Honestly, I found it much easier to participate in a radio interview about Leelo than to read a My Baby Rides the Short Bus story about him to a room full of people. Jen thinks the difference is my social awkwardness, but really, I think it's because the radio interview moved too quickly for my emotions to overwhelm me, for me to be at the mercy of my raging love for my son, my fierce need to protect him, yet make other people see him.
No such luck at the Modern Times reading for My Baby Rides the Short Bus. That room, it pulsed with purpose, but also with such deeply conflicted love and sorrow. After three readings, I lost it, completely. I couldn't read when I was supposed to, had to switch places with Jen. I rallied for the Q&A afterwards, probably looked fine. But I felt gutted. And let me tell you why.
Leo has always been easy to love. He's a loving boy, free with his hugs, laughs, and vocal in his desire to spend time with the people he cares about. He wants to cuddle before he gets out of bed in the morning, wants to snuggle whenever he sits next to us, and his reaction to being pleasantly surprised is to jump up and fling his arms around our necks.
And that kind of carefree affection was not what the first three parents spoke about. They spoke about the difficulties of understanding their children, of children who didn't seem to connect at all, though they otherwise seemed so like Leo. Or they spoke of serious medical conditions and complications, of physical challenges and trials like our family has never experienced.
Even though I'd already read their stories and poems, already knew what the writers were going to read, I hadn't prepared myself to hear the stories in the authors' own voices, while seeing their eyes and watching their faces.
Still, I tried to get up and read. But I couldn't. I almost never encounter that kind of public raw, and it took me out. I started crying, started shaking. Hard. No matter how much I appreciate your stories, and how grateful I am to you for sharing them, I'm usually shielded by my computer screen or the written page. Or we're in more casual social situations, where the tone remains light-hearted even if the subject matter does not. The reality of parenting kids like ours rarely stares me in the face like that. Apparently, I'm not quite up to it yet. I'm so sorry.
Thankfully, Jen Silverman snuck up and handed me a magic pastille. Also Jen Myers took my place in the reading roster -- and her story, in case you haven't read it yet, is wittily written though not funny at all. Iz, who was sitting with me, patted my hand and reassured me, told me I'd be fine. I was, by the time Jen finished. I got up, protested that the person who had previously tried to read wasn't actually me, and tore through my story. (Which is partially about meeting Jen, and in hindsight made sense to read after the audience had already made her acquaintance.)
Here's what else happened when I wasn't in hysterics:
Iz and I rode in with one of the other MBRTSB authors, Thida. What a treat! We're going to kidnap her and bring her to Bad Moms Coffee one of these Thursdays.
The My Baby Rides the Short Bus editors, Furies, Fates -- Jen Silverman, Yantra Bertelli, and Sarah Talbot were all more luminous than imagined. They were also all at the end of individual traveling days and were very tired, though they still crackled with supernatural intelligence and energy. I wish we'd had time to sit and chat. Sigh. In another life.
The house was packed! People were poking their heads in through the door, trying to have a look. And the books sold out! (You should buy a copy.)
Iz came. Her Godfather came. Sarah (!) came. People who'd listened to our Forum interview came. Jen's family came, from several different parts of our state. Seymour couldn't come, because he was giving a talk in a different part of our state. (If you came and didn't say hi, please feel free to do so now. :) )
The Q&A after the readings was interesting. One woman said that she taught our children and thought they were wonderful. I lit up, anticipating hearing other nice things, as we rarely get positive feedback that doesn't devolve into "special angel" speak. So of course she devolved into special angel speak, asking if we didn't think our kids had a different purpose, like a 19th century missionary speaking about how the heathens they live among are touched by God. Sarah Talbot respectfully and forcefully disagreed, and I agreed with Sarah. Though I have to wonder if the first woman was using an outmoded verbal toolbox, and could actually have been saying something I'd be interested in hearing, had she used different terms.
Another woman asked about whether My Baby Rides the Short Bus included perspectives from parents of color. She said her son was already challenged by being black, now he has disabilities as well, and on top of that, she keeps getting asked whether she took drugs while she was pregnant with him (several heads exploded, after that statement). Jen Silverman explained that perspective variety was a goal of MBRTSB, and how the deadline had been pushed back several times while they actively tried to recruit authors, but eventually they had to proceed with what they had.
Which is what we all do, isn't it?
If anyone knows who that final mom was or how to contact her, please let me know. I'd love to have a conversation with her, for BlogHer.