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Mark and I’ve gone back and forth, back and forth on this house decision. We lay awake at night talking about it, listing all the pros (great house, great neighborhood, great value) and cons (the general hassle of selling our house and moving). We visited and revisited the house, and every time we liked it more and more. We started to feel as if it could truly be our home as we mentally arranged our furniture and hung our pictures on the walls. We spent time with the neighbors and were wowed by the freedom the children experience on that block, running from house to house and yard to yard, with no boundaries slowing them down or hemming them in. We finally decided that yes, we could see ourselves living there happily so . . . we made an offer.
This was on Friday morning when we learned that the relocation company closed at noon for the long weekend. By Monday night, we got word that a couple from California who had visited the house many times and absolutely loved it and intended to buy it once their employment was secured, had put in an offer. So bright and early Tuesday morning, Mark drove over to the real estate office with a modified offer, this time at asking price. And . . .
we lost it.
We’re assuming the other couple’s offer simply said, “Ten thousand more than the next best offer,” or something along those lines. A bidding war in Cleveland, Ohio — imagine that! I mean, if this was the deal of the century to we Clevelanders, I can only imagine what a deal it is to Californians.
It’s okay though, we ‘re fine with this. We’re certainly disappointed and we know that if we’d acted just a little bit sooner, it would be ours (probably for $40K less too!), but we needed to be sure and so we have no regrets.
A few different people, after being told we’d made an offer, said they would pray that we got the house. This was thoughtful of them, of course, but, my feelings about prayer aside, it’s just not that important. Save prayer for the big stuff. Save prayer for Austin’s June scan. We live in a beautiful house with our two healthy children. We can find another house with a master suite some other time (current neighbors, consider yourselves warned).
Today, we are happy, right where we are. We have everything we need and almost everything we want. And that’s good enough.
A winning team sure would be nice though, for once. FOR ONCE!
Perhaps you may be wondering how my little guy is . . . you know, the reason you all started reading in the first place. Well, right now, he’s trying out a variety of brooms and mops and swiffers on the kitchen floor (not exactly helpful) while naked. So, all in all, he’s great.
We have his first post-surgery scan scheduled for the last week in June, which will involve the usual one-night stay in the hospital for hydration. It’s hard to know what to expect from this one; we will be hopeful, as always, that it comes back clear. They did place a titanium clip inside his belly at the spot where the tumor was removed so they’ll at least know where to focus their attention. The entire “episode” (which is a lovely way of describing those insanely scary three weeks) does indeed seem like a blip on the road to a full recovery. He acts like he always did and always does — silly and wild and full of life.
I took Braedan and Austin swimming on Monday, the first time since before the surgery. Austin knew he had to wait until his scar had healed so as we were packing our bags, he excitedly asked, “Awtin no have canther in tummy? Awtin all better?” Yes, sweetie, Austin is all better.
Mark and I are obviously willing to go forward as if things are as they’ll always be, as evidenced by the idea of moving to a big house and new neighborhood filled with lively friends for the boys. Of course, we’re not fooling ourselves and know the possibility of another (or a first?) recurrence exists; we know we could be saddling ourselves with one house on the market and another huge one to take care of while also taking care of a sick child. But we just don’ t think it’s worth it to live life waiting for the worst thing to happen; it is not how we operate. We see a golden opportunity in front of us, and the harsh reality is that if Austin’s cancer recurs that’s gonna be awful no matter where we live and no matter what other stresses exist in our life.
I think a lot abot the way we lived our year between the end of treatment and the “blip”: we lived it to the fullest. We absolutely celebrated what we believed was the end for Austin and for us. We were wrong, of course, and that was crushing. But it wouldn’t have been any easier if we had sat around all year admonishing ourselves, “No, we can’t go to Disney World; he’s not really cured yet,” “No, we shouldn’t laugh too loud, what if it comes back?” That wouldn’t have been right or good or fair, not for us and certainly not for the boys. So we laughed loudly and celebrated fully, we lived as much as we could.
And that is exactly what we’re going to keep doing every single day moving forward.
I’m going to put the whole moving discussion on hold for a few days and go back to the news some of you have been so patiently waiting for. This may be a bit premature but (as surely you know by now) I’ve never been one to sit on the sidelines waiting for things to happen and I’ve certainly never been one to hold my cards to my chest, so even if this doesn’t lead to anything, it’s still exciting and worth sharing.
In October of 07, after we’d spent nearly three months in the hospital, my friend Becky showed up at my house one Saturday afternoon and planted sixty tulip bulbs in our understandably neglected front yard. After all the very necessary and appreciated meals and playdates that people provided for us, this was such an unexpected and lovely gift. I will never quite forget the feeling, many months later, after Austin had finished chemo, of standing on the porch and watching my two healthy boys run around the front yard against a backdrop of those colorful blooms.
So….(this is indeed going somehwere, just bear with me), Kelly Corrigan, who I’ve mentioned before, whose memoir The Middle Place has been number TWO on the NYTimes Bestseller list since it came out in paperback 18 weeks ago, who I felt like I knew after reading the first two paragraphs of her work, has a website called Circus of Cancer that helps people support their friends through cancer treatment. It’s geared mostly towards women with breast cancer, since that’s what Kelly had, but is filled with ideas that could apply to anyone dealing with any cancer. So a few weeks ago, I clicked on the “Contact Us” button on the site and sent a message describing Becky’s gift, because it was so unique and so special. I imagined that my message was floating off into cyberspace to be retrieved by an unnamed techy in a box somewhere.
Well, lo and behold, a few days later, I received an email from Kelly Corrigan herself, thanking me for sharing such a cool idea and ending with the simple and obligatory, “I hope your son’s okay.”
Have I said I’m not one for sitting on the sidelines waiting for things to happen? I sent her back a message that started off with, “Yeah, we hope our son’s okay too” and moved through that day’s drama (the radiation dilemma) and ended with “I’m sure you get people everyday who say, ‘I loved your book, I feel like I know you, I want to share my story’, but what the hell….I loved your book, I feel like I know you and I want to share my story.” And of course, I invited her to the blog.
Well, within a matter of hours I got a message back sounding like she was truly interested and moved by our situation and saying she would read the blog. I got all excited, oh my god, the Kelly Corrigan was going to read my blog, I can’t believe this, maybe we would start some sort of a dialogue….. And then nothing happened and I figured she must say that to everyone who shares their sob story with her or maybe she really meant to but got busy and forgot all about me . . . and then one night about ten days later I opened a message from her that says she read my blog and would be happy to share my stuff with her agent!
Well, this is like stumbling upon the holy grail of the literary world. To be personally referred to an agent by one of their star clients, one of their star best-selling clients, is golden. Agents are usually looking for reasons to reject submissions, especially unsolicited submissions. But in a case like this (which I have to imagine–and hope–Kelly doesn’t do very often, because why would she abuse her relationship with her agent like that?), the agent would actually be looking for reasons to like it. Long story short, Kelly forwarded my first 16 pages (with NO query letter!) to her agent who has said (to Kelly) that I am a strong writer and she will request more in a few weeks.
So I’ve revised it all yet again and am ready to hit send if and when that moment arrives. In the meantime, I’m occupying myself with other big things!
I think I owe Becky some tulips……..
I don’t think I’ve ever written a post that has generated so many comments, both here and on Facebook, so thank you for your thoughts and your encouragement.
More musings as we work through this decision: A few of you referenced my mom and the fact that my family moved from a “regular” house to a larger and grander one shortly after the birth of my brother Cory. (My parents, three teenagers and a baby had been sharing one bathroom, so I guess I can’t complain!) Well, my mother hated living in that new house and we moved again within eight months. But–and this is important–it wasn’t the house that made her so unhappy; it was the neighborhood she’d left behind. We had lived on the corner of two vibrant blocks that were absolutely swarming with kids. We walked to school in a rowdy pack, played our summer night games (Ghost in the Graveyard and Release the Dungeon) across a dozen backyards, had elaborate block parties with bike races and square dances. My parents met people on that street who become their closest friends and have remained so to this day. So, despite the fact that we only moved a mile away, it was a huge loss for my mom. As a stay-at-home mother, she felt isolated and lonely on a block filled with old rich people. (Ironically, that very street today is alive with young families, but the turnover had yet to occur.)
So it wasn’t that my mom regretted moving to a larger house (in fact, the house they moved to next and that they still live in today is larger than that one was). It’s the people that surrounded them. The lesson here for me is a big one. We live on a nice street now, as I’ve already said and we have lovely neighbors, people who are friendly and stop to chat and follow along with Austin’s story (and I know a lot of you are reading and I truly mean no offense). But these are not our closest friends and they are not the best friends of our children. In fact, there are surprisingly few families with young kids on this block.
Now the block we might move to, the block with the big house, is swarming with young children. I’ve been told by one woman (part of the group currently lobbying us to move there) that there are 43 kids in a block-and-a-half stretch. Forty-three kids who have bike races and lemonade stands, play wiffle ball and kick-the-can, and who walk together in a noisy jumble to public school.
My mom is actually strongly encouraging this move, saying things like, “Oh, I walked by it today and that house doesn’t look all that big.” Now anyone who knows my mom and her reluctant attitude towards extravagence, knows how funny this is. But, in her mind, there is nothing like belonging to a street of families who’ve come together to raise their children. That is the strongest bond. It is our village.
We’re leaning towards it, if you couldn’t already tell. We go back tomorrow with a contractor we know and trust who will help us gauge the significance and necessity (and cost) of improvements and upkeep. For those of you who’ve asked very specific questions, it does have all new copper plumbing and a brand new roof, and yes, we are taking heating costs into consideration (it’s one of the biggest considerations!).
As Mark and I lay in bed last night discussing it yet again (you see, that’s our only chance to talk uninterrupted), we noted how happy we’ve been here, happy as a couple and happy as a family, and we wondered if messing with that could be a mistake. But we both agreed that the happiness and the magic is not in the house. It’s not in this house and it’s not in that one. It’s in us. And we’ll pack it up and bring it with us wherever we go.
We live in a nice house. We have a yard for the kids to play in and friendly neighbors and have renovated enough rooms to make it almost perfect. Almost. I can’t help but fantasize about having a master bathroom, one where I don’t have to share precious counter space with Spongebob toothpaste and that doesn’t smell like stale pee every other day (little boys have notoriously bad aim, you know). I fantasize about having closets in my own room instead of using half of Austin’s and the one in the spare room and the drawers below the linen closet in the hallway. I fantasize about a mudroom, complete with hooks and shelves for each person’s boots and cleats and backpacks, so we don’t trip on the shoes that inevitably pile up in the back hall.
So we’ve been looking. Just casually, without a realtor, we’ve gone to Sunday open houses in our community, never venturing outside the borders of Cleveland Heights. Every time we check out a house I can picture us living there. I mentally move us in, decide which colors ot paint the walls, know who would reside in each bedroom. But Mark is skeptical (or maybe he’s just practical), considering the cost of utilities and noting the number of improvements we’d have to make before we really loved it.
But this past weekend, we visited a house that I’ve passed over several times, skipping its previous open houses and not fully considering it, because it is a mansion. Not just big, not even just huge, but a mansion. And they are practically giving it away. It’s owned by a relocation company and they just want to be done with it. I mean, it is an absolute steal. And there’s nothing wrong with it, this is no fixer upper. It has redone floors and a gourmet kitchen and a master suite complete with two walk-in closets, an office and a “glamour bath.” That is a silly word to use, I know, but this IS a glamour bath. It’s on a great street with family after family of young kids. Little ones live on both sides including a five-year-old boy right next door who Braedan could walk to elementary school with every day for the next six years. There is nothing wrong with it, except that it’s so damn big.
The living space is reasonable. The first floor is smaller (relative term!) than the rest because there’s an attached three-car garage that adds considerable square footage to the second and third floors. But we would use the first floor in its entirety. And the second floor is divided up so that there are two bedrooms and a bathroom close to the master suite (oh, I love saying that: master suite), with an additional two farther down a long hall, that could be used as a playroom and maybe a workout room (oh, I love saying that!). So the boys wouldn’t feel far away from us in the night, which was a concern in some of the houses we’ve looked at.
I’m not worried about living in the bigness of it. We could definitely use it (with the exception of the third floor, which the realtor aptly described as a city unto itself). But I worry that I would feel uncomfortable having that be my house. Maybe it’s silly (and this is yet another way I am like my mother), but I would almost be embarassed to call that my home. It’s so grand. What would it say about us? What snap judgements would people make when they see that we live there? I can already picture myself for years to come telling people we’d only bought it because it was so outrageously cheap. Do I need to excuse our excess? I don’t know.
I’m always trying to instill in the boys the idea that we can’t have everything we want, that sometimes other people will have fancier cars or better toys or a bigger trampoline than we do (this house comes with a trampoline, by the way, so both boys are fully committed to the move). I read them The Lorax, both for its protect-the-environment message and for its not-so-subtle hint that “biggering and biggering and biggering and biggering” is not what everyone needs. And yet here we are, thinking about seriously biggering.
I welcome your thoughts on this one. How does where you live define who you are? How do you turn down something so incredible, that you can actually afford, because it’s “too much”? Mark and I lay awake last night talking about it, reminding each other and ourselves that we’ll never find a house that nice for that value, and I commented yet again about how torn I was. And Mark said, “We’ll make the right decision. And whatever decision we make, we’ll make it right.”
My mom is so herself. I mean, what you see is what you get with this woman. There are no false pretenses, nothing subtle or hidden–she is who she is. Everything she says, does, wears screams Nancy.
She’s honest, to a fault even. She absolutely believes that the truth is the best policy, under all circumstances. (So don’t ask her if that outfit makes you look fat unless you are indeed prepared to hear the answer.) I’m a pretty honest person myself, about the big things, but I am not above telling my kids we can’t go to the park that’s conveniently located right around the corner from our house because it’s closed. . . for naptime. Now my mom would see this as a teachable moment: kids need to learn to handle disappointment, not be spared the truth even when it’s easier, blah blah blah. And then she would gently reflect their feelings back to them: I can see that you’re feeling very disappointed. It’s hard not to get what we want, isn’t it?
She’s also supersmart (and always beats me and my brother in the adult spelling bee), but she’s patient and anything but arrogant. She pays attention to everything and manages to keep up on the important details of so many lives. She’s a sharp reader and a great writer and one of the few people I’ve allowed to go all out with my entire manuscript. She made countless corrections and suggestions and then, on the very last page, in typical supportive-mom fashion, wrote,”You’re an author, Krissy! I LOVED it!!!!!”
We make fun of her in my family. She’s sort of the easy target, because she does things like lose all her documents on her computer . . . “without touching anything on the keyboard, I swear!” And when she takes pictures, instead of just pushing down the single button, she pushes down the entire camera, inevitably cutting off everyone’s foreheads. So we tease her and sometimes get impatient or roll our eyes, “Mah-ahm,” but we love her and admire her and we’re all proud to say we belong to her.
She’s very well-known in our town, has been a member of City Council for almost twelve years. She’s braver than she looks on the outside too. My brothers and I actually thought she had thin skin because she wants people to like her, but she’s tough. She led the fight in our community to give benefits to the same-sex partners of city employees. It was quite a battle too. I’ll never forget those City Council meetings with people angrily thumping their Bibles and shouting, “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” (You have to admit, even if you totally disagree with the sentiment, that that’s a pretty funny line.) But she knew what was right and good and she stood tall and fought hard.
We look alike, me and my mom. Except she let her hair go gray in her late twenties and I color mine with great regularity. And we sound alike and mimic each other’s gestures. People who newly meet me often give me a funny look, an I-feel-like-I-already-know-you look and then halfway through our conversation, they’ll interrupt and exclaim, “Oh! You’re Nancy Dietrich’s daughter, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am,” I reply.
And I feel proud.
Happy Mother’s Day, mom.
For The Rest of My Days
My husband Mark and I left a cold and snowy Cleveland on Sunday morning to fly to Washington DC, our first solo trip since the birth, cancer diagnosis, near death and remarkable recovery of our second son, Austin. Once on the plane, it was clear that we were a part of something big: everyone was talking and joking, asking which balls people were attending and what tickets people had secured. There was much excitement and a genuine feeling of camaraderie — we were in this together.
Sunday evening we attended the Ohio Gala Celebration at the Mayflower Hotel which was fabulous — good food, good drink, the entire Ohio State Marching Band! People warned us to enjoy this because it was bound to be better than the official Midwestern Ball (which we had worked very hard to get tickets for), but we didn’t quite understand the seriousness of that statement until later (keep reading).
Monday was a day of rest and exploration. The entire city felt like a party: bands were playing on street corners, everyone was wearing their Obama buttons and Obama hats and Obama scarves and Obama t-shirts (it was a street vendor’s dream come true), every bar and restaurant had signs advertising their Inaugural specials and hawking ObaMartinis. We wandered onto Dupont Circle where we encountered an enormous Declaration of Independence on which we signed our own names and those of Braedan and Austin (safely at home with Gram and Gramp). Mark took part in a mass shoe-throwing at a huge blow-up of George W Bush (“Give Bush the Boot” it said and we happily did).
And then came Tuesday. January 20, 2009. The day we’d all been waiting for. It was here. The future had arrived. We left our rented apartment at 7:30 in the morning and joined an already crowded sidewalk of Obama supporters, walking the 3.9 miles to the National Mall. Every step we took, the crowds and the excitement grew. And as we got closer, the confusion grew as well. We were directed this way and that by well-meaning but poorly-informed officers (many from out of town and with little sense of direction). We walked through the 395 tunnel, a stretch of highway that runs under the Mall suddenly filled with the walking masses, growing thicker by the second. We finally found our “line,” a swarm of Silver ticket-holders awaiting the removal of the barricades at what we thought was our gate. Minutes turned into hours as we covered mere feet of ground. We made it to the road, believing our sacred spot was just across it, only to wait for dozens of horse trailers to cross to the parade route nearby.
We finally crossed the road only to discover we were in another holding cell: a mass of thousands in front of the American Indian Museum and none of us could see above the crowds to even know which way we were going or what was happening. Despite the cold and growing confusion and frustration, everyone’s spirits remained high. People were sharing what little information they had, letting wheelchairs through, warning others of upcoming steps or curbs. There was laughter and joking about how special we all thought we were when we got those Silver Tickets (not so special after all), brief snippets of “Where are you from?” and “Isn’t this something?” Finally, finally, the police removed the barricades and let us onto the Mall, where we found a good (enough) spot with a slightly-obstructed view of a Jumbotron.
And then it started, just like that, no more waiting. The screen showed the important people walking down the steps onto the Capitol, as we watched in awe, alternately cheering and booing (and relishing that sight of Cheney, weakened and weak). I turned my back as Rick Warren gave the invocation. Mark thought this went against Obama’s call for unity and tolerance but I think Rick Warren goes against Obama’s call for unity and tolerance. We listened to Aretha and Yoyo Ma, swaying to the music and to keep warm. We jumped up and down as Biden was sworn in.
And then suddenly the moment was upon us. The Moment. It happened so fast. One minute we were regular Americans and the next minute we were witnessing history. We screamed and shouted and jumped up and down and laughed and cried and embraced perfect strangers. An older white man stopped three black women and asked to take their picture. They stood arm in arm in their finery — full-length fur coats and hats embellished with feathers and flowers, beaming with pride. As they walked off, one of them said, “Oh that makes me want to cry” and I reached out and touched her arm. She smiled and started to go, but turned back and wrapped me in her arms. We stood there, hugging, patting each other on the back and crying tears of joy, two strangers, as different as can be, brought together in that great moment, brought together by this great man.
We listened to what we could of the speech, stuck as we were between two sets of speakers with a slight but distracting delay. And then it was over and we began filing out, star-struck and awestruck by what we had experienced. And then the real chaos began. People were still well-behaved but no one knew where to go and each time we walked in one direction, roads would suddenly be barricaded in front of us. We spent a good ten minutes stuck at one intersection where the crowd was so thick that there was literally no movement in any direction. In front of us, officers were shouting, “You have to turn back” and behind us people were shouting, “There’s no room to turn back!” Mark and I kept our spirits up, shaking our heads in wonder and laughing at the insanity of the situation. I was getting increasingly worried that I would never again see the inside of a bathroom. Somehow, an hour after we’d left the Mall, we ended up back at our exit, that elusive Silver Gate, and meandered through the underground tunnel where the crowds were dispersing and we were able to move forward without being crushed. Eight hours after it began, we were back in our apartment with bowls of chicken noodle soup and cups of hot tea, exhausted and sore but basking in the O-glow.
After napping on the couch with the Parade on in the background, we picked ourselves up and dusted ourselves off to put on our black-tie attire and head to the Official Midwestern Ball. Now I’d read that these balls don’t really live up to expectations but I must say I didn’t fully get that until we arrived. Oh, and we arrived by walking another six blocks (in heels and bare legs) because our cab couldn’t get close enough to the Convention Center. Lo and behold, there was even a cash bar! A plastic cup of mediocre wine cost nine dollars. I will not tell you how much we spent on our tickets, but cash bar is not what we had in mind. We ate small plates of cafeteria-style pasta and wandered to the far side of the massive hall, away from the Motown band and the dance floor, to where a crowd seemed to be gathering. And we happened upon Our Spot. Clearly, this was the place to be. A stage was set up in front of us, with a moat around it for Secret Service, two screens on either side, and we were three rows back. We made some more friends and waited and waited and waited. Sheryl Crow helping us pass the timeSheryl Crow appeared and played five songs, rocking the house for a very tired crowd. Shortly thereafter, Joe and Jill Biden arrived. He spoke and they danced and we all cheered and snapped photos, thinking we’d be graced with Obama’s presence in mere moments.
And then we waited. Guys came in to switch the musical set. We waited. Someone came and checked the sound system. We all cheered and then we waited. Someone else came and fluffed the flag. We all cheered and then we waited. The sign language interpreter arrived and took her spot on the corner of the stage. We all cheered and then we waited. The color guard appeared and a military band struck up some music. We all cheered and then we waited. And finally, three hours after staking out our spot, the glorious strains of “Hail to the Chief” reached our ears and we all screamed and started taking photos of an empty stage, wanting to catch the exact moment when they appeared.
And there they were. Just at that moment when we were beginning to wonder if it was all worth it, there they were. Michelle and Barack strode out on the stage, so obviously in love with one another, so obviously ready for the task ahead. He spoke and they danced. We took picture after picture, holding our camera up over the crowds and snapping away in any direction. It was quick. They were there for maybe ten minutes. But it was all worth it.
And we turned and walked away, wondering whether to use the rest of our drink tickets or just head home. Footsore and weary, exhausted but exhilarated, we opted for home and ventured out to find a cab, assuming there would be a line of them waiting for the thousands of exiting guests. Not so fast. The roads were still blocked from traffic, so we walked in what we believed was the direction of “home,” cold and achy from ten miles of walking already. Remember the high heels and bare legs? Well, twenty minutes later with no cabs in sight, temperature in the 20s and wind-chill in the teens, we were miserable and frustrated and wondering what on earth to do now. Finally, finally (again finally) an empty cab appeared and the heat was blasting and they whisked us back to our place where we quickly fell into bed.
Wednesday afternoon we arrived back in Cleveland, thoroughly glad we did it and thoroughly committed to never doing it again. There is a reason it was “once in a lifetime.” As soon as we stepped off the plane, the magic seemed to disappear. Our 1.5 million new best friends were spread back out across the country, the giddy sense of hope and togetherness was replaced by an ordinary workday feel. I tried to position my shiny new “I Was There” button so anyone I passed by could see it, but no one made eye contact, no one smiled and nodded in that “Oh god, me too” kind of way. The Moment was over and I felt sort of let down. And then it hit me. I realized, I understood, that the parties might be over, the parade had finished, the celebration wrapped up. But it was all there inside of me. Forever more, literally for the rest of my days, I will have it inside of me. I witnessed history. I was a part of history. I WAS THERE.
Austin had his follow-up appointment with the surgeon today, a quick ten-minute look at his belly after a two hour wait. Lovely, yes? But the doctor had been in surgery so I can’t exactly complain about him taking his time there and not with us. He thought Austin looked fabulous and was healing beautifully. He commented yet again on how good the kidney looked when they were in there (and I literally mean “in there”). He admitted that when he did Austin’s fourth surgery in October 07 and removed 40% of that kidney along with four small tumors, he never ever expected the remaining kidney to do as well as it’s doing. So my little guy continues to surprise and impress, even the world famous doctors. And look at him — how could he not?
I think I’ve been wrong. This book started out all about Austin. And it is obviously Austin’s story that sits at the center and that moves the narrative along. But this book is really about me and about being a mother. Or a parent. Or a person, for that matter. This is a book about hardship, of course, and overcoming hardship, but it is also about appreciating the little things, about relishing the joys large and small that come your way, about remembering what’s important.
It all sounds sort of cliched, “every cloud has a silver lining,” “life is what you make of it,” but it’s still true. I guess it’s time for me to sit down and rewrite these queries from scratch with that as my selling point — the human part not just the cancer part. Who really walks into a bookstore and chooses a book about cancer anyway, unless you’re living it at that moment. It’s all pretty depressing after all. And while my book is no doubt sad, depressing it is not.
This is such a revelation for me. I’m so glad I posted those letters and got such thorough and thoughtful feedback from so many of you (through all my various modes of communication, especially — of course — Facebook) about what has kept you coming back, even when the life-and-death moments were safely behind us, and reading my every word for the past year and a half. I wish I’d done it sooner.
Thank you. Yet again . . . thank you.
See, it’s a good thing when I post those big whiny complaints because I get so much encouragement and positive feedback, it keeps me going. I especially appreciated hearing from all the people who said they could tell exactly which words in the DF article were mine and which were the editor’s. I guess my voice is being heard above the static after all!
I’m taking a deep breath and diving right in by posting two verisons of my query letter for your very expert review. I feel nervous about this, like it’s easier to send these to perfect strangers (even perfect strangers who hold the key to my future career) than to show them to you. Sort of like how it’s emotionally safer to make out with some random crush at a party than to kiss your best guy friend (I’m talking years and years ago, people). You know, that sense of vulnerability or fear of judgement that exists with the people who know you best. But oh well, I’ve never been one for sitting on the sidelines avoiding vulnerability, so here goes.
Keep in mind that a query letter serves as your introduction to a literary agent, who you hope will then read your enclosed pages (usually five to ten, depending on what they ask for) instead of automatically putting them in the reject pile. This golden letter is one page and one page only (and both of mine, which officially fit on one page, veer towards long so don’t tell me to combine it all into one version). The query should include your hook (the quickie statement about what makes your book special, which I have yet to perfect), a brief synopsis or overview of your story, and any relevant information about the author (which can be left out if you have no publishing history). Agents receive upwards of fifty unsolicited queries a day, so they are rather quick to reject them. Feeling desperate yet?
Dear Gatekeeper of my Future (or Mr/Mrs So-and-So),
The luckiest. That is what we called ourselves, that is what we believed we were. We were wrong.
My 81,900-word memoir Whoosh: One Ordinary Family, One Extraordinary Year traces my son Austin’s eight-month battle with bilateral Wilms’ tumor, a rare and sneaky pediatric kidney cancer. All the elements of a typical cancer story are present: A family’s stunned disbelief as we slowly reconcile the idea of this dreaded, deadly disease with our lively, lovely child. The litany of gruesome medical procedures, surgery after surgery, complication after infection, night after night in the hospital. The anguish of parents forced to admit that even the fiercest love may not conquer all. But this narrative touches upon the unexpected as well: The atheist mother grappling with how to accept the prayers of others on behalf of her child. The moments of laughter and joy, normal family life carrying on despite our horrific new reality. The concern for all that our other son stands to lose, from his beloved brother to the gift of growing up in a home not shadowed by sadness. And also this: There is hope, amidst the gritty and the heartbreaking, the mundane and the humorous, there is always hope and there is always love.
Whoosh tells Austin’s story with raw immediacy, interweaving postings from the Carepage blog I wrote during his illness with private journal entries. The inclusion of the most poignant messages posted by Carepage visitors lends a conversational tone to the book, drawing the reader directly into our lives. Like Kelly Corrigan’s The Middle Place, you can “come for the writing, stay for the drama. Or vice versa. Either way, you won’t regret it,” (San Francisco Chronicle). But unlike Corrigan, who is stuck between being a mother and being a daughter, trying to balance caring for her sick father with caring for her sick self with caring for her healthy children, my role is unambiguous: I am the mother. And my task is clear and pure: I will care for my son, I must save my son.
I have enclosed the first xx pages and would be happy to send the completed manuscript upon your request. Please note that I am simultaneously submitting this to other agencies. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.
Some comments, although I should really let you think these things on your own: It’s often recommended to compare yourself to a current book or author, while also pointing out how your work differs from theirs. Of course, my comment about Kelly Corrigan is a tad obnoxious as she is on the NYT Bestseller list and I basically said I was as good a writer as she. At least I didn’t say Oprah would love my book (which she would!).
And numero dos:
The setting: From a hot July day to the cusp of spring the following year, from Cleveland’s premiere children’s hospital to our nearby home and back again and back again and back again. The protagonist: Ten-month-old Austin, a sweet and spunky boy facing the fight of his life, while his parents and brother watch from the sidelines, doing all they can but never convinced they can do enough. The antagonist: The brutal rogue that is cancer, six tumors destroying Austin’s kidneys, taking up vital space in his small body and challenging him and his family to an epic battle.
Whoosh: One Ordinary Family, One Extraordinary Year, an 81,900-word memoir, traces my son’s eight-month battle with bilateral Wilms’ tumor, a rare and sneaky pediatric cancer of the kidney. Austin is obviously the hero of the book, but it is also a mother’s story and a mother’s journey, as she moves from a gloriously normal life to the edge of disaster and back again. Part medical mystery, part epic adventure, part motivational guide, Whoosh is, at its essence, a love story: a great big public declaration of a mother’s love for her sick son, her healthy son, her husband, the family, friends, doctors and nurses, and wide community that sustained one family through its darkest hour.
Told with raw immediacy as the drama unfolds, Whoosh interweaves postings from the Carepage blog I wrote during Austin’s illness with private journal entries. The inclusion of the most poignant messages posted by Carepage visitors lends a conversational tone to the book, drawing the reader directly into our lives. While Austin’s tale is both as stunningly extraordinary and sadly ordinary as any other sick child’s tale, it is rendered with such an abiding love and endless optimism that this book would appeal to anyone who has ever been afraid, down on their luck, or faced with a nearly impossible task. It is a lesson in hope, in community, in courage, a lesson in living and dying and loving.
I have enclosed the first xx pages and would be happy to send the completed manuscript upon your request. Please note that I am simultaneously submitting this to other agencies. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.
Alrighty, there you have it. Please post your comments here, good and bad, I can take it, I promise!