Last night I took my daughter to a book signing. It is one of my favorite things to do with her. I love seeing her excitement, how she gets a giddy tone to her voice, how her eyes shine. I love seeing this because it’s a manifestation of a feeling I’ve had so many times before. I’ve been going to book signings since I was a kid with my own mother.
My mom suffers from extreme introversion, and I… well, I do not. I am what happens when a child is raised by a single mother in possession of a weapon of mass introversion. My mother would aim me at people and send me to do her bidding: “Go ask that man what time it is.” “Here, go buy the tickets.” “Will you see if the lady knows where the bathroom is?” By the time I was in junior high, I was a strange combination of confident extrovert and only child adjacent introversion. And I’ve passed this trait on to my child — along with my long, sharp nose.
I’ve also curated in her a love of books, and what I like to think of as a healthy respect for authors — though I’ve heard the term “stalker” bandied about more than once (there has never been a restraining order actually filed). While her friends paste band posters and portraits of heartthrobs onto their walls, one of my daughter’s prized possessions is a limited edition book cover Maggie Stiefvater passed out and personalized for her at a book signing. When Maggie Stiefvater remembers seeing her at past signings, my daughter gets a look of near-religious fervor on her face.
I know what this feels like. My mother and I went to see David Sedaris many years ago. He was so kind, warm, and generous. When we got to the front of the signing line, he spent time talking to both of us, and made a big to do over my unusual name. We walked away feeling special. My mother gave me my love of books; going to author events with her is where I learned to see the authors I loved as celebrities.
My mother left other, well, I hesitate to say, scars… but let’s call a keloid a hypertrophic, shall we? Upon my soul. I don’t always recognize them until they are… um… pointed out to me by others, usually a significant other – and usually not in the most gentle of ways.
One such occasion occurred when I was in my early twenties. My boyfriend was driving us to a party and we were lost. I began to panic, then to apologize. He asked me the following question:
“Honey, can I ask you something and you won’t get mad?”
Side note here, this is generally not a good way to start a conversation with your partner. It set my hackles on edge, that’s for sure. But, I was game, I told him to go for it.
“Why do you get so upset when we get lost? I mean, it’s not like we’re going to stay lost. We’ll get where we are going eventually…” (Kids, this was back in the days before you could follow the little blue dot on your phone to tell you where you were going. Ask your parents, I swear to god it was a thing.) “We aren’t going to get serial murdered by the hook-handed guy. What is it exactly that upsets you about this?”
And, true to my word (because I have the patience of a saint…), I did not get mad. Instead I carefully and considerately thought about his question. And I realized, I got upset because when I was a little girl, and my mother would get lost while we were driving, she would get inordinately upset about it. And I would think it was my fault.
I talked to her about this anger later, and it turns out she was always worried that our piece of shit car would break down, or we’d run out of gas, or she’d have to stop and ask a stranger for directions. We had very little money, so those first two things gave her considerable stress. And see above for the reason the last one upset her.
But, of course, I thought it was my fault. So years later whenever I was in a car and someone got lost, I would panic.
What’s the point, you ask? I think you’ve lost the thread here, you say.
Ah, but here it is: I took my daughter to see Jenny Lawson read last night. And it was great, we had a wonderful time, we laughed, and also got teary— because that’s The Bloggess’ special gift, laughter through tears. After the reading, we got our books signed and Ms. Lawson was wonderful to my kid. I walked to the car with a girl who was walking on air.
And then I got lost on the way to the freeway.
Even with the little blue dot.
And each time I made a joke and we laughed. And it occurred to me I had broken a cycle. So I told her about it. At the end I said: “So, when you’re in your twenties your partner won’t have to ask you ‘can I ask you something and you won’t get mad?’ Because when I get lost we can just laugh about it.”
I was feeling pretty smug. Assured of my own brilliance as a parent.
“You know they are still going to ask me that, right?” said the voice in the passenger seat of my car, now safely on the freeway on our way to our home. Decidedly not lost.
I sighed. Because she’s right. They are going to ask her that. Just maybe not about the same things I was asked about. No, I will leave different scars on my child. There will be other strange reactions that I have caused. It’s unavoidable.
Just hopefully, she’ll take a love of reading and meeting the people who put her favorite words to paper along with her to the next generation, too. I’d be okay with that.