You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July 2009.

And so, another year goes by.

July 30, 2007 was the day. The Day that everything changed. A day that started out like any other summer Monday. And ended with me and Mark sitting on a couch in a hospital room, holding on to each other for dear life, unable to finish our sentences, barely able to catch our breath. Our baby asleep beside us in a cage-like crib, an endless stream of nurses and doctors walking through our space, horrific and terrifying thoughts swirling through our minds.

The months and years that followed proved many of those horrific and terrifying thoughts true, along with some too horrific or terrifying for us to have even imagined on our very first night as the parents of a child with cancer. The twists and turns were steeper and scarier and more stunning than anyone could have prepared us for. And yet that one, that one thought that is too terrifying and too horrific to put into words, that is the one we have managed to escape.

And so today, tonight, on July 30, 2009, we sat in the backyard eating our grilled dinner, Austin dashing away from the table (and his vegetables) wearing nothing but a t-shirt (typical), his little soccer thighs lifting him high and strong. We toasted each other, “we made it this far,” and leaned back with a satisfied sigh. If only we’d been able to see back then, back when our biggest fears occupied so much space in our minds, if only we’d been able to catch a glimpse of this day. Fast forward two years and see the happy healthy boy running and diving across the grass.  We couldn’t see that of course.

And yet, perhaps, we must have seen it. That image of Austin must have been in our heads, or at least our hearts, that day and every single day since. Or we never would have made it.

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One of the most common reasons I hear for why people choose private over  public schools is that they want their children to have “peers.” Now I will readily admit that I don’t want Braedan to be the only white kid in his class, any more than I would want him to be the only boy in his class.  Being the “only” anything is lonely and isolating. Just ask the only woman in the office, the only black student in the school, the only gay guy on the sports team — it’s not easy.

But that being said, we all still need to look carefully at what we mean by that word: peers. Is it really only those who look like our own kids? Can’t they have peers, actual social or academic equals, who are otherwise different from them? Now there is no denying that there are a lot of children in the CH-UH schools who are very poor, often black, ill-prepared for learning, and living with parents who are uneducated and disengaged from their kids’ education. This is a sad reality. Many of these children will, unfortunately, never be the academic peers of my own children. But they are still good children, with open hearts and big dreams, and they too deserve the best possible educational experience.

Then there is another cohort of black children in our schools raised by mostly middle class educated parents who will no doubt be the academic peers — or superiors — of my children. Redefining who our peers are, or who our children’s peers are, and accepting that they may not always be the children of our own peers can be uncomfortable. But discomfort and pushing the boundaries and taking risks is the only way real progress is made. If we think about what it must have been like for our own parents, many of whom were born in segregated America,  to see how truly integrated our schooling was, they certainly must had feelings of discomfort or maybe even distrust.

But that need not be passed down to the kids. Kids simply adapt to the situation they find themselves in and assume it is the norm.  I didn’t know that my school experience was unusual or cutting-edge when I was in it, especially not at the elementary level. It simply was what it was. I thought everybody everywhere sat in a classroom that was half black and half white. I distinctly remember being stunned to learn how recently the civil rights movement and forced bussing had been to my own life.  To me, that kind of legal segregation seemed like ancient history.

Not that we had reached a racial utopia. We had not and still have not. And this is the very reason we need to send our kids forth into this big and sometimes scary world and let them take the next steps. Let us let our children lead us to a better and more integrated and more tolerant society. We can’t just pat ourselves on the back because we voted for Barack Obama and think the struggle is over; we have not yet achieved that post-racial America of which he speaks. And we also can’t just shake our heads and say, “Wow, this really isn’t working, count me out.” We need to step into the ring — or allow our kids to step into the ring — and actually create positive societal changes.  

I don’t mean for that to sound like I am sacrificing my kids, or their education, for some idealistic greater good. Quite the opposite, I believe I am giving them a gift by raising them (and educating them) in this unique community. I believe they will be better people because of it.

Cleveland Heights and the CH-UH schools have not gotten everything right, I know that. But I am not yet ready to give up on this great experiment.

Alright, here goes . . . I have tried to keep myself from writing on this topic because I know it is a deeply personal one for many families, but as the school year draws near, I cannot avoid it any longer. And I know I am bound to offend many people, people I really like and consider my friends, if not by my scathing indictment of our nearby parochial schools than by my frank discussions about race relations, and I am sorry for that, but, well, here goes . . .  

I live in Cleveland Heights, an inner-ring suburb of Cleveland that prides itself on its diversity. The population is roughly half black and half white, spans from extremely wealthy to those living in poverty, encompasses a plethora of religions including a large and active Orthodox Jewish population, and is an all-around fascinating place to live. I was educated in the public schools here and I think I speak for many of us when I say that the “real world” education we received was unsurpassed.  In addition — and this is important — my academic eduation, the actual classroom material (as opposed to the endless hallway material), was extremely rigorous. I went on to a prestigious liberal arts university where I worked very very hard, but I was never challenged quite the way I was at Heights High.

One of the interesting outcomes of living in a community like this one is that I have always felt (relatively) free and comfortable talking about the taboo subject of race. We were exposed, from a very young age, to all of the disparities, the differences, the similarities, the stereotypes, of one racial group or another.  And we addressed them head-on with both honesty and respect.  Issues of black and white were an integral part of our upbringing and we had to talk about them openly. This has been a great gift throughout my life, and one that few people I’ve known were lucky enough to experience. I remember during my senior year, the Unity group of which I was a member was concerned with the self-segregation of our school’s sports teams. Black kids and black families went to basketball games to cheer on the mostly black players, white kids and white families went to hockey games to cheer on those mostly white players. We decided to offer a two-for-one deal when you bought tickets to either team’s games. I will never forget sitting with our group of black guy friends at their first ever hockey game as they were duly impressed with the rough and rowdy behavior both on the ice and in the stands. We were all reminded of a lesson we thought we already knew: to focus less on the color of the players’ skins and more on the color of the players’ jerseys.

All of this is a very long introduction to something that has been bothering me enormously as I prepare to send Braedan off to kindergarten in this very same school dicstrict. The make-up of our community has not changed all that much in the last twenty years, but the make-up of the schools has, as more and more white families send their kids to private and parochial schools. Now I know this is a very individual decision that can be based on many factors, including family history and a child’s specific needs.  I also know some families feel strongly about their children receiving a specific religious education. And I have no quarrel with that. But I am disturbed and upset by the families who assume that the public schools aren’t good enough for their children simply because of the other kids who go there.

Now I know that’s a huge accusation to throw out there and that a lot of your hackles are raised right now, but I do hope you’ll keep reading. When comparing the three nearby parochial primary schools with the public elementary schools, there is absolutely no question, no debate, about which provide better, more rigorous and well-rounded academic instruction. First of all, the teachers in our public schools are among the best educated in the state of Ohio in terms of the number of Masters degrees and PhDs, as well as being certified in the subject they teach. And yes, that matters, big time. The person standing in front of your child all day every day, determining what material to cover and in what manner, guiding them and inspiring them, should be the best educated. I don’t see how you would choose anything but.

The curriculum in our schools is rigorous and varied and includes specialized instruction in the visual arts and music, as well as physical education and technology. The middle schools and high school offer many foreign languages and high level science and math courses. The well-known secret among the district’s teachers (and remember, I was one) is that the kids who transfer from the local Catholic schools into the public middle schools (which many do when their parents realize they need something more rigorous to prepare them for high shcool) are on average one full grade level behind in math, science and social studies.

So, I’m just feeling frustrated. I feel frustrated and disappointed by parents who claim they want to use the public schools, but then don’t. Who believe that they are actually doing their children a favor by protecting them from kids with a different background or different life experience. Who condemn our schools as “dangerous” or “out of control” without ever giving them a try.

I don’t need more white families to use the public schools in order for them to be good enough for my kids, that is not what this is about.  I just wish more white families believed the schools could be good enough. For all of our kids.

Sometimes I think I can’t wait for the days when Mark and I just send the kids upstairs to put on their own pajamas and brush their own teeth and then we’ll show up ten minutes later for a quick kiss and tuck into bed (it does work like that, parents-of-twelve-year-olds, doesn’t it?). Instead we get a long, drawn-out routine with coaxing and stories and songs and snuggles and lingering moments in bed. And when I think of it like that, then I don’t want these days to end at all.

Bedtime can sometimes be the nicest part of the day (and no, I’m not just talking about the after part). Lying in bed with one child or other, based on our rotating mom-or-dad pattern, after the last book has been read and the light is turned off . . . these are our golden moments. Austin just gets silly, starts talking nonsense but in a fully passionate and engaged way, like last night when he peeked under the covers and exclaimed, “Nice feet, Mommy! Get them at Quality Market?” First of all, I don’t have nice feet — come one, those of you who know me well know you’re laughing right now — and Quality Market is our less-than-fabulous grocery store in Chautauqua, so the whole thing is just plain silly. But he was so darn cute about it. And he loves to ask about our day: “How Mommy day?” or “How Mommy bike ride?” or “How Mommy meeting?”

And Braedan, my endless talker, loves this last chance to recount every glorious detail of his day. He tells all his stories in the present tense so you can be part of the action (or so he can relive it): “So here I am, running down the driveway and then — bam! — Nolan appears on his bike and then . . . ” He also uses bedtime as his chance to talk about whatever he’s afraid of or nervous about. And this is a kid who’s eager to please and concerned about doing what’s right (classic first child), so the list of fears and worries can be long. This is our quiet time, no distractions, nothing more important to do than lay there dissecting what might happen if he gets something “wrong” at Safety Town.

I’ve always loved these last lingering moments with them, rocking a baby to sleep in my arms, whispering lullabyes in the ear of my toddler and now calming the growing fears of my growing boy. This is my last chance, before I head back down to finish all the tasks I never manage to finish during the day, my last chance to just be mom. 

I went searching for a picture of one or both boys sleeping and somehow came up with this one ... of Braedan when he was 3 weeks old!

I went searching for a picture of one or both boys sleeping and somehow came up with this one ... of Braedan when he was 3 weeks old!

I realize I often start conversations or pitch ideas on here but then never follow up on them. So, I’m going to take a few minutes to tie up some loose ends:

1) Thank you for your comments about why you read. Those, especially those that highlight the universal mothering/parenting aspect of my story, will help me rewrite my query letter, which I will get to one of these days . . . you know, after the walls are repainted and the closets reorganized and the house spotlessly clean and ready for the onslaught of potential buyers . . . yes, then I will have the chance to sit down and rewrite that query.

2) Thank you for the many very practical suggestions about how to help Austin gain some independence and me maintain some sanity.  There is a different language used by those of you who are professionals in the field of child development and it is helpful for me to hear my frustrations and potential solutions rephrased in your terms. I also think it’s good for us to be home (which we now are) and have our usual distractions and diversions . . . and daddy!

3) I also wanted to tell you about the Open Mic event my mom and I went to at the Chautauqua Institution. The Institution, for those of you who don’t know, well, geez, I don’t even know if I can accurately describe it but let’s just say it a learning community. It’s like a whole neighborhood, a little town enclosed behind gates dedicated to the arts and religion and academic pursuits. Anyway, my mom has taken some writing workshops there over the years and belongs to the Chautauqua Literary Arts Friends, of which I am now also a card-carrying member. So this was one of their annual events, a literary feast (to which we had to bring a food featured in a book; I brought honey cornbread from The Secret Lives of Bees) and an open mic.  Most of the people were reading poetry, some funny, some moving, and before I knew it, my name was called and up I went, ready and eager to share my story. I read an essay (which I’ve copied below) that I originally wrote for a contest by Real Simple magazine that asked readers to describe the most important day of their lives. I was really pleased with my entry and consoled myself when some other winner was announced by acknowledging that I broke the rules and wrote about eight different days over a thirteen month period. Mark rightly pointed out that if a group of editors sat around debating half a dozen of the best entries, it would be easy for them to eliminate mine on that fact alone. (It was much easier to accept this reason, over any other, for why I didn’t win.)

Back to the open mic, I surprised myself while I read with how emotional it was for me. I’ve told this story so many times, in so many forms, even in front of large groups of people, and so I thought it would be easy. I had just read the essay to myself the night before and it didn’t pull any heartstrings for me, having read these words zillions of times over. But standing up there, in front of these friendly and encouraging fellow writers, people leaning in to me, inching closer and closer as I recounted one dramatic moment after another, was very moving. I got a lot of positive feedback afterward, people coming up to hug me and tell me their own sad story and praise my writing, so all in all, it was a pretty cool experience.

And without further ado, here is The Most Important Day of My Life:

July 30, 2007: This must be the most important day of my life. It is certainly the day when everything changes. The day six tumors are discovered on the kidneys of my ten-month-old son Austin. The day that starts out like any other and ends on the pediatric oncology floor of our local children’s hospital. The day that looks like a big fat black smudge down the center of the page that is my life, separating everything into before and after.

August 1, 2007: Things are starting to come into focus, a sharpness, a clarity is replacing the fog that has lain over us for the past two days. Now it’s official, the biopsies prove it—Austin, my second son, my baby, has cancer.  But there is good news too: the pathology reveals that his tumors are favorable, a medical term that mirrors its non-medical meaning. Favorable we can treat. Unfavorable is, well, unfavorable in every sense of the word. So this day, the official day of diagnosis, must be the most important day.

September 5, 2007: After eleven days in the hospital, we’ve now been home for four weeks. We’ve started to wrap our heads around this shocking new reality; we’ve slowly begun to reconcile the idea of this dreaded, deadly disease with our lively, lovely child. The routines are falling into place, the kicked-in-the-stomach feeling we get each time we remember our child has cancer is fading. We’re excited to have completed the first four rounds of chemotherapy, eager for it to cast its evil spell on the tumors inside his small body. We are still standing and we are as optimistic as ever.

But then things change, all over again, from normal-cancer-bad to worse, way worse.

So today we’re back in the hospital, having just returned from a CT scan when a parade of doctors marches into our room. You know you’re in trouble when it takes six people to break the news. Two oncologists, a surgeon, our nurse practitioner, our floor nurse, and the beloved intern Ted who was assigned our case on the very first day. Poor Ted, who just stopped by to say hello and is suddenly stuck in the middle of this intense and intimate family drama. Mark and I are seated, Austin asleep against my chest, everyone else standing. We breathe, we look at each other. We’re ready, give us the news.

But we’re not ready, not for this news. The tumor on his right side has grown, big-time. What we already thought was huge at fourteen-by-seven-by-seven centimeters is now twenty-one-by-fifteen-by-ten centimeters. Why did I never learn the metric system? I can’t even picture how big that is! Oh god, it grew by fifty percent, fifty percent. Finally, they ask if we have any questions. Questions? Yes, we have a few, like why did this happen and what about chemo and why didn’t anyone notice and is he going to live? That’s the question, the only real question: Is Austin going to live?

But there are no answers. No one is sure why, but the tumor obviously did not respond to chemo. We now face the very real possibility that Austin’s cancer is much worse than we first thought. That something rare and unexpected, something scary and deadly, is happening inside his little body. That the initial biopsy didn’t give us an accurate picture of the kind of cells making up his tumor. We now expect a different pathology, not so favorable.

Austin will have surgery this Friday morning to remove his right kidney and the tumor, which will then be biopsied again. The results of that will give us the answers . . . to all our questions: Why? What now? And will he survive? We will develop a new treatment regimen for him once we get the pathology report, no one is giving up. There are things we will do. We will do every thing there is. But this day, September 5, the day of diagnosis all over again, must be the most important day.

September 11, 2007: The tumor and the kidney it devoured came out last Friday, removed in a five-hour-long surgery. A six-pound weight lifted out of his twenty-one-pound body and off our shoulders, one tiny step in the right direction. But today we learn the news that matters. Today’s pathology results will define the rest of Austin’s cancer treatment. Today’s pathology results could define the rest of our lives. And, wouldn’t you know, it’s September 11. A day synonymous with tragedy. I actually consider calling our oncologist and telling him to wait, to save the results until tomorrow, a day with an ordinary date. But I know that’s silly—the facts will be the same no matter what the calendar says.

And then our oncologist shows up, five hours earlier than we expected to see him. And he is bouncing, like a kid with a secret, incapable of containing this news. This glorious glorious news. Austin is fine. The skinny boy lying in my arms with an eight-inch scar across his belly, with tubes in his nose, chest, hands, feet, with five tumors still growing on his only remaining kidney . . . this boy will be fine. The cancer is still favorable. It grew for other strange and rare reasons, a seldom-seen variation with a seldom-heard name. You don’t even need to hear it, read it. All you need to know is that this cancer is still treatable, still beatable. Austin will live. And that makes this the most important day.

October 1, 2007: Another surgery, the most complex of the bunch. A risky procedure where the surgeons will try to remove the tumors growing on the left kidney, while leaving the kidney as intact as possible. The biggest worry of today is that Austin will end up in renal failure, with a dialysis catheter inserted in his leg, just beginning something so huge and so horrible after all he’s already been through.

But eight hours later, we meet him in the PICU amidst good news. Four tumors removed, along with forty percent of his only remaining kidney. But it is working, still chugging along. He surprises us all yet again. This ought to be the last surgery, his fourth in a mere two-month span. We believe that almost all the cancer has been removed, and he’ll continue with chemotherapy for the next five months just to be safe. But this day matters, it’s a turning point; we move from the active cancer stage to the just-making-sure stage. This must be the most important day.

October 25, 2007: Wow, this was quite a day. Quite a day. For the past three weeks, we’ve been wondering and worrying about this one little lesion, this one tiny shadow that remained after the last surgery. It held a lot of power, that little blob. If it grew, like his other tumors, our oncologist wanted to go right in, yet another invasion of my poor boy’s body, and remove the entire kidney. Save the child, get rid of the cancer, kidney be damned. So we were looking ahead to dialysis, every other day hooked to some enormous machine for four hour stretches, for at least two years. And once he’d made it two years cancer-free, then and only then, would he be eligible for a transplant. Two critical years, two years that should be spent running and jumping and swinging and sliding would instead be spent sitting . . . sitting still in a hospital room.

So he had a CT scan today to see what this small but oh-so-consequential lesion was up to. We hoped beyond hope that it would have stayed the same, no growth at all and, maybe, just maybe, that the chemo we still pump through Austin’s body would be working and the lesion would even be shrinking.

But instead it was gone. Not just the same, not even just shrinking, but gone. Gone. There is no cancer inside my baby’s body, nothing foreign or dangerous, nothing scary or deadly, nothing in there that’s not supposed to be.

Austin Gallagher had cancer. And now he is getting better. We are all getting better. This must be the most important day.

February 15, 2008: The last day of chemo. We are nearing the end. This eight-month journey is coming to a close, and normal life is peeking out at us from around the bend. This day is victorious. This day, which was marked in my datebook with stars and exclamation points, toward which we have been counting down, this day might be the most important of all.

August 31, 2008: And now, the months have passed. Summer is coming to a close, my big boy Breadan about to head off to school, already planning his Halloween costume. Austin is growing, hair covering his head, scars fading. The cloud of cancer lifts and the truth is revealed: It is this day. This day, when I woke up in my own bed in my own house, husband beside me, children healthy in their rooms. This day, when we play in the backyard, yet another rousing game of chase, and eat fresh tomatoes from our garden. This day, when we sit down to dinner together, a family intact. Today is, as yesterday was, as tomorrow will be, the best day, the most important day of our lives.

I baby Austin.

I’m sure that doesn’t come as some huge surprise, a shocking admission of illicit behavior or anything. I mean, who wouldn’t, right? There is a preciousness about him, a sacredness that makes me want to hold him and cuddle him and coddle him. And he is the consumate mama’s boy, absolutely choosing me over all others at all times. So he asks to be held and I hold him, he beckons and I come, he cries and I’m immediately there to make right whatever is wrong.

But this is not really doing either of us any favors. He has a learned helplessness that only rears its ugly head with me and Mark. He’s great with babysitters, great with his grandparents — independent and funny, easy-going and easy. But with us, he’s helpless and needy, clingy and babyish. Not all the time or anything; he is still the confident and active little boy I’ve often described. But there is a part of him that we thought he’d outgrow which instead is becoming more and more deeply ingrained in his personality.

It’s hard to know which came first — is this an actual outgrowth of all he’s been through? Pain and discomfort, separation from his parents at his scariest moments? Or have we caused it, by hovering over him, by willingly and happily giving in to his every whim? Or might it just be the way it would have always been, cancerous background or not? Of course, we’ll never know the answers to those questions. But I do know that he craves my physical presence; he wants to be touching me, holding me, whenever I’m near him. He sometimes asks to hold my hand in the car, which sounds sort of sweet but certainly isn’t safe as I reach back awkwardly to stick one hand in his while driving with the other.

I’ve realized that I am good at letting him take physical risks. I let him climb the play structures without my hand at his back; I let him race headlong down the steep part of the yard, which often ends in skinned knees. I pride myself in allowing this degree of recklessness. He falls, cries and gets back up again, as resilient as ever.

But I do not let him take emotional risks. I don’t want him to have to tough it out when he’s scared or afraid. I think a lot of parents of my generation are the same way; we don’t want our kids to feel alone or abandoned when they need us most. It is, after all, our job to protect and comfort them. But I also know that he will never gain any emotional resiliency if I don’t let him, or force him, to find ways to protect and comfort himself.

I trace a lot of this back to his treatment days when I was still nursing him. I nursed him because, not only was it the only nutritious thing he could keep down in the three days following each Friday’s chemo session, but also because it was the best way to soothe and quiet him during scary and painful medical procedures. He literally drew strength, emotional and physical, from my very body. And sometimes now, I feel as if he is doing the same thing — that he is sucking me dry, draining me emotionally and physically with his need, and with my inability to not jump when that need is expressed.

All of this has been heightened by my time here in Chautauqua, as it is only I he clings to and only I who can provide the comfort he requests. My mom has been watching us and trying to figure out how to help and how to help me guide him to greater independence. She pointed out that I often try to encourage him by assuring him that I’m present. “It’s okay, Austin, mommy is right here. I’m right next to you, you’re safe.” She suggested that instead I try to empower him to feel good and safe and okay with himself, as in, “It’s okay, Austin. You’re doing great on your own. You can do this.”  So this is what I’m now trying to do, give him the power to comfort and protect himself.

I know many of you have backgrounds in child psychology and social work and related fields and so I welcome any bits of wisdom or insight you might throw my way on this.

On a lighter note, those of you who laughed at the photos of us on our Jamaican pony adventure, will appreciate the fact that I took the boys on a drive through the countryside today, during which we stopped outside many a farm fence to get out of the car and watch the horses and cows, sheep and donkeys. You should have seen the shocked delight on Austin’s face when we actually heard a rooster crow. “Daaaht cool,” he said in his deep and breathy Dietrich voice.  After we commented on how beautiful it was, hill after rolling hill of green, I asked Braedan if he thought he might like to live out here and without missing a beat he said, “Nope.”

You can take the boys out of the Heights, but you can’t take the Heights . . . well, you know.

I’m in self-imposed exile here, ensconsed in Chautauqua with my boys for two weeks. My dad asked me the other day if I was going through withdrawal from the blogosphere and I said, “Oh no, I’m still connected, I’ll still update every few days,” but somehow the days pass by and I never turn on the computer. It’s nice for me to wake up each morning (late, by the way — my boys have been sleeping in, today Austin got up at 9:40 and Breadan at 10:20!) and have nothing to do, no daily list to adhere to. We hang out, walk to the playground, the boys went fishing with their grampy today, the first day that actually feels like summer after a week of cool windy weather. I go for runs, tried out our new kayak yesterday, am repainting the porch furniture with Sarah. But no list of people to call, meetings to attend, blog posts to write.

So, life is good.

I’m ready to start thinking about my queries again and wanted to thank you for the comments and encouragement following my last posting. It was interesting to hear from so many people with experience in one or another of the arts, about rejection and success and luck and perserverence and all that.  I mentioned one of the messages to my dad and he said that the same thing is true in all aspects of life, from business to school to the literary world. Everyone is out there working and waiting and hoping for someone to recognize their talent and hard work and sometimes the right people get overlooked and sometimes the right people get rewarded. I am certainly not giving up and will rework my query and send out many in the following weeks.  My mom and I are going to an open mic and “literary feast” over at the Institution this Sunday, so we’ll see if that provides some inspiration (or connections!).

A small request, and I don’t mean to sound as if I’m fishing for compliments, but some of you have sent messages that describe what Austin’s story, or my rendering of it, has meant to you over the past year or two.  Now I know you haven’t read the actual book, but those of you who’ve followed the Carepage for all this time have a good sense of the framework on which it’s built, so if you wouldn’t mind sending me a quick line or two, a little gem, that distills for you why you’ve kept reading . . . that would really help me define the value of the book to the outside world.  This is particularly helpful coming from people I don’t know or don’t know well (or didn’t know well before all of this), since you would more closely represent the general book-buying public. In essence, why would someone who doesn’t know me and doesn’t have any reason to care about Austin’s well-being, enjoy this book? Thanks, guys . . . I like that I’m comfortable enough to even ask for such a thing. You are, as always, appreciated.

For now, the boys and I are eagerly awaiting “Daddy Day,” which is tomorrow (and can’t come soon enough). As I left them in their bunk beds tonight, I could hear Austin say, “Bay-den, when Daddy be Chautauqua?” and, from his coveted perch in the top bunk, Braedan replied, “Tomorrow . . . do you want me to come snuggle with you?”

Like I said, life is good.

Switching gears again, because no single day’s issues are the same as the next day’s issues. I did hear back from Kelly Corrigan’s agent last week and . . . she rejected me! Well, no, I didn’t even hear back from her directly, I heard through Kelly herself that the agent thinks I’d be better off with someone who was “more passionate” about my work.

 

Argh! I am crushed. So totally disappointed. I really really thought this was my big break, my golden opportunity, the sure thing. I figured that even if she didn’t like my work (the very idea of which seemed completely foreign to me), she would at least refer me to someone else within her agency or at the very very least, give me some good advice about improving my work to make it more appealing to the next agent (or more marketable). But I got nothing, absolutely nothing. I am right back where I started months and months ago, now rejected and dejected.

I’ve wavered now for the past week between feeling completely discouraged, like “What is the point? Clearly this isn’t any good, clearly no one wants to read a book about a baby with cancer,” to just plugging ahead because — well, because plugging ahead is what I do — but also because I know, I know, this is a damn good book. I reread the beginning of it right after hearing from Kelly, thinking I might discover some glaring problem, and all I could think was, “Wait, this is really good!”

I’m not saying it’s perfect or that I’m perfect. It can always get better and I think it does every time I open the document. But it is a good book. And I believe it deserves to be published.

So, it’s back to the drawing board. Back to the query letter which, as you know, is my least favorite part of this process and which I actually thought I might manage to skip. That will be my project when I’m in Chautauqua with the boys, reworking that damn letter and identifying a few more agents to query. Kelly was very encouraging, sorry it didn’t work, told me to keep going, not to give up, this will happen. I have to remember that her interest in my writing is a positive in and of itself. She is a best selling author after all.

And when I need to remind myself of what really matters in life, I have this:

 
The king and his corndog

The king and his corndog

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