Hey, it’s okay.

At the start of this school year, my third-grader AJ was invited to be part of Battle of the Books — a book club that meets before school hours every other week. Battlers read a total of 10 books, a blend of fiction and nonfiction, award-winners and obscure finds. The program culminates in a final contest against other elementary schools that have read the same books. Armed with custom T-shirts for the occasion, the team is excused from school for the final battle, which takes place at the prestigious Skidmore College. After the battle, a local restaurant is donating a celebratory lunch for all participants. Only 5 of the 12 students can go to this final battle, so a test was given to see who made the cut.

AJ came home last Tuesday, his backpack overflowing with all ten books from which to study for the test.

Let me tell you about my son AJ’s brain. He taught himself to use a computer and navigate the Internet before he could talk. He learned how to play chess — and play well! — at the age of 4. He has a scary memory. He can explain the difference between endangered and extinct, giving numerous examples of exotic animals for each category. This morning he recalled something his grandpa told him months ago: 70% of the universe is dark matter which pulls the universe apart, and 25% of the universe is dark energy which pushes the universe back together…Dark matter is winning. He knows the only way to cut a circle in 3 equal parts is to make a ‘peace sign.’ I’m not bragging here, but what this kid remembers blows me away…and sure keeps me on my toes.

So I didn’t do the flash card thing. I didn’t insist he reread all ten books. I didn’t make him redo his summaries. My husband and I didn’t want to put that kind of pressure on him. We enjoyed our weekend. We saw Wild Kratts Live at Proctors, we went skiing at West Mountain. AJ played the Wii with his brothers and chess with his dad. We had fun.

As soon as AJ came off the bus yesterday, tears brimming over his enviously long eyelashes, I knew he didn’t make the team.

As parents, we’re not supposed to solve for everything in our child’s life. We are there to lend advice and provide boundaries, but also support, love, and encourage. But we’re not supposed to keep them in a bubble, protect them from heartbreak, shield them from bullies on the school bus, or lie about the existence of holiday personas for the sake of their happiness. Right?

“That’s okay. Hey, it’s okay. Mom and dad are so proud of you. You did your best. It’s okay. Hey, it’s okay.”

I sounded like a broken record. So I stopped. Put my arm around his puffy coat, pulled him into a side hug as we walked up our driveway. “I know you’re disappointed. I would be disappointed too.”

And then his tears really started. Not just tears. Sobbing. Loud, vocalized agony that surely indicated to neighbors he had broken his femur…or stepped on a bed of rusty nails. (Maybe I should have stuck with the “It’s okay” mantra?)

He got inside, stripped off the day’s baggage, and fell onto the couch. There was so much I wanted to say.

“How about a hug?”

My nine-year-old curled up to me like a sleepy toddler and let it all out. When the tears stopped, we stayed there snuggling on the couch. Me holding my firstborn, my son, my one and only AJ.

I gently cracked the silence by sharing a story I hadn’t thought about for years.

When I was a little girl, I was up for a part in play called Pippi Longstocking. Not just any part. Pippi. It was between me and another girl, but I wasn’t worried. Theater was my “thing” and this other girl was younger and less experienced and had never really been in shows before. This wasn’t just a show, it was a traveling troupe. The small cast would perform all over the Northeast for months to come, creating priceless memories and experiences at every step. Not only that, but my brother Jimmy was a shoe-in for a show-stopping supporting role. It was supposed to be a family affair. Sibling bonding. Just think of the headlines…

The director called the house and although I had answered the phone, she asked to speak to Jimmy. He got the part — the fun supporting role where his comedic genius would shine. And that was all the news she had for our family. She was sorry, but I did not get the part of Pippi. I was devastated. Absolutely crushed. And what made it sting even more? I had to watch my brother have the time of his young life traveling and performing with this small group of actors who became his fast friends.

“What part did you end up getting?” AJ asked me.

“I didn’t get a part. I wasn’t in the show at all.” I said, and then the strangest thing happened. I broke into tears…while I was holding my nine-year-old who just had his first big disappointment in life. AJ was quiet while I tried unsuccessfully to hide my emotions.

Later, my husband called while I was making dinner and AJ told him the news. “I was really sad after school, but I’m okay now…Mom told me about a part she didn’t get when she was a little girl. She was really sad then too. It’s okay to be sad.”

There I was at the stove getting choked up all over again. Will he ever truly know how proud I am of him? Will he ever realize how much I learn from him? There is no bubble. There will be heartbreak. Life is prickly and unfair, yet wondrous and thrilling. AJ will feel every bit of it, because that’s who he is. And I wouldn’t change a thing about him. Not one thing.

Yes, it’s okay. It’s okay to be sad.

Post-Partum Book-Blues?

Growing up, I was a theater kid. All of us theater people understand the post-production blues that come after the final curtain call, after striking the set, after the running-on-fumes-but-cannot-miss cast party. The next morning, I’d awaken—as all my fellow thespians would—to an empty canvas of time. Our jam-packed schedules that had deprived us of sleep and nutritious meals and QT with loved ones for months were now suddenly…wide open. Texas countryside open. No more excuses for that putting off that dental cleaning. There would be no reason not to vacuum our cars’ crumb-laden interiors. All the reasons that made Cheetos a viable pairing with pizza lost their validity. So, after a good cry and a look at some photos or a glowing review, we’d all pull up our big-girl socks and get on with regular life. Ho hum.

No one told me this is how I’d feel after launching a book.

By now, you’ve read my previous blog, A Year in the Life of a Book-to-Be, which gave you a snapshot of the chaos of my life as I prepared to publish CATCHER’S KEEPER…and that was after writing the thing. It’s a strange life cycle: a book lives inside your head for years, you get it down and toil over every word, and then you have to push and insist and fight to get it out there. And then…

I wrote the first draft of CATCHER’S KEEPER in only three months. It sounds cliché, but the story had to get out. I drafted scenes in my mind at the playground only to run home and pound it out onto the computer during episodes of Phineas and Ferb. Many nights, I would go to bed, wait for everyone to fall asleep, and then sneak down to my computer and write until 2 or 3 a.m. Sometimes my husband would return from putting the boys to bed only to find me frantically typing a scene, having left dirty dinner dishes scattered about the kitchen. The story could not wait.

During my twenties when I flailed about trying to find myself (as many twenty-somethings do—ever see Girls on HBO?), my brother gave me a book about Graduate School entitled “Getting What You Came For,” which discusses how much commitment is required in obtaining a PhD. And by commitment, I don’t mean time, but passion. A thing that cannot be measured.

As my brother went through his doctorate program, I learned of a phenomenon more common than you’d expect summed up in a single foreboding acronym: ABD “All But Dissertation.” It takes years to earn a PhD—sometimes over a decade—but if you fail to complete the dissertation, the culmination of your research and expertise on your very specific field of study, you fail to get your PhD. If doctorate candidates aren’t borderline obsessed with the topic of their dissertations, their chances of finishing and therefore obtaining their PhDs are seriously compromised. You have to not only want it, but put almost everything else aside in order to obtain it.

If I may digress for one gloating moment: I’m happy to report that my brother, Jim Davies, has long finished his dissertation and obtained his PhD. (He’s now a cognitive scientist and award-winning associate professor at Carleton University in Ottawa—as well as an accomplished author. You can pre-order his book RIVETED now!)

I’m not comparing my commitment to my novel to the dedication required to earn a PhD. But it’s true that if I weren’t borderline obsessed with my book, I may not have finished it. This book harnessed an immense amount of energy; just thinking about it gave me a rush of adrenaline. Had I not been borderline obsessed, I probably would’ve allowed those early rejections—and there were lots of them—to convince me it was worthless. I may not have bothered with the Amazon contest. I may not have self-published. And there would be one less book in the world.

But it is out in the world. (Hooray!) And, for a few days, I was relieved and thrilled about its release.

And then the blues kicked in. Which was so strange.

The thing is: It’s not over. It’s creating a whole new energy. People are reading it! Reviewing it! I’m working Twitter and Facebook like no tomorrow. Blog tours! Interviews with local newspapers! Online interview with NY Times bestselling author! Book signing and presentation at a local café! I already have five legit bookclub gigs in four different states (only one of which is a relative’s—ha!). There’s amazing stuff happening.

So why am I blue?

Recalling the life-cycles of my five babies (my five completed manuscripts), I realize I have a mini-blues episode each time I finish a first draft. I’m happiest when I’m actively writing—creating a story out of nothing. I look forward to the next scene with as much fervor as I used to anticipate 24 episodes. I play it out in my head, write it quickly, and read it the next day, reveling in its purity. Building from the scene before, laying a foundation for the next chapter, feeling a build lift me like a giant wave. This is the best way I can describe it. Although it may not sound familiar to other authors, this is my reality of writing.

Dorothy Parker once said, “I hate writing. I love having written.” Respectfully, Ms. Parker, I would have to disagree.

Revising is a chore. Launching is a roller-coaster. Promotion is stressful. Writing a story organically is the sweet spot, and I’ve realized that’s what’s been missing. Even when there’s so much left to do, I realized I needed to start a new project.
So I have.

What’s it about, you ask?

Oh, no. I’m way too superstitious to tell you that. You’ll just have to wait to read it.