Not too long ago, Kamaile asked if I would be willing to speak at their school on Career Day.
Maile: It doesn’t matter that you’re just a housewoman.
Me: Housewoman? Housewoman?! I’m a writer.
(Okay, I want everyone to note how even though I was irritated, I managed to exclude four-letter words here.)
Maile: Oooh . . . yeah. Or you could talk about that, I guess.
But the thing is, I actually said, “I’m a writer.” Aloud. For the longest time, I’d never considered myself a writer. You had to be good at writing to call yourself a writer. You had to be published to call yourself a writer. I wasn’t either one of those.
From the time I was in the third grade, I wanted to be a pediatrician. Doctors were my heroes. I wanted to help children. I was going to save kid’s lives! So I went to college and took all the pre-med requirements. I became an E.M.T. and during my first night in a Philadelphia emergency room, as I was helping to stuff a tube down a man’s throat, I thought, “This man could die. If I become a pediatrician, children could die.” The idea paralyzed me. How had I been so unaware of this reality before? So I abandoned the thought of becoming a pediatrician, and let’s face it, I probably wouldn’t have gotten into med school anyway.
However, I recently realized on a very personal level how much potential there is for writers to save the lives of children. My oldest daughter Kea is extremely shy. She can barely look at people when they talk to her. As much as Kamaile loves the spotlight, Kea can’t stand it. Kea has always felt different. She’s the boy we never had. While I don’t care that we go straight to the boy’s section to buy her clothes, other kids her age do. They care that most of her friends are boys and that she loves fishing, playing sports, video games and skateboarding.
You’d think I’d be thrilled to have pre-teen who doesn’t spend hours gossiping or texting. But I’m not. My heart is broken. As much as I tell her I love her, it's not my opinion that counts. I have a daughter who tells me she’s shy because she’s scared people will find out who she really is. I have a daughter who tells me there are people who seem like they want to be friends with her, but she doesn’t reciprocate. And she doesn’t reciprocate because she’s worried that those children reaching out to her will get made fun of once others realize she’s friends with them. She tells me how devastated she is that the one friend, who stuck up for her, just moved to Florida a few days ago. So my daughter reads. And reads and reads. Her friends are characters in books. Her heroes are authors.
For the past few years, one of Kea’s favorite authors has been Matthew J. Kirby, who also happens to be a dear friend. The other night as I lamented about my daughter’s situation, Matt offered to write my daughter a personal letter. He has the power to influence my daughter in ways I never will be able—and not just through his letter but through his books. Children’s writers are heroes. They have the potential power to save lives. I may never impact a child in the way other authors do, but I am proud to call myself a children’s writer.