Monday, March 30, 2015

Two Mothers, Two Daughters, One Moon

I used to think I turned the pages of my life, but not anymore. Not quite at least. Now I believe circumstances and faces and objects steadily float past me, and the trick is learning which details have meaning and how to catch them.

When we adopted Maggie from China, I became a stay-at-home mother. I'd had careers, but nothing ever stuck. I'd always been waiting for something else.

During our first year, Maggie and I did pretty well at home, all things considered. She'd spent the first eleven months of her life in a huge Guangdong orphanage, so the quiet of our house and my constant attention surely kept her surprised.

I was an only child who had briefly babysat when I was in high school. Clearly, I didn't know up from down about children, but I knew our world had to expand.

We tried Mommy and Me Gymnastics. The college-student instructor was beside herself with frustration. For one thing, I was old enough to be the mother of the other mothers. Next, we owned no athletic clothes. Class began with screaming children jumping into a pit filled with foam blocks. Maggie whispered, "I don't want to jump into a hole, Mama." I couldn't disagree.

We tried an art event. Maggie didn't want to draw the assigned lesson. I finished hers while no one was looking.

I re-thought my outreach plan. We went to a bookstore, where our clothes were suitable. We loved sitting. We loved quiet. We loved books. That's where we found Owl Moon by Jane Yolen.

Each time I got to the part where the little girl sees the owl, Maggie placed her hand on the page. I have no idea why. But her tiny fingers showed me a book can find a child's heart.

Money was tight in our house on one income, so I told her the book lived in the store, but we could visit it. Because it was a Caldecott winner, they kept copies on hand. On every trip, as I pushed her stroller through the door, Maggie said, "Find it." I knew which book she meant.

So when I tried to write an adoption picture book and the plot stalled, I returned to Owl Moon and realized one economical sentence after another took that little girl on an important nighttime adventure. There was my map for Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale. 

When it was published, it was difficult to know if my book mattered until an author event brought a particular family to my autograph table. The father chatted with me while his adopted two-year-old Chinese daughter flipped through the pages of her book, clearly looking for something. She stopped at the picture of the baby floating away in a basket. She pressed her little hand on the page and smiled at me. She thought she was showing me a picture. I knew she was showing me her heart.

It was a recent, accidental click on my computer that led me to a page about Jane Yolen's Picture Book Boot Camp at her Massachusetts farmhouse. Knowing that points were surely converging, I enrolled for four inspiring days about writing and publishing. More significantly for me, however, I learned Jane took fifteen years to write Owl Moon, and the unnamed girl in the story is her daughter Heidi. I struggled for years to write Sweet Moon Baby, and the unnamed girl in my book is my daughter Maggie.

I went a long way for these details:

The moon is forever the moon, a shining mirror of everlasting promise.
One daughter looked at it and saw an owl.
One daughter looked at it and saw a home.
Two mothers looked at it and saw their daughters.




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16 comments:

  1. Weeping here, but the joyful kind, when I know I have read a friend's heart.

    xxxJane

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    1. Usually I'd respond: "You have no idea." However, it's you, Jane. I know you know exactly.

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  2. So beautifully expressed, Karen! What a blessing to meet you at Jane's boot camp!

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    1. Thank you so much. I'm excited about the friendship and writing of all of our "campers."

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  3. None too many circles are drawn so completely and perfectly. How wondrous that this all happened for someone with eyes and heart open enough to see it and feel it unfold.

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    1. When I explained the beauty of the experience to a friend, she said it was evident that I was in the midst of some kind of wild and crazy energy force field. I'm thrilled to have been zapped silly. (I only wish you could have seen me in that gymnastics class!)

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  4. Replies
    1. Perfectly said, Heidi, but I'm not surprised you'd find the perfect way to comment.

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  5. This was beautiful. Though I'm not a Children's Book Writer - I wish I could have been at the Boot Camp just to meet you!

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    1. Thank you for your generous reply. My experiences with Jane and Heidi, first through the book and later in person, have been incredible, life-changing events.

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    2. Karen--Malerie is our cousin. She is an amazing travel writer. He sons (grown now) have been calling JY "Mama Bird" since they were little. Owl/Moon/Family. More connections. Heidi

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  6. I love this story Karen,
    "The book lived in the store..." I love this, I would never thought of this sentence :). Wow, I am admiring the writer so much!!!

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    1. That means so much to me. Thank you for being such a significant presence in Maggie's life.

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. This is SUCH a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it!

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  8. I always appreciate your posts about the interconnections between books and life. You are a wonderful writer.

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