I usually separate my mom identity from my writing life. But due to a last-minute complication, this Saturday I ended up taking my daughter to Wordstock, Portland’s annual writing festival.
I adore Wordstock and have been to every one since its 2005 inception. This year, I had my Saturday solo gameplan all set up–the panel discussion “How to Win Over Agents & Editors,” at 11, followed by Julia Glass and Diana Abu-Jaber at noon, and then Jennifer Egan at 1. A dream schedule, as far as I was concerned–a useful agent panel followed by listening to three of my favorite authors!
Except I had a 4-year-old tagging along.
She chose to wear her favorite black and white polka dot dress, flowered tights and red shoes. We packed a few snacks, books and one ladybug in her red backpack, and off we went to her first Wordstock.
After checking out a row of booths, and buying two 50-cent children’s books from the Multnomah County Library table, my kiddo wanted to sit and listen to “the show.” The stage she pointed to happened to be hosting the agent panel, with Betsy Amster, David Forrer, Rhonda Hughes and Victoria Blake. So, gamely, we took seats with friends and their daughter and listened for about 15 minutes. It so happens that Victoria Blake is this Victoria Blake, my former newspaper colleague, who founded Underland Press. It was great to see her on stage and find out where her writing career has led her.
Soon we sneaked out quietly and trotted off to the children’s area, where my daughter told me a story from looking at a black and white photograph.
Me: What’s that on the woman’s book? Flowers?
Her: No, seaweed.
Me: Where’d the seaweed come from?
In the reading corner, she picked a free hardcover book, “Officer Buckle and Gloria” by Peggy Rathmann, whose “Goodnight, Gorilla,” we have enjoyed for the past few years. Then we wandered off to meet up with one of my writing friends and to await the readings by Diana Abu-Jaber and Julia Glass. We perched on the end of an empty back row, since I knew we wouldn’t make it through the hourlong event.
My kiddo nibbled on her snacks, occasionally asking for something else in a very polite whisper, as we listened to Diana read a beautiful piece from her latest novel, “Birds of Paradise,” which I can’t wait to buy and savor. Amazingly enough, my daughter sat through the whole reading, even though it was lunchtime.
As Julia Glass took the microphone, I wondered whether we should skip out right then and find some real food. But I really, really wanted to hear a little bit of what she had to say. My 4-year-old played with her ladybug, turned around to watch the crowd passing behind us, and then settled in to thumb through her new books. I was attuned to her needs and every little movement while listening to Julia–my favorite contemporary author–discuss Percy Darling, the protagonist in her latest amazing novel, “The Widower’s Tale.”
“Curmudgeon!” my 4-year-old whispered happily, repeating Julia’s description. I hope that word sticks in her vocabulary.
When Julia began reading about Percy’s library career (beginning on p. 76 of the hardcover version), my kiddo snuggled into my lap, petted my hair and continued listening, until she got a little squirmy and I decided we’d better sneak out and go for a walk.
It was hard to leave Julia Glass still reading there on stage, and to know my copy of “The Widower’s Tale” was in the car, since I knew I wouldn’t make it to the autograph line. I would have told her how much I admire every one of her books. How “The Whole World Over” has been at the top of my “to recommend” list for years. How “The Widower’s Tale” enchanted me in a softer, but no less urgent, way. How I felt heartbroken when I finished reading it, because there can only be one first read of every book.
Instead I carried those thoughts home in my heart, just glad to have been in the same giant convention center space with Diana Abu-Jaber and Julia Glass and all the other writers for a short period of time. With my respectful, cooperative daughter.
“Mommy’s so proud of me!” she reported when we got home.
Saturday, I didn’t feel the huge thrill of Wordstock community that I usually do, browsing at the tables, interacting with other writers and catching up with many members of my personal writing community. In fact I didn’t run into most of my “see them every year at Wordstock” friends. But I felt a huge thrill as a mom, being able to usher my child into the world of words that means so much to me.
She was excited to be there, she delighted in her new books, and she listened.