Monday, January 17, 2011

Rocks, Paper, Wind

When I started this blog, I acknowledged that change is not only a part of life, it is life. The winds of change can sometimes be nothing but a whispering breeze and other times whip through with the might of a hurricane. Right now change is everywhere I look. It's in every inhale, it's all over me like skin. It's a bit exhausting. But it's also exhilarating.

My husband, Stan, and I moved again, right before Christmas. I do not recommend that you try this. Especially if you are trying to work and finish the latest draft of your latest novel. And if you, like me, are lousy at multitasking.

But we knew that the cabin would be a temporary stop while we regrouped and figured out a plan. Stan had made a brave career change in mid-life to something he actually enjoys doing. (There really are a few positive aspects to a sucky economy.) An opportunity came up, and now we're about 20 minutes from the cabin, back in the place we lived years ago, a lovely apartment above a barn (which I know sounds like an oxymoron, but it really is lovely) at the end of a country road, with a view of forest and vineyards. We've dubbed it The Barngalow, and it sits on the 8-acre property where we were married, so it holds a lot of good memories.

All four kids -- Daniel, Michael, Karli, and Taylor -- were here for Christmas. Actually, they were here on the Third Day After Christmas, which is when our blenderized family could squeeze in a celebration. The girls, 19 and 17, live with their mom now. When I see them I'm always struck by their beauty -- the kind that's so young and effortless.

Unfortunately, it's rare that we're all together, but I was grateful for the short time we had, and it felt good to be opening presents in a place where we had all opened presents years ago. Even if some of the boxes around us were marked Linen Closet and Living Room/Books instead of Merry Christmas, I had managed to get the tree up and decorated, put the bulk of the place in functioning order, and even finish the novel before everyone arrived.

And then I promptly passed out. Not really, but I seriously considered it.

After New Year's, the boys and I took a mini road trip to see my stepmom and stepbrother. My dad died six years ago this month, and if I can get myself in the right frame of mind, I'll try to write about him another time. It was wonderful to see Jan and Marc. And yet it was bittersweet to be in the home where my father should be but isn't. There is some change that I will never get used to.

Jan loaded our plates with delicious comfort food and we played Bananagrams, charades, cards, and that game where you wear some famous person's name on a piece of paper stuck to your forehead and ask yes/no questions in order to try to figure out who you are.

If I'd worn a piece of paper on my head for the last 23 years that told people who I was in only one word, it would have said Mom. I'm other things, of course. I'm a writer, wife, friend, daughter, sister, lover of books, trees, dark chocolate with nuts, and Mad Men, to name a few. But foremost, always, a Mom.

I still vividly remember that day I became a mother, and as corny and 1950s pre-feminist as it may sound, I felt such a sense of complete and utter fulfillment -- as if suddenly the universe had shifted, and I had fallen into the place I was supposed to fit, perfectly. As perfectly as Daniel fit into my arms.

And then, eventually, my hormones settled down.

But, truly, being a mom has been my most favorite thing in life. It's been the most gut wrenching difficult and the most rewarding, by far. It's been the thing I knew I was meant to do, even though I didn't do it perfectly, and some days not very well at all. But as much as I loved being a mom, I realized it was not my sole purpose in life. It was the biggie, no doubt. But there was also writing, and I wrote around nap times and on the edges of napkins at Chuck E. Cheese, and eventually started getting up at 4 a.m. to work on a novel. This will date me even more, but I remember typing short stories on my grandfather's electric typewriter while Daniel napped, using White-Out to correct my typos. I did this all with very little success, but I wrote because I loved to, even needed to, as overly dramatic as that may sound.

Once I had kids, I wanted to work from home, so I started working as a freelance copywriter to pay the bills, writing slogans, ads, brochures, articles, and later web sites. I still picked away at writing fiction, too.

I was there for my kids. But sometimes, I admit, I wasn't there for them, in the sense that writers often live in two worlds and you'll see our eyes glaze over while we have a particularly riveting conversation with one of the characters who lives in our minds. This is not something I'm particularly proud of, and which often leaves my husband shaking his head, saying, "You writers are a special breed." But because I was a Mom first, my children's voices would snap me back into the real world. Kids' howls always trump fiction. Whereas a husband's lengthy explanation of why the car sounds funny? Not so much.

Speaking of the car, I should get back to our road trip. While we were visiting, Daniel, Michael, Marc and I walked down to the lake. The day was cold and the sky hung low and gray. Daniel would be returning to Alaska in a few more days to finish his degree in biology. Michael, who lived 20 minutes away from us, would be leaving soon, too, at the end of the month, to study abroad in Italy. It was absolutely official: my boys had become men. I would still be, always be, their mom. I know this. But the wind was picking up, that last leaf on the tree was twirling, about to cut loose.

When we got to the lake, the guys started skipping rocks. Not nice flat stones, but big, heavy chunks of gravel. Theirs skipped freely across the water, 10, 15, even 20 times. Those rocks were like Daniel skipping off to Kindergarten that first day, dressed in the cowboy boots he always insisted on wearing and shorts, thrilled to be starting school, while I followed behind, blinking back tears. Skip, skip, skippety skip. And now their rocks happily skittered across the surface while my attempts ended with big loud kerplunks. There was teasing, and a few imitations of my form (Ha! Thank goodness they were only joking and I really don't look that uncoordinated.) But then there were a few patient lessons and when my chunky gravel actually skipped once I jumped up and down like a little kid. They said, "Good job," and I thought, Oh, God. I'm so not ready for parent-child role reversal.

If I were depressed, I might have conjured up some metaphor about youth and unlimited possibility juxtaposed with getting older and sinking head-first deep into the muddy muck. Fortunately, I'm not depressed. Just ever so acutely aware of this change. And while I do see their lives taking off -- soaring even -- I see mine evolving. I may not be skipping across the world, but now I'm at a point where my writing is my focus. Where it isn't scribbled in on the edges. Where the days are still and quiet enough that I can sink down even deeper into my other worlds. Where perhaps my words might actually reverberate out and reach across a distance. Where I'm still Mom, but I don't need to wear that badge on my forehead.

We drove home, just the three of us, Daniel, Michael, and me. Like the old days. But different. A few days later, Stan and I took Daniel to the airport. I hugged my tall son, burying my head into his chest, my tears slipping onto his jacket. "Bye Momma," he said, gentle, kind, and good. Stan stood to the side, eyes a bit misty. He hugged Daniel good-bye, too, and then let me cry on his shoulder when we got back to the car.

This weekend we helped Michael move out of his apartment. He's living with us for two weeks and then we'll take him to the airport. I have a lump in my throat when I think of it, and yet, I'm more excited than anyone for him.

So in between all this moving and saying hard good-byes, something wonderful happened last Thursday.  I got a call from a literary agent. Not just any literary agent, but the one I really, really wanted to be my literary agent. She loves the novel. She offered to represent me.


(I think exclamation points may be the punctuational equivalent of stone skips.)

Way, way back, when I was in seventh grade, my creative writing teacher -- who, unlike my math teacher, wrote nice things on my papers with a lot of exclamation points -- said, "Seré, do you realize what you've just done with your pen?" Hoping she might say something like You've written a masterpiece, I shook my head and waited for her answer. "You were scratching your forehead with the wrong end of the pen, and now you've got writing all over your forehead."

All these years and questions later, and I know what I was starting to realize even back then. It took me a while, but I figured out who I am.


  1. Yay!!! congratulations! What fantastic news! I cannot wait to read your novel. xox

  2. I can't imagine how hard it is saying goodbye to Dan and Mike. They were such cute little boys, and now they are wonderful men following their dreams just like their mama taught them. You done good!
    It is great to see your dreams come to fruition -- in your writing and your family.

  3. Congratulations, Sere. That's fabulous about the agent. Please keep us posted on your book's progress.
    Of course, I met you in a writerly situation, but --- I could see the writing on your forehead all along.

  4. Sere, I'm sitting here with misty eyes at the thought of you saying "so long" to your boys. I'm bracing myself for that inevitable day when I will have to do the same with Hayley, but I still have a few more years before that will be a reality. Congrats on your book deal! I'm so thrilled for you and I can't wait to read it one day. Keep us filled on it its progress! XO

  5. A cathartic post. But all good. All as it should be. Thanks for sharing that journey. And most of all, congratulations on your writing milestone!!!

  6. @Lindsey: Thank you! How kind of you. And I really appreciate your positive thinking. :)

    @Suzanne: Aww. Thanks. :) Their Aunt Suzannie taught them a few things, too. (Some I won't mention!)

    @Carol: Hee. I like that! I could see the writing on your forehead, too. Not to mention the gifted musician. And thank you. It's a step in the right direction.

    @Diana: Your comment means so much to me. Thank you. I could tell when I met the beautiful Hayley that you two are very close. That will see you through all the changes ahead.
    Having an agent is just one step of the whole process. But at least it's a step *toward* a book deal. Keep your fingers crossed.

    @Jason: I'm afraid that the combination of a lot going on and too much time between posts led to this five-posts-in-one purge. But thanks for sticking through to the end. :) And thank you for the congrats. I did have another agent for my last novel, but this one really feels like the right match. This time it does feel like a milestone. Hoping so.

  7. Can't wait to see the book in published! Love the way you worked forehead imagery throughout.

  8. My gosh Sere - I can relate to this post in so many ways. From the moving to the loss of dad, to the love of chocolate and Mad Men, to that glazed over stare at the kids while trying to hold that thought buzzing in your head, and getting older. All except the literary agent.
    Good for you! Hope all is well in your new home, and good luck with your novel! :)

  9. Your life seems so full at the moment.

    I can relate to a lot that you wrote here: your sense of fulfillment at being a mother; writing on an old typewriter - I wrote the first draft of my novel 18 years ago on a typewriter; the glazed-over stare with thoughts/ideas in your head, and those unforgettable moments with the kids. Thanks for bringing them back to me.

    Congratulations on getting the agent you wanted. No amount of exclamation points can fully show your excitement, but I can imagine how you felt.

  10. love your blog! =) if you want to visit mine you can at

    look forward to seeing you there! =)


  11. @Chelo: Thank you. Keep putting those good thoughts out there and know I'm doing the same for you.

    @Jayne: Welcome! Thank you for stopping by and for your good wishes. It's so nice to meet a fellow writer/mom/Mad Men addict.

    @Pennie: Thank you. There are a few things I miss about those old typewriters, but only a few. Still, I wish I'd held onto it.

    @Jennifer: Thanks. I'll stop over.

  12. Sere, a lovely post - full of love and pride - really well done, and congrats on securing your agent - that must feel really great.

  13. Sere, that was beautiful. This brought back memories of saying goodbye to my son and then my daughter two years later and made me a little more than misty on my commute home. I definitely look forward to reading anything you write.

  14. @Sharon: Thank you so much for your kind comment. And congratulations to you for your nomination for the best European blog! So well-deserved.

    @SeaD: Wonderful to see you here again. And thank you. Those good-byes are hard, aren't they?

  15. Hi Sere - just stopping in (we haven't heard from you in a while - I take this as a good sign, book moving along...)to see your sweet smile. Hope all is well and hope you had a wonderful Valentine's Day! ;)

  16. This is such a beautiful piece of writing, no wonder you are getting offers. Congratulations and I am really looking forward to reading more from you!

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