An Early Gift

Avery Birth RecordEvery now and then my book Holding Avery gets entered into a contest – the latest was the Foreword Reviews‘ 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards.  It’s a well-known competition in the literary world, with other winners being the likes of screenwriter Zack Whedon and the infamous Dalai Lama, to name a few.

When I found out I was a finalist a few months ago I was thrilled; I know it’s entirely cliche, but, given the competition, it truly was an honor to be nominated. I knew that winning was a long shot. The awards were given out this past Friday night at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference in San Francisco.  I wasn’t there – I was sitting on the couch watching House Hunters International with a very jet-lagged husband who had just returned from a work trip overseas. I was trying to convince him that it was completely practical for us to move to St. Croix when I got the email. The winners had been announced, and I had to blink a few times before I processed that it was Holding Avery that won the Gold in the Grief/Grieving category.   My little book, my little story, my little daughter – the big winner.

It’s exciting being a winner.  It’s incredible to have people talking about Holding Avery, to have people recognizing it not just for the writing but also for broaching an uncomfortable subject that is often ignored.  It’s not The Nobel Prize but it’s enough to make me feel special for a few days, to reaffirm that I made the right choice writing such a personal book in the first place.  Winning is also very timely.

Avery was born on July 2, just three days from today.  (It’s 1:32 p.m. as I type this; she was born at 1:43 p.m.) Surprisingly, July 2 doesn’t really bother me – it’s tomorrow, June 30, that puts the pit in my stomach.  If you’ve read my book you know that June 30 was a pretty boring pregnant day back in 2008.  I took a walk, I ate a sandwich, I went to Target. A few things happened that had me convinced Avery was on her way, and just past midnight my water broke.  Seven years later I still find myself doing a play-by-play of that day, wondering how and why things turned out the way they did.  I said it in my book and I stand by it today – as the years pass, it doesn’t get easier.  It gets different. I already feel the beginnings of that squirm in my stomach, that feeling of sadness and loss blended with the happiness of the beautiful life we’ve built post-Avery.  This year I can add the accolades of my book, Avery’s book, to that cocktail of confusion.

Yes. It’s nice to be a winner. But I’ll never forget that Avery’s loss is what made this all possible in the first place.  Happy Birthday, sweet girl.  This year you won the Gold.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words…

10897108_10205164402165602_3390385594772897571_nMy kids were off from school Monday in honor of Martin Luther King Junior’s birthday. Since I’ve learned that it’s impossible for me to get any work done on school holidays, I’ve come to relish the laziness that comes with them. My husband left for work at 6:45 a.m.; I grabbed my phone and crawled back into bed. I checked my email, perused Facebook, and checked Jane.com to see if there were any worthwhile daily deals.

At 7:15 my oldest son Carter climbed into bed with me; his younger brother Preston wasn’t far behind. We sat in bed and chatted for a while, then the boys asked to do one of their favorite things – look at pictures on my phone.

“Do you have any pictures of me when I was a baby?” Carter asked eagerly. “Like right after I came out of your tummy?”

“I sure do,” I answered, searching my phone. “Here you go. This is right after you were born.”10399737_1201454232453_2331358_n

Carter stared at the picture in awe, trying to recognize himself. “Why are you wearing glasses?” he finally said.

“I want to see!” Preston grabbed the phone from his brother’s hand.

“Do you have any pictures of Preston right after he came out of your tummy?” Carter asked.

“I do.” I took back the phone and scrolled through the album. “This is me and Preston.”

316245_2432770934601_1270626852_nMy youngest gazed over my shoulder and started jumping up and down. “That’s me, Carter! That’s me and Mommy!”

I got up to brush my teeth while the boys were busy analyzing their younger selves.

“Mom?” Carter followed me into the bathroom, sounding much too serious for his five years.

“What, buddy?”

“Do you have any pictures of Avery on your phone? Right after she was born?”

For a second I froze, unsure of where to begin. Avery was my first child. When she died I could have easily hidden her existence from my future children. It would have been simple to sweep her short life under a rug, to only whisper her name when I was certain no one was listening.

But I chose to go the opposite route. I wrote a book about my daughter that anyone with ten dollars can read. Every year at Christmas we hang a stocking for her – she doesn’t get presents, but we collectively fill it with our love. Our house has bursts of pink toys here and there, reminders that a girl almost lived in a home now dominated by boys. Avery’s existence has always been celebrated, and in doing so I’ve inadvertently placed my sons in the middle of something they don’t entirely understand. The older Carter gets, the more questions he asks about his big sister, and I always try to be as truthful as possible yet delicate with the harsh realities of life.

My son looked at me with his huge green eyes – they always remind me of Gizmo from Gremlins. He is so inquisitive, so thirsty for knowledge, so desperate to unlock the secrets of The Universe. My thoughts fell into a tangled mess in my head; there was so much I could say. Why don’t we have pictures of Avery on our phone?

It was almost seven years ago, we didn’t have an iPhone, the last thing on my mind was pictures, we were so sad…

“Mom?” Carter asked.

“Yeah, buddy?”

“Is it because she was dead, and pictures are meant for happy things?” he said.

I smiled at my son, once again amazed by the depth of his reasoning. “That’s exactly it, Carter.”

My five-year-old walked over to the picture of Avery we keep on our dresser. “So this is the only picture you have of her, huh?”

“We have others,” I softly explained. “But you need to be a little older to look at them.”

Our other pictures include my husband and me and radiate grief; I’m not quite ready for Carter to see his parents so haunted.

“Can I say hi to her?” Carter asked, picking up the urn with his sister’s ashes.

“Of course.”

“Hi, Avery,” he sang, tickling the top with his fingers. “Coochie coochie coo!” He gently placed the urn back on the dresser and stretched, his hands finally resting on his stomach. “Man, my belly is hungry. Can we make waffles?”

“It’s a holiday. How about we go get donuts instead?” I offered.

My room erupted into screams of joy over their favorite deep-fried pastry.

“Donuts! I love donuts!” Carter exclaimed.

“Donuts! Donuts! Donuts!” Preston cheered from the bed.

“Come on Preston,” Carter instructed, pulling his brother from the bed. “Let’s go get dressed so we can go get DONUTS!”

I watched my boys bound up the stairs to their rooms, so wise beyond their years, but with so much left to learn about life.

A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore…

10492212_10203595970355787_8702093362303428279_n-1Two weeks ago I went to Old Navy to buy new clothes for my kids.  My boys are growing like those little magic capsule thingies they love to play with – one night they drink a glass of milk, the next morning their pants are three inches too short and they’re sporting belly shirts.  It’s insane.  Anyway, Old Navy happens to be next to a Barnes and Noble.  It had been a little over a week since the release of my book, and I decided to take a stroll through B&N to see if Holding Avery was on the shelves.

I knew Barnes and Noble carried my book online – tons of bookstores carry my book online – but I wasn’t 100 percent sure they’d have it in-store.  I walked in, took a deep breath, and told myself not to be disappointed if it wasn’t there. I wandered through the biographies, breathless, and came face-to-face with Hillary Clinton on more than one occasion.  Not the actual Hillary Clinton, of course, but the giant picture of her on the cover of her brand-new memoir.  (The memoir that came out the same day as Holding Avery, I might add.) I passed scores of books by famous people, but I didn’t see my own.  I headed for the self-help section. My story is a memoir – a biography – but it’s also classified as self-help.  Since I’m not exactly on the same plane as former first ladies and aging superstars, I figured it was worth a shot. As I turned down that aisle, my heart stopped.  There it was, the white feather, my name in print, Avery’s name in print…I had a faceout, too, so my book was right there for the world to see, begging to be read.

It’s hard to actually put this feeling into words – think being five years old again on Christmas morning, and then multiply that by a thousand. In short, it was amazing. I looked around; a man sat on the floor a few feet away, perusing a book.  It took all my willpower not to tap him on the shoulder ask him if I looked like the lady on the back of Holding Avery.  Instead I shamelessly took a selfie with my book, stared at it for another minute, and left.

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A few days later we had a rainy Sunday.  After breakfast with my husband and boys, we took a bookstore tour through the Dallas Metroplex, and yes, I took selfies every time I found my book on the shelves.  I couldn’t help it.  It was exciting stuff.

It’s also a timely distraction for me. The last few days of June and the first few days of July are always hard for me.  At this very moment six years ago, I was sitting in a hospital bed trying to decide if I was ready to start the process of birthing my stillborn daughter.  I felt pretty lousy; I felt extremely hopeless.   Back then I couldn’t imagine the beautiful future that was waiting for me, completed by two incredible little boys who would come into my life and help me find happiness.10339637_10203315588106406_8543961783156059448_n

I also couldn’t fathom that the little girl I was mourning, a baby who graced this earth for just an instant, would have the ability to leave such a long-lasting impression on so many.  Tomorrow is Avery’s sixth birthday. While she may not be here to celebrate, her legacy lives on in print.

And that feels amazing, too.