Features & Essays

The Best-Laid Plans

We prepare. We dream. We carefully plot. And still, the universe surprises us. Here’s how these Colorado writers dealt with life’s curve balls.

A DIFFERENT PATH

In our family, getting a college education was assumed, a no-brainer. Until it wasn’t.

By Kira Martin

The front door closed with a slam that made the house shudder.

“Mom!” My 17-year-old son’s voice rang out, “I kind of set myself on fire. Burned myself a little. But don’t worry! I can feel it!”

He’s teaching himself to blacksmith, and one of the things he latched onto in his research is that third-degree burns don’t hurt. He came around the corner and gestured at his red T-shirt. Sure enough, there was a hole about the size of a golf ball.

“You were using the forge without protective gear?” When he built the forge, this was one of the absolute rules I set down to make myself feel better.

“No, I was grinding metal, and it’s really hot for coveralls, so I figured it’d be fine.” He looked down and shrugged. “Sparks.”

He walked away and came back a few minutes later to show me his handiwork, crisscrossed strips of green electrical tape across the hole.

“I fixed it!”

And then he was off again, to finish grinding the sparking metal.

My son is a student at a charter school that concentrates on concurrent enrollment. He’s been taking college courses for three years now and planning to do two senior years to complete his associate’s degree. It’s a fabulous opportunity and a wonderful school.

The problem is that he’s not happy with it. His academic performance has been patchy, which I think we all understand is a euphemism for “often terrible.” He’s abandoned his original degree plan and is certain that he’s the only 17-year-old on the planet who doesn’t know what career he wants.

I know from anguished discussions with other parents that he is not alone. There’s a type, and if you’re the parent of this type you recognize it. He’s bright; he learned to read when he was three. He’s not lazy; he dives into complicated projects, like blacksmithing and origami and musical theater. I always assumed his boundless enthusiasm would someday light up in a classroom. But although he loved physics, academics have always been grueling.

One night last year, when he stomped away from the table after another discussion about his grades, I moaned to my husband, “What are we going to do about this kid?”

“Why does he have to take college classes?” he asked.

“What do you mean, ‘why’? Did you see his SAT scores? He can do this!”

“Sure, he can. But he’s not. He doesn’t want to.”

I looked at him for a silent moment.

“What else would he do?”

“He could go to trade school.”

It’s hard to let go of the idea of your kid heading off to college, their belongings tidily stowed in matching bins (you can tell this is a fantasy by the organization alone). But my actual son needs something else, and I’m weary of trying to force him into my dream. He finds joy in working with his hands. That’s when all the brainpower that slumbered through English Comp 121 comes to life.

And so that’s why my husband and I spent the summer trying to talk our son out of going to college. He could not have been less interested. It’s really annoying to have your epiphany be met with such a lack of enthusiasm.

I took him shopping for school supplies a few weeks ago. Now he’s a senior, and he feels so close to adulthood that it makes him giddy sometimes. Besides that, Target brings out the squirrel in him. He tossed items into the cart from the other end of the aisle and gave a nearly convincing oratory on why marshmallows are required supplies for criminal justice class. He was shocked by the total at the register, which is always gratifying as a parent.

On the way home, with his bag of supplies slumped between his feet, he sighed.

“Another year. Here it goes again.”

This was not a blissful sigh. It was not anticipatory or excited or even content. This was the sigh of Sisyphus, shouldering his load again.

“You know, it’s not too late to change your course plan. You can graduate this year. You don’t have to stay to finish your associate’s. You don’t have to go to college at all.”

I was not expecting much reaction at all, much less a positive one. But he sat up and turned to stare at me.

“Wait,” he said, “WAIT. You would be okay with me not going to college? REALLY?”

I opened my mouth.

I closed my mouth.

I adjusted my grip on the steering wheel.

“Yes,” I said slowly, “yes, that might be a very good idea.”

Kira Martin is a freelance worker who lives in Colorado with her husband and kids and one dog whom she refers to as her coworker.

SO FAR AWAY

When one spouse travels full-time, absence really does make the heart grow fonder. Sexting doesn’t hurt, either.

By Toni McLellan

I have a friend who has sex with her husband every day. No, they’re not newlyweds, and no, they’re not just out of college; in fact, they’re in their late 40s. Aside from being genuinely impressed, my first reaction upon hearing this was to ask if they ever took days off, like, for special occasions or federal holidays. (No, they don’t.)

I’m not sure what makes for a “normal” amount of sex for couples who have been together a while, but I know a lot more people who say that they seldom, if ever, get it on. A couple of friends are hanging in there, hoping for the best until the kids are grown. But far more report feeling too harried and exhausted to make sex a priority, particularly if they have young kids or are being dragged by the vagaries of perimenopause. I don’t normally sit around pondering the sex lives of friends and acquaintances, or at least I didn’t until mine changed dramatically.

As marriages go, I think my husband and I make a pretty good team.

We are also often harried and tired, and I some weeks I feel like perimenopause’s personal punching bag. But we’re just similar and different enough in ways that allow us to reasonably function as adults co-running a household and parenting three sons. We are great friends who make each other laugh and genuinely like each other. The sex is still good, too.

But when he took a job requiring full-time travel, I realized that I’d failed to appreciate the luxury of doing it whenever we wanted. I had to learn to live with less time with him. Less companionship. Less help around the house. Less weathering our sons’ teenage moods. And less sex.

We’ve learned to flirt via iMessage and we try to talk at least every other day, no matter how busy we get. We’ve also learned to be discreet about hiding certain texts from the prying eyes of his customers and our kids. Except for the time I stuck a bunch of sexts in a folder labeled “baseball” on my Macbook and then immediately forgot about it, while somewhere in a tastefully decorated office in Illinois, the therapist who diagnosed me with ADD reflexively facepalmed. Take it from me: There’s no good time to wonder aloud about where that folder came from when anyone but your special person is around.

Despite more than 20 years of carefree familiarity, when my husband comes home each weekend we have to get used to each other all over again. We follow different rhythms when apart than when we’re together. When he comes home, I need time to adapt to his snoring, and he needs to deal with me saying “No, you can’t set the thermostat to freezing like you do in hotel rooms” and to our African grey parrot screaming every morning at 6 a.m. for no other reason than it is 6 a.m.

The problem is, when time together is scarce, the pressure to perform looms larger than it probably should. Decades of free choice quickly became pressure to get it on: We’ve only got a day and a half, so let’s make it count! But stuff happens and real life has a way of intruding, and real life doesn’t care if it’s the weekend. Some weekends are less hot and heavy, “I can’t wait to see you” and more, “Can you fix this thing that broke that I can’t reach?” Despite these adjustments, we thought we had a pretty good routine going until we had a streak of weekends where one of us was either sick or injured, or sick and injured.

On his birthday weekend, my husband came home from the airport with a cold. Single-handedly running a household and a writing career during the week means I don’t have time to be sick. I wished him the traditional “Happy Birthday, but Keep Your Distance,” greeting known to most long-time couples (except, probably, that one friend), but he wasn’t having it. We’re apart all week, he said. And it’s my birthday, he said. Cursory and totally unbiased research done on his phone revealed that you can’t catch a cold virus from sexual intercourse. As long as we didn’t kiss, he argued, I’d be okay.

I have not vetted his science, but I didn’t catch his cold.

He wasn’t home for two weeks after that, and when he returned, he had flu-like symptoms, barely able to walk to our bedroom to collapse onto the bed. In sickness and in health, I carted him to the doctor for a flu test, which was negative. Rest, fluids and solitude was the only treatment. I slept on the couch that weekend. We’d try again next time.

You can probably guess what happened the weekend after that. (If you guessed that I was sick, you would be right.)

The one clear weekend I can remember in this long string of illnesses, accidents, and sadistically sentient biology was after he’d been away for three weeks in Alaska—the longest amount of time we’d ever spent apart. Nobody was sick, or injured, or in crisis, or using tampons. We were free to frolic as only a couple married for decades can do—awkwardly, with minor aches and pains, but also with great relish. Occasionally, the stars align, and we have a lot of fun together, reconnecting and remembering why we fell in love in the first place. It’s a great system, so long as it happens on a weekend.

Toni McLellan is a Loveland-based writer who managed to craft a career from her natural curiosity, enthusiasm, and stubbornness. She spends her free time hiking in the mountains and stalking wood-fired pizza food trucks. Learn more at ToniMcLellan.com.

BAD DOG (OWNER)

Puppies always seem like the best idea. Until they aren’t.

By Corey Radman

Writers are alone a lot. For me, that’s by design and preference. I love that I can type and mutter to myself all day without being judged or interrupted until my kids get home from school. The solitude turns stale sometimes, though. It’s a bit like an avocado, divine one day and then suddenly sad and brown the next. To stem my loneliness and because my family had all wanted one, I finally agreed to get a dog.

When I imagined the dog we would get, I pictured hikes with my husband, accompanied by our affable, well-trained companion. We would be exploring a mountain trail and our dog would lope alongside us, perhaps wearing a bandana and hauling his own water. I was certain that ours would be like those taproom dogs you see in Old Town, sitting patiently outside the patio fence while their owners stop off for a beer.

That was a year ago before we actually got our dog, Ringo. His golden doodle breeding guarantees that he is always enthusiastic to meet people and dogs. He’s also what my dog trainer calls “prone to impulsivity.” That means he forgets all the instruction and reinforcement (treats) I’ve given him when we see other people during our walks. He usually leaps forward to say hi, towing me along behind him like an anchor.

It’s not like I haven’t tried to train this goofball. We did puppy classes as well as Smart Dog 1 AND 2. The trouble is, I have other things to do besides train this dog. Ringo and I will get halfway down the list of instructions for teaching stay and have to stop because I’m on deadline, or someone needs a ride, or dinner, or a permission note signed. There is also his distractibility.

In training class, I felt like the mother of an unprepared kindergartner. Mine was the kid who shoved crayons up his nose while the others sat attentively on the carpet, criss-cross applesauce, spoons in the bowl. Instead of laying down and waiting for his next instruction, Ringo bowed and pranced toward the other dogs, his entire body shouting, “Hey! Hey! Lookit me!”

The couple next to us proudly showed the trainer how their Daphne could “sit pretty,” her dainty paws up by her nose. She was balancing a treat on her head, the canine equivalent of differential equations. “They can’t possibly have kids…” I thought to myself. Though, maybe they did. Maybe I’m just bad at this.

I think the real source of the problem is that, as a mother, I have learned the value of acquiescence. Rather than battling to the death over everyday minutia I have learned to take my hand off the wheel and watch what happens. That approach has mostly produced independent, resourceful kids. It also leaves me time and mental energy for my own projects and interests.

Logically, I can see that a dog can’t muster the self-control required to get his own shit together. But I really don’t want to be permanent behavior monitor. So, instead, I have relaxed my standards.

I recognize that for me, the ideal off-leash dog probably isn’t going to happen. I bought a no-pull harness that helps with the yanking (and guarantees my dog will pull your arm from its socket if he’s not wearing it). Even though I started out adamant that our dog would eat No People Food, I am the one who mixes his kibble with steak drippings or a spoonful of chili, “to give it some flavor so he’ll eat it,” I say, smiling with satisfaction as he swoons over my “cooking.”

I didn’t get the dog I dreamed of. And yet, I have received something I didn’t even know I wanted: puppy snuggles on the bed he was Not Ever going to sleep in; a party thrown by the front door every time we come home; and many more smiles per day than we had before. Like most dogs, Ringo’s job is to remind us to stop and sniff the smells, to wag your tail for the people you love, and that life is pretty great, especially when you get a belly scratch.

Corey Radman is the person who feeds Ringo, throws his ball, and taps on a keyboard instead of petting him — much to his annoyance.

SWEET DREAMS ARE MADE OF THIS

One woman’s writing aspirations take a surprising turn.

By Sandra Hume

Is blow job one word or two?

I pause over the manuscript in front of me. My Chicago Manual of Style won’t cut it for this question, so I turn to my experts online. If anyone can steer me straight, it’s the romance novelists.

I’m still surprised to have them as a resource. Like a lot of writers, my future calling was never a mystery. Early on, my plan was simple: to be Judy Blume. I knew Judy’s heroines better than I knew myself. I felt Margaret’s tug-of-war with religion and her angst over her changing body, sympathized with Deenie’s scoliosis diagnosis and wanted Sheila to just admit to her fears already. I ached for Karen’s parents’ divorce and cried over Davey’s dad’s death. Blume was all about Serious Issues, and when I grew up I’d write about girls just like that, with Serious Issues of their own.

Cut to college graduation. Journalism degree in hand, recession in full swing, I had my own Serious Issues to face: the financial variety. I embarked on a series of editorial jobs, each a small step up from the last. When I finally scored health insurance, I held onto it with both hands. After my final full-time job imploded in the dot-com crash of the early aughts, I switched gears and began freelancing for magazines until that industry, too, collapsed.

I became less picky about work. By then I was married with three kids, so I fine-tuned the art of sandwiching projects between chauffeuring. Whenever acquaintances asked the inevitable What do you write?—they always want to know if they’ve read anything of mine—my answer was as cryptic as it was true: whatever people pay me for. Editing proved more lucrative, so I leaned toward those jobs. Over the years I invoiced for endless blog posts, newsletters, online personal ads, magazine articles, books, website content, white papers, and other projects that defied categorization.

What I didn’t do was write fiction. Closer to forty than thirty, I let myself feel the dejection about this loss until I reminded myself: Duh. I still could. Rather than crafting manuscripts from research and interviews, I started to make things up. But as I experimented with the craft of storytelling, I found my inspiration wasn’t rooted where I expected, in the coming-of-age characters in Judy Blume’s books. Instead, I saw Laurie Adams.

Long brown hair caught to the side in a barrette, cradling a guitar in her lap, Laurie was the heroine of Laurie’s Song, #3 in the Sweet Dreams young-adult romance series launched in 1981. Sweet Dreams readers didn’t have to wonder what the main characters looked like—they were right there in full color on the books’ covers. Like Laurie, who fell for slacker-musician Skip before finding the quieter, more studious Jeff. Or debater Shelby with the pixie cut and the blazer (famously depicted by a “Dancing in the Dark”—era Courteney Cox), who competed against her crush at debate camp in The Last Word. Or Kathy, the wannabe veterinarian in silver-clasped braids and holding a cat on the cover of Trusting Hearts, who hoped to snag hunting fan Dean without compromising her animal-loving principles. Or Jill of Ten-Boy Summer, whose dating wager with her feisty best friend, Toni, proved so popular the two girls reappeared in their own mini-series.

Sweet Dreams churned out more than 230 titles between 1981 and 1996—and spun off the infamous Sweet Valley High series, which was Sweet Dreams crossed with Melrose Place. Through the late 80s, these lovesick girls were my people. In the end they always got the guy—if not the one they wanted, the one they were best suited to. Anti-feminist and unempowering? Pretty much. To a 1980s teenager with a tumultuous home life and no boyfriend to speak of, their very predictability was their appeal.

So maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised that when I finally began to write fiction, I did not tackle Serious Issues. Instead I found myself penning meet-cutes or describing that unforgettable first kiss. As I wrote (and rewrote) I sought comrades to turn to for advice and inspiration. I was particularly impressed with a group of romance writers on Facebook, smart and savvy and oozing with the storytelling talent I lacked. Word got around about my editing, so I started editing their books, too. And I loved it. My head might have wanted Serious Issues, but my heart, it seemed, was full of sweet dreams.

By now, I almost exclusively edit romance novels. It’s harder than it sounds. Sex scenes, for example, are extra tricky. Wait, I’ll mutter to myself, trying to determine whether to query the writer on missing body parts. Where is his other hand? Or clothing: Didn’t she already take off her leggings? Why are we mentioning jeans?

Or spelling: Is blow job one word or two?

My tribe comes back with an answer: consensus is mixed. I decide on two, and move on to the next scene. Line by line, chapter by chapter, through to the inevitable, innocent, happily-ever-after I’ve loved since I was 10.

Sandra Hume’s two novels under her pen name, Sienna Cash, take place in the two places she loves best: Boston and Fort Collins.

PROPER NAMES

When does what you’re called become who you are?

By Shawna Jackson

The Wyoming town was small, the name was simple and it couldn’t have been easier—the birth announcements were printed, and I was Jennifer Amy Peterson for a month, but at the last minute, my parents chose Shawna Lee because a nurse in the hospital where I was born was named Shauna, and it stuck with my mother like song lyrics you can’t get out of your head. My mom liked it better spelled with a “w,” and Amy didn’t really go with Shawna, so being a girl from Big Spring, Texas, my mom settled on Lee. Not Leigh or Lea, but a mannish, confederate Lee—as in Robert E.

My mother’s marriage went south, and so did we—where she met the man who would eventually adopt and raise me, leaving my original signature out in the cold. Shawna Lee Peterson became Shawna Lee Jackson, and that identity is the one of my consciousness—who I am, if I am anyone at all, though I was never crazy about the hippie, leather fringe-y “Shawna” and the tinged, boyish “Lee.” The state of Wyoming didn’t even bother to issue a new birth certificate at the time of my adoption. Someone simply crossed out “Peterson” with a blue pen and wrote “Jackson” above it and sent it to my mother who had resettled by that time in Alamogordo, New Mexico with her new husband and my new father. Years later, this change made in ink caused problems at the Social Security office, but since the town where I was born was small and the woman at the vital records office knew my original paternal grandmother, Annabel, I was issued a new birth certificate with minimal fuss.

I married right before I started grad school. I was a feminist with priorities, which in the nineties included keeping my name, and foisting overwrought combo last names onto my children, which has haunted them forever. Just try to find a medical record that may be filed under the first last name or the second last name. Is there a hyphen? No? The passport must reflect the birth certificate. Turns out one of our girls had a hyphen and the other did not. So like snowflakes, we made a family even though none of our edges matched.

When my girls’ dad and I divorced, my name felt like the one uncomplicated thing in the whole aftermath. I loved that my children still had both of us in their names, and I was separate—distinct. No longer was I accidentally introduced by my former husband’s name as sometimes happened when we were married—a mistake I never bothered to correct because really, what was the original point I was trying to make? I couldn’t remember. What I didn’t know before the wedding but learned over 12 years, is that marriage links identity far beyond names—shared holidays and offspring, mortgages, pets and pizza stones are the real ties that bind. Turns out that being autonomous is the opposite of being married.

Which is why I wasn’t keen to remarry, but I eventually did because I felt hopeful as people usually do in those situations. And I believed I was a woman who had grown into herself. My new husband wanted me to take his name, and though I chafed initially because I was 40 and established in my career and life, in a fit of hubris, I figured why not? Honestly, the whole enterprise was a leap of faith anyway. It felt like merging onto a highway with no side or rearview mirrors, ironic in retrospect. Perhaps I didn’t really feel a connection to my name because it never felt like anything I had control over in the first place, and the one time I did exercise control, it ended up not mattering. So many other things mattered more.

When I was 10, I found the original birth announcement in my baby book and remember my disbelief learning for the first time that my name hadn’t been my name. I must have looked stricken because when I confronted my mom with this evidence she said, “I mean, we filed your birth certificate using your name, name.”

“But what did you call me for a month while you were deciding?” I asked.

This was harder for her to answer. “I’m sure we called you by your name,” she said, ending the conversation.


What I didn’t anticipate is how the new name change would sail me even further away from Shawna Lee Jackson and from my children. It was metaphorical, sure, but also quite literal because I became part of a different clan not only via a relationship, but with my very legal identity. My clan was diminishing, and my new husband’s was increasing. I experienced an unsteadiness of not really knowing who I was, which, if that sounds existential, it was. I insisted I was not different, but you can’t leave your land and your people without becoming a new citizen. Just read the book of Ruth in the Old Testament.

When I attended parent-teacher conferences, I had to explain, over and over, which kid was mine—why her hyphenated last name didn’t match me, at all. My kids quit using my name and defaulted to their dad’s. They felt like less mine. I became an imposter mother/human/worker, signing emails at work with my novel new name, wondering who that person was. When I presented at conferences or published an article, I looked at the name in print as if she were a character in a sitcom—two-dimensional and not fully developed. I was a little girl wearing her mom’s high heels and carrying a fly swatter as a wand; I felt sad for my original me—where did she go? But then I wondered who the original me even was. Jennifer Amy Peterson? Shawna Lee? How was this any different, really?

Practically speaking, my new last name was efficient. I dropped “Lee” and made Jackson my middle name, which was dignified. I was still there.

Except I kind of wasn’t.


It’s a long story, and maybe a predictable one. The second marriage unraveled over more than a name, but my shrinking identity and my marooned children were no small aspect. I needed to make my way back to an essential self; my name was one part of that. When we divorced, I felt suddenly heavy and annoyed when asked by the judge if I wanted to revert back to my maiden name. In the context of my story, what did that even mean?

What I wanted to do was to use my passport again. What I didn’t want to do was sacrifice hours of my life at the DMV, the Social Security office and online changing bank statements and credit cards—again. I didn’t want to endure the terrible shame of changing my work email, a public admission of failure to everyone who so gamely adapted to my new signature after already working with me—or who I had been—for so many years.

Thoughts about who I was at work, at home, who my kids belonged to, and who I belonged to took up space. I thought a lot about alliances and loyalty and legacy and what those words mean in the context of my name. Names give us certain agency, and yet my name has been a last-minute decision—a capricious whim. In some parts of the world, a baby’s name is more than an identity; it’s a promise. A child is expected to fulfill the expectations contained in her name. In other places, baby girls are given names that exemplify beauty or her parents’ emotional state or the day of the week she was born. These traditions, while lovely, are weighty. Maybe I was lucky to have all my names essentially be meaningless? Wasn’t that somehow liberating? Instead, I found it infuriating.

I found I wanted to shed all the names and become someone completely new. “Tiger-lily,” I told my daughter as we sat at a stoplight one afternoon. “That’s going to be my new last name. Shawna Lee Tiger-lily, okay? But I’m changing the spelling of Lea.”

She is used to and also bored by my ruminating and driving. “I will give you $20 if you actually do it,” she said.

“I’m going to,” I told her.

“Okay,” she said, and changed the radio from NPR to music. “The news sucks. I bet Tiger-lily wants to jam,” she proclaimed.

It felt good to have a plan, even just for a moment.

In the past three years I’ve discovered my name means less than I thought. I would be lying if I told you I never introduced myself as Jen when I was abroad. It turns out that Jennifer Amy has a real sense of adventure and a can-do spirit, kind of like me.

Shawna keeps hoping to tie up loose ends in this: life’s rich pageant.

FAREWELL, MINI-ME

What happens when our children don’t share what’s dearest to our hearts.

By Laura Resau

There are over six million #minime tags on Instagram. They’re mostly sugar-sweet photos of little kids, often in the company of a proud parent, un-ironically wearing the same clothes and smile, and engaged in the same activity. The mini-me fantasy has quite the allure.

Looking back, I recognize an underlying assumption at my baby shower: one can form one’s child in one’s own image. Being a children’s author, I asked for picture books as presents to pave my son’s early literary path. It was partly a practical decision; we didn’t know when he would arrive from Guatemala, or what age he’d be when he did. Estimating onesie sizes would be a crapshoot, but there was one thing I knew—this kid would love books.

I’d already amassed mountains of literature for my future child during five otherwise empty years of infertility. And that magical night he arrived—just in time for Christmas at nine months old—we dove headfirst into the sea of books.

Years passed. My husband and I assembled more IKEA shelves to hold our son’s ever-growing private library of autographed books. When he started moving to easy readers, I started writing my first novel that featured a boy protagonist, just for him. I figured that by the time it was published in a couple years, he’d be the perfect age to read it. I imagined his delight discovering the main character had his middle name.

As I revised and edited, I tried not to think about my son’s lack of interest in the project, just his excitement over performing guitar at the book release party.

The afternoon my brand-new book arrived in the mail, I couldn’t wait to give it to him. He was sprawled on the sofa, lost in his music, his fingers a blur over guitar strings.

“Look, sweetie! My new book!”

“Cool.”

“Wanna read it?”

“Maybe later.”

I watched his fingers deftly move up and down the instrument’s neck. And I willed my chin to stop quivering. “I named the main character Teo.”

“Cool.” He kept plucking out the refrain of his favorite rock song.

My voice raw, I said, “I don’t understand. I wrote this for you.”

He let his hands fall still. Silence.

Blinking back tears, I forced myself to face the truth. Despite the hundreds of children’s books in our home, he’d hardly ever picked one up on his own. When I enforced the school’s daily half-hour reading requirement, he’d spend most of the time glancing restlessly at the clock.

“Mom,” he said finally, “reading a chapter book feels like a repeated concussion.”

I stared. “Wait, you mean literally?”

“Yeah.”

After trips to the doctor’s and optometrist’s, we discovered he had a neurological issue that caused headaches when he read. I assured myself that after a year of intensive (and expensive) visual therapy, he’d start to love books.

During this time, my heart was breaking. But I discovered that in a way, it was breaking open. And this openness made room for new understanding: while I found joy in books, he found an equally deep and abiding joy in music.

Thankfully, his headaches stopped after a few months of therapy. And although at age eleven, he’s still not a fan of the written word, he does love stories. Cuddled on the couch, we watch movies together, analyzing plot structure, discussing foreshadowing, commenting on character development. Best of all, he points out auditory details like each character’s distinct musical theme, or how the score crescendos at the story’s climax. “Oh, man, isn’t that awesome?” he says.

“It really is!” Without him, I wouldn’t even have noticed.

And now when the house is shaking from amps pounding out metal songs, I understand that his passions have already soared far beyond anything I could’ve planned. And because of this, our lives are so much more interesting.

Truth be told, he is loads more fun to be with than my mini me would ever be. At his age I was a repressed little ball of anxiety, struggling with several odd phobias, frequent bouts of moroseness, relentless allergic itching and eczema, and awkward social skills.

But my son, oh, my son! I never grow tired of his caramel-smooth face all sweaty and flushed and beaming after playing his heart out on guitar. “I’m so happy!” he declares (several times a day).

And isn’t that what we most want to see in our children? Not a little version of our own flawed selves, but their unique, boundless joy. A joy that reflects right back into us… if we’re open to receiving it.

If my son and I posed for an Instagram #minime photo, you might see me holding a book, my skin looking washed-out and my pale hair tame beside my son’s golden glow and wild curls and the flying V guitar cradled in his arms. And if you’d close your eyes and listen, you might hear our spirits conversing, sparking ideas, singing their own improvised and unexpectedly beautiful duet.

Laura Resau’s son is happily composing a glam metal song to celebrate the spring 2019 release of her ninth novel, Tree of Dreams, about an eye-opening adventure in the Amazon rain forest.

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