Saturday, December 04, 2010

From Kindergarten Cop to College Mom

A few months ago I started writing a new column called "Julie's Slice of Life" in Lake Mary Life Magazine, the community magazine I've been writing for since 2006. We're fortunate to have wide circulation: the magazine is delivered to over 20,000 homes throughout our county and is also available in numerous businesses. I've decided to post the columns here, too, so others outside our area could have the chance to read them. This first one ran in the September/October 2010 issue (hence the references to summer).

Julie's Slice of Life: From Kindergarten Cop to College Mom*

"How much longer?" my agent asks, referring to my next book.

She's anxious to start making the rounds to publishers, to start shopping it. The publishing world pays lip service to quality, but the greenbacks flow most freely to those who can produce a novel a year. Two a year? You're golden.

I'd call myself bronze, at best. I'm lucky if I write a first draft in fifteen months. Two years is more realistic.

"It's summer," I say. "Hard to get any writing done when the kids are home."

And that's true. But here's the thing: I don't want to get any writing done. I want to spend every waking moment with my children, because for the first time since the oldest started kindergarten, I am acutely aware of how few days I have left to watch them while they sleep, or to cook enough decent meals so that they remember me as the mom who fed them well instead of plopping another pizza on the dinner table.

Why this realization?

My oldest daughter is about to leave for college. The younger one, who just entered tenth grade, is not far behind.

I should feel lucky. The parents I know who have college bound kids have already bid their goodbyes. But my daughter's school of choice doesn't start until mid-September; we'll drive her up for move-in and orientation a few days before. So I have a few extra days to hug her and make sure she knows she'll always be my baby. Yeah, just want she wants to hear.

I can still remember vividly the day she climbed the tall steps of the school bus for the first time. We lived in the suburbs of Boston, and if autumn is synonymous with going back to school, autumn in New England, with its brilliant colors and scent of burning leaves in the air, is the quintessence of the season, at once inspiring and heartbreaking. I cried my eyes out when that bus pulled away.

My husband and I followed the bus. Yep, you didn't misread that. We followed the bus. Once we were no longer in our daughter's line of sight, we jumped in our car and quickly started the engine. Turn for turn, stop for stop, we trailed it like two spies in a James Bond movie. When the bus pulled up to the school and lined up behind the other buses to unload the children, we made a small detour, abandoned our car in the parking lot, and took our hiding places behind a bush to watch our daughter disembark. Would she be crying? Would the fear and bewilderment I was sure I'd see on her face cause me to start bawling all over again? Would the school keep the implicit promise it made to all parents and make sure she made it safely from bus to building, building to bus, bus back home again? My husband held our video camera to film this momentous occasion; I lay in wait, ready to spring forward and save the day if our little girl needed our assistance.

When she stepped down, ballet slipper bookbag on her back and posture straight with pride, I smiled. I cried, too, but they were tears of joy. Our Jessie was going to be just fine.

They say you have to cut the cord. It's painful, but all parents do it, sooner or later. I asked both of my girls recently, "Am I a helicopter parent?" The answer was a quick and resounding, "No! Not at all!" I had the sense they knew a few, and I was happy not to be among them. Yet at the same time, I wondered whether I'd been there enough, whether I'd spent too much time with my novels and not enough with my children.

When the last box is set on her dorm room floor, when we've met the roommates and deemed them acceptable, when we've said our final goodbyes and left her behind to start her new life, I only hope my scissors are sharp enough.

My husband, meanwhile, will probably be following her to her first class, video camera in hand.

*(originally published in the Sept/Oct 2010 issue of Lake Mary Life Magazine)


Chris said...

So now you're, what, a semester in almost? What's that like?

My older one is a senior and while she's very happy with her home life and her room and friends and family, she's had wanderlust since the summer between kindergarten and first grade, when she was furious that sleepaway camp for her age was three days, rather than week, like it was for everyone else.

She's been to Europe twice and Washington DC a couple times, and she's in love with both of them, and resigned herself to an adulthood where much of the year is too cold to wear her beloved flip-flops.

I'll miss her, and I'm sure we loaded her with our share of baggage, but she's a confident, capable young woman and we created the framework in which she could become that. That takes away a lot of the sting.

I might have different thoughts next, August, though.

Jamie said...

Oh, Julie--

This is so beautiful--and so important for novelists-in-training to read. Yes, writing is important--but life, love, children, cats, health, friends, these are all important, too.

I watch you as you juggle the best elements of life and make a whole, balanced world where you are effective and available for your loved ones as well as your muse.

Thanks for the reminder.

Hugs (and Happy Hanukkah!)

Susan said...

Julie ( It feels weird writing that since I usually genuflect when I say your name),

My daughter moved out three years ago for college. She is my best friend and was my only roommate for the last eighteen years. To read your thoughts on writing, parenting, and the need to not miss out on all those wonderful moments with your kids is greatly appreciated.

I was aware you had children but knew of you more as lawyer turned novelist, professional achievements that leave me in awe.

I am a baby writer, still crawling, not walking yet, and I fall into the habit of measuring the value of my time based on how much I accomplish or how many pages I work on. A call or visit from my daughter is one of the few things that pulls me out of this rigid mentality.

After three years, there are still some visits from Kristen that result in me holding back tears. And I see her once a month! Proud, heck yeah, crazy proud of her confidence and perseverence !

Anna has told me to remember balance and Jamie has told me to find the magic in each day. My daughter brings me both and your entry ties it all up nicely.

With much respect,


Julie Compton said...

Chris, well, sort of. She's on a trimester system, so she's already back home and won't go back until after the new year. But, unlike your daughter, she's always been a bit of a homebody, so we figured one of two things would happen -- she'd spread her wings at college, or call us saying she wanted to come home! LOL! Luckily, it was the former. She really seems to love it.
Jamie, thank you! And don't forget dogs! :-) You know we have a menagerie here at the Compton house.
Susan, what a nice comment! (Please, no genuflecting, though!) I once saw a fellow writer post on their FB status something about not sacrificing their children to the altar of writing, and it really struck a nerve with me. Ever since, I've tried to be very careful that I'm not doing that . . .

Terri-Lynne said...

Oh, honey! You're on your first, I'm on my last. I can tell you, it doesn't get easier to say good-bye, but the adjustment does.

Now that December is here, and winter break is only a couple of weeks away, I sit in my quiet house, writing--knowing that the chaos will descend, writing time will be done with earphones on, dinner will be for upwards of five rather than two or three.

I love when they're home. I love when they're not. I'm not crazy about the transition! But I'm getting better at it.