There is always a spot for the “middle school me” in my head. The girl with the thick black hair and big eyebrows who is trying, like a lot of 13 year olds, to learn how to love herself. It’s almost like she has a little room up there, one that she has decorated with rodeo print curtains and a white cotton bedspread. She has Breyer horses up on her windowsill and stacks of books everywhere. Instead of a teddy bear or a special blanket, she sleeps with whatever book she is reading curled up in her arms. Because that makes her feel safe and also reminds her that there is a world she can escape to, through reading, that will take her wherever she wants to go.
As I get older, that middle-schooler’s room occupies a little less space, and the rest of my brain is taken up with more important things like my job, my family, my happiness. But, she’ll always be there, and I’m grateful. You wanna know why? Because she is like a measuring stick. I can’t tell how far I’ve come if I don’t see her, don’t know her, and remember where I’ve been.
Last night, Saturday, we had my book launch party for my middle-grade novel, When the Stars Lead Home. I had a mixed bag of feelings leading up to it this last week. I threw up on Wednesday, I cried on Thursday, I ran to the store and bought 100 plastic cups on Friday (but what if only 10 people show up?!!!). Part of the anxiety was being the center of attention, and part of the anxiety was the unknown. Seriously, I invited every single member of my family with a “p.s. you have to be there and stay the whole time because you might be the only ones” added at the end.
But what happened was this. It was awesome. It was beautiful. It was a reminder to me that the world is good and kind and full of amazing people. People who I know through work, or life, and people who I met last night. I kept telling myself (and everyone around me) that this was even better than a wedding, because I was old enough to really appreciate it. Weddings are amazing, but they sort of fly by and I had RSVP cards so I knew 120 people would show up. Book launch parties make you throw up 3 days before and you have no idea what to expect, until it happens and you realize there was really no reason to throw up at all.
Two things really stand out from my party. The first is that while I sat at the round table with a line of incredible people patiently waiting for me to sign their books, I kept looking down at my wrist. In fact, I would look at my right wrist, lift it up with the pen in hand and then shake it until my new bracelet slid back down to where it sat comfortably.
Yesterday morning, Isla came to me with a blue bead on a silver string. She must have found the bead somewhere and got the string all by herself, cut a piece, threaded the bead on and then gave it to me.
“A necklace,” she said and smiled at me. We tried to fit it around my neck but it was a little too small. “Maybe a bracelet?” she asked.
Danny came in to tie it for me. “A double knot, please.” I asked him.
I wore it all day yesterday and then when the time came to put on my “party outfit”, I looked down at my wrist and smiled. It would stay. Because she made it. And I loved it.
As I sat in this total dream-come-true moment last night, I kept looking down at my string bracelet and it kept doing its job. Reminding me that the moment I was in was hard fought for, required a lot of time and sacrifice over the years that it has taken me to get this book published, and that really, at the end of the day, I am simply grateful. Grateful for this book, for these people and for my family. Without them I would just be a girl that wrote a book. That means tiddlywinks to me. My family makes me, and the silver string with a blue bead reminded me of that every time I looked down.
The other thing that really stands out for me last night was something I overheard my mom say to a guest. I was sitting at the table signing books when I heard her voice, they must have been talking about libraries. “Laura has always loved libraries,” she told the lady, “growing up she always said there were two places where she felt completely safe. At home with her family and at the library.”
She’s right. I’ve mentioned before that I have anxiety, I have since 3rd grade. It went untreated until I was about 19, mostly because we didn’t know exactly what it was and I was always too scared to do anything about it. I didn’t really even understand what specific type of anxiety disorder I had until I was 26, so for 18 years of my life I treated it with books. It’s odd and it’s true and it was my saving grace. I remember my mom surprising me with Janette Oke’s book, The Tender Years, while I was somewhere in my mid-teens and on a day when I was particularly struggling. I read it again, just a couple of years ago, loved it equally as much, and laughed when I realized that this book explains my love for all things prairie, frontier, Canadian, simple and Janette Oke. Honestly though, this is the perfect example of how books could reach me, in just the right moments.
Books took me out of my head and into a wonderful place. What my mom told that person last night was exactly right, books and the library made me feel safe, like I could really breathe. I’ve spent years of my life sitting on the floor between the stacks at the Richmond Beach library, totally absorbed in the mystery Nancy Drew was solving or in the adventures of the three girls that made up the Saddle Club.
That is why I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I want to create places for others to go, where they can learn, smile and rest. I wrote When the Stars Lead Home with both my daughter and my middle school self in mind. What do I want Isla to read in 10 years? What did I need to find on those bookshelves 20 years ago? This is the book.
And last night, with all of you around me, with my family nearby and a dream literally coming true right before my very eyes, the middle school Laura in my head did a little cheer. Her room got a little smaller, because I was able to actually see who I had become. All of my friends, customers and family were a tangible example of who I had grown into. They say that you are who you surround yourself with, and if that’s the case, this 13 turned 32 year old has learned to love herself (because of you).
The girl with thick black hair and now medium sized eyebrows