Hadley asked me recently when I was leaving for school. “In a few weeks,” I told her. After a pause she said, “So wait. You’re gonna try to be a mama AND a writer?”
“That’s the plan,” I said. “You think I can do it?”
Hadley pursed her lips together, squinted her eyes, and tilted her head to the side, studying me. “Maaaaaaybe. It sounds tough.”
She went back to playing and I fell on a chair, winded, and rethinking going to Santa Fe.
This is a pair of shoes. My mom sent them to me for my birthday. I told her I wanted a pair of shoes that weren’t sneakers that a stay at home mom would wear. Sensible. Comfortable. She sent me these.
And I love them.
I wore them during most of the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin in the spring. (If I wasn’t wearing those, I was wearing a pair of red cowboy boots she gave me for Christmas one year.) On the last day of the conference, I was on my way to listen to Mr. Patrick Madden give a lecture titled “Self-Transformation through the Essay.” It was one of the first of the morning and I was tired. I was also late. Trying to walk fast with a Venti Starbucks, a notebook, purse, and sunglasses balanced on my head, I was wondering if maybe it’d be best if I just skipped this one and slowly drank my coffee. Did I mention I was out late the night before? I was. And it was worth every minute of it but I was feeling the effects of getting to know Grand Rapids night life the morning after.
On my way to the lecture, I bumped into a gal who was looking at a map of Calvin. I walked past her once, realized I was going the wrong way, then walked past her again.
“Are you looking for “Self-Transformation through the Essay?” she asked.
“I think so. Self-Transformation sounds good,”I laughed.
“You mind if I walk with you?”
I said I didn’t and we made our way to Madden’s talk. On the way down a set of stairs she asked, “Did you go to Marilynne Robinson’s talk last night?” I thought about lying and saying that I did. Who goes to the Festival of Faith and Writing and not hear Marilynne Robinson? I thought about telling a half-lie: That I didn’t go to her talk because I was just so drained from all the inspiration of the last few days when really I didn’t go because I was drinking beer with some old friends and talking about which Jimmy Fallon skit is the funniest (it’s the “History of Rap” in case you wondered).
I just told her no.
“Me either!” She stopped on the stairs so I stopped, too.
“Do you know what I did instead?” she asked. “I drank wine and watched TLC.”
I laughed so hard it echoed in the stairwell. What a relief it was to hear this.
When we walked into the lecture we sat next to each other, trying not to make the other giggle with the business of sitting down, opening notebooks, and setting down bags after a lecture has already started.
I wrote down some of Madden’s words: That the personal essay “seeks new discovery.” That we don’t know the essay’s “answers from the beginning.” That the reason we begin to write is because we have a “strong emotional pull and bewilderment towards the subject.” That when we let the “subject take the lead, the person becomes a better person.” I liked trying these phrases on as though I was playing dress up. Even though I was too small to wear them yet, I looked forward to growing into the words someday. I was feeling comfortable, excited, inspired. I began twitching my foot and twiddling my pen.
“Are those shoes comfortable?” my new friend whispers.
“They are!” I whisper back, enthusiastically.
She looked at me for a second, looked down at my shoes, then said, “You’re lying.”
I erupted in laughter again, almost as loud as when I was in the stairwell.
“They’re cute, but you’re lying,” she adds, and I put my hand over my mouth to try and stop laughing. Gary Schmidt was sitting a few rows behind me. Brian Doyle was one row ahead of me and Debra Rienstra sat next to me. And I was giggling like a high school girl.
My new friend left before the lecture ended. She was coughing and couldn”t seem to stop, so she excused herself. I’m sad she never came back.
Before the lecture ends I wrote down two more notes from Madden’s talk: “Yes it’s all been done. Yes there’s room and need for more.” And, “Who can say how much of a soul lies in a paragraph?” Then, after we’ve applauded him, and began closing our notebooks, I leaned over to Ms Reinstra and said, quite breathlessly because I was nervous,”Ms Reinstra? I loved Great With Child.” I wanted to say more but that was all I guess I had the strength for. Who can say how much of a soul lies in a paragraph?
I don’t know if I can be a mother and a writer. I suspect Hadley is right: That it’ll be hard. But I also know that both are a part of who I am, who I want to be. I can’t help not being one or the other just like I can’t help laughing with relief with someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously. And who likes my shoes.
Of course, my mom already knows all this. That’s probably why she buys me awesome shoes. She knows I don’t really want to be sensible. That I am most energetic when I’m actually quite uncomfortable, struggling to figure something out, finding my place.
She knows I’ll always be a mother and a writer no matter what I do.
No matter where I go.
I don’t think she’d have it any other way.
Neither would I.