Wednesday, April 01 2009
Growing up, I had the good fortune to have a mother who stayed at home to raise my brother, my sister, and me. She made cookies and cakes and read us bedtime stories at night. She resolved disputes, ran to your side when you split your lip open (something I can recall doing only once, which was enough), and drove us kids around to band practice, piano lessons, and basketball games among other things. When I got to be a little older, she would tape soap operas for me and as soon as I got off the bus or out of the car, she would have the tape all ready for us to view with some snack on the counter. My parents took us kids to movies and dinner every Saturday, regardless of our plans, making us all stop our busy lives so we could have a few hours together as a family.
All in all, you could say I had a pretty decent time growing up. That is until people found out my deep dark secret: my mother writes books.
I know, I know, it's pretty scary, worse than those insane, schizophrenic, murdering, crying, compulsive marrying women on soap operas. When people discovered this secret, the one my brother, sister, and I tried to keep under the rug, people went nuts. Before we knew it, my mother had scheduled meetings with teachers so she could do presentations for our classes; she signed books for friend's moms who begged me endlessly, sometimes showing up on our doorstep just to meet this local celebrity; later on, she began autographing books for my friends. My mom's writing made my whole family little famous people inside our schools and jobs and lives. It was a very tough role to play.
Stories were legendary about my mom, the romance writer. I mean, she must lead some great, wonderful, romantic life all day every day. Truth is, at least from my point of view, she was just a stay at home mom who fought with her husband, her kids, and the dog like any other stay at home mom I knew. But she had an office. With sliding wooden doors that creaked when she was shutting them. When you heard that noise, all better be quiet, because the writer was at work. To our family, mom's writing was really nothing special, it was her job, her contribution to the family's budget, and something we never wanted to talk about in public.
I remember the persecution all us kids faced when someone discovered the secret. Some people gasped, some people's eyes got so big you feared if they didn't blink they would fall right out of the sockets. Others, especially kids in middle school, would shrug their shoulders, as if it was no big deal, all the while listening to every single word you wanted so desperately not to sputter about it. Teachers would go out and buy your mom's books and then tell the entire class what they thought about them. One teacher even said the name of the book she read, I believe it was How to marry.One Hot Cowboy. The class had a good ole time with that one. I was completely mortified. Let's just say I never got along well with that teacher after the incident.
My brother endured the worst degradation. His came during his junior year in high school, when one of his fellow classmates began reading one of the "romantic scenes" out loud during chemistry class. My brother has always been overly sensitive to any public humiliations, and I don't think he ever got over that particular one.
The hardest part about having this legendary mom was the questions and comments, the endless discussions that you never knew how to handle but that you needed to deal with politely. My favorite line began with, "I always meant to write a book someday, I just haven't had a free afternoon." Everyone says that. Everyone. It's hard not to laugh, knowing what I do about the effort that goes into making a book.
When those kinds of statements came out, I sweetly explained that in my family, Mom's job was a full time affair, she worked at least 40 hours a week. When she had ideas at 3am, she wrote at 3am. She lost sleep over approaching deadlines, struggled with finding new ideas, and battled writer's block. Sometimes, you could find mom yelling at the computer for losing her work or not doing what it should. When it came time to print a manuscript, let's just say that printing was an all day task. It took at least 5 hours to print one copy. And no one could go near the office lest you bend one page or ruffle one paper out of place. I can't tell you how impressed we were when mom upgraded her old dot matrix printer to a laser jet contraption that weighed about 100 pounds and printed one page every 20 seconds or when she got a new computer with little floppy disks, finally tossing out those big 8.5 inch disks that also could function as plates, Frisbees, and/or hats.
The best part about it, about having this renowned mom who wrote books, was that I had someone to proofread my papers in middle school, high school, and for a little while in college. She could also type quickly too. So when someone was in a jam, Mom would come to the rescue, taking her children's horribly handwritten drafts and firing them out on her keyboard. One time, she even typed a paper in German for my brother, while he paced around and behind her, correcting mistakes as they went (and she doesn't even know German). Now that's dedication.
Honestly, though, I had a typical family. My mom didn't go around lighting smelly candles (unless she cooked bacon) or running off to exotic locations to feel romance. She cooked dinner, ordered pizza when she didn't want to cook, went shopping to look at all the things she couldn't buy, constantly dieted yet ate the chocolate cake anyway, secretly held my father's hand (which, by the way, did make all us kids very nauseated), and cried when her son and two daughters moved away from home.
Yet, to this day, I cringe when I have to write my parent's occupations on forms or when someone asks me what my parents do. I try to dodge the question as best I can, saying "dad - program manager; mom - self-employed." When that fails, when further explanation is warranted, I say, "Yes my mom writes books. Yes, she has been published, in fact over fi