumbled up some consonants and spit out the phrase, “Bridge to Terabithia.”
“Oh, honey,” she said again. “I’m not Katherine Paterson.” She released me from the hug. “I’m just a retired librarian from Connecticut.”
I think she knew at this point that I felt far dumber than she did.
“I love librarians,” I said. Really, Missy? I love librarians? That’s the best you can do? It was. The best I could do. Because I had dug a trench no one could emerge from. I had dug the trench where I would die. Alone.
“I did check Bridge to Terabithia out to a lot of young people,” she said.
The conversation settled floor-level, like dust in the sunlight and eventually we both walked away. I spent the rest of the day avoiding librarians and vowing not to falsely identify anyone else.
When the real Katherine Paterson walked through the door a bit later, there truly was no mistaking her. She looked exactly like the last picture I had seen of her, haircut and all. She is 87 years old and full of life and wisdom. She is funny and poignant and humble. She claims that after finishing every book, she would announce that it was her last one, because she couldn’t imagine ever having another fresh idea. She wrote most of her books by typing 2 pages a day. “Just 2 pages today, sweetie,” she would say to herself. “Even if you have to widen the margins.” She wrote 40 books in 30 years and somehow, I am fairly ashamed to say, I had not read a one of them.
I started Bridge to Terabithia on the plane ride home and finished it in bed that night, between sobs. I have since also read The Great Gilly Hopkins, which felt like a shift in my life’s thinking. This book contains such incredibly rich and endearing characters.
And though I royally mistook one librarian from CT for a bestselling author, I have no confusion in the lessons I took away from that day:
Eighteen years ago, we adopted our firstborn. All these years later, we are grateful still. For him. For the woman who placed him in our care. For the channel that brought him to us when we couldn’t have a child on our own. It was as conventional an adoption as it could have been We took him home on Day 3 of his life. There was no reversal in decision on either side. No hang-ups or glitches at the hospital or with the official paperwork. But even the most conventional adoptions are never truly conventional. There are so many layers. Even now. Especially now.
My youngest daughter started a new school last week. It is
the second time in 8 weeks that she has started middle school. The only thing
worse than starting middle school once is starting it twice. In my recent blog
to the Instagram generation, which was directed to my daughters who will likely
never read it, I referenced the challenges of being in an IB middle school.
When I wrote that post, I didn’t know how much more challenging it would become
in such a short time. We escalated from “this isn’t going so smoothly” to “I’m
pulling her out” in less than two weeks.