by Nichole Bernier
My book’s launch party felt a little like a wedding—even with my five children racing around, jacked up on chocolate-dipped strawberries.
The bash was in an old brownstone in Boston. There was a long brass bar and passed hors d’oeuvres, a few speeches, some roasting. I read a bit from the first chapter of The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. in front of friends who appreciated the effort and years it had taken to get there, and I wore teetery yellow shoes more than a few inches beyond my comfort zone. (My fear and secret thrill: I’ll never be able to chase the kids in these.)
In the previous 10 years of my writing life, I’d gone from being a magazine journalist/mother-of-one to being a sometime-freelancer/mother of five. That evening of the launch party felt like another line of demarcation through my life: here I was, burning rubber from my diaper years in my Sienna minivan. Just look at that S car go.
Shortly after the launch party we got an au pair for the summer, and I started traveling for readings at bookstores. It was both heady and humbling: one night an audience of 75, the next night just a few people, including the staff. Mornings, I’d get in a rental car and drive to bookstores that weren’t stocking my book in hopes they might give it, and me, a chance. My father asked in an e-mail what it felt like to be on book tour. I told him that while one person did squeal excitedly to meet me (I’m pretty sure she mistook me for someone else), a lot of the time it felt like being a Fuller Brush salesman, hawking your wares—brushes you’d made yourself—door to door.
The truth is, I loved being on book tour, and I love being a published author. After a pretty intense diaper decade there is a sense of settling back into myself, with the miscellaneous scattered parts—personally, maternally, creatively, professionally—coming into alignment. I feel incredibly fortunate that all the years of being the crazywoman writing in the attic have resulted in something I can hold in my hand, and share.
Still, with the sharing came traveling, time away from the kids and from a household that operated, on the best of days, like a catamaran flying a hull. I created this travel schedule myself, and had anticipated it for three months. The bigger trips shimmered on the calendar like tinsel and Easter grass. Why was I so excited? Did I think I was going to shed my momma skin and slip back into my 20s professional self, with all the travel and independence, the adult stimulation and striving? The shoes?
I had dreaded it, too. I imagined reading in a Chicago bookstore and receiving a call from a hospital back home. Or, almost as bad, a simple text message that I’d failed to call in time before bed, and small people were sad. (Which happened.) My husband was able to come on several trips (my parents gave us babysitting as a Christmas present), which was wonderful. He’s my best supporter and critic, and things are just plain more fun with him around. It reminded me of the early years of marriage, zipping around at the top of our game.
But a funny thing happened when I started doing the regional events this past summer: I wanted my kids around, too.
I started feeling this way when some health issues hit my parents and father-in-law, and all three needed surgeries. Home didn’t feel like something that was functioning just fine over there. Home felt like something that needed to be in my back pocket, my tote bag, the train seat beside me.
I adjusted my travel plans, put rollaway beds in small spaces. Reading in New York was more fun with my two oldest along; they were wide-eyed at the hotel mini-bar candy, the Empire State Building, Greenwich Village street vendors, Amtrak’s café. Likewise, on Cape Cod, the highlight of a reading was my dinner date afterward—my four-year-old so giddy about the high patio over the dunes that he dropped the ketchup bottle into them. Ooops.
Back to the launch party, which I’d both hoped and feared would represent a thick yellow line down the middle of my life. Toward the end of the evening, as I sat signing books, my oldest child—my 11 year old, my mature one—walked up. He interrupted my conversation with the publisher of a magazine where I’d once worked to hand me his stained napkin and empty kebab stick. “Here, Mom, I can’t find the garbage.”
Here, Mom, I can’t find the garbage.
And that—along with the fact that, after the party, I was squatting in those vertiginous yellow shoes to change a diaper (the floor was our changing table)—perfectly summed up the nonexistent line of demarcation. Sure, there was stimulation and striving, but mostly, the change to my life was invisible. Because of course there’s no going back to that person in her 20s, and nothing has substantively changed in the watchworks of my daily momma world. Nor do I want it to. Except maybe, every so often, the shoes.
Nichole Bernier is the author of The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D (Crown/Random House, 2012), a novel inspired by a family friend’s healing following the September 11th attacks. It was a finalist for the New England Booksellers fiction award, and spent eight weeks on the Boston Globe Bestseller List. A Contributing Editor for Condé Nast Traveler for 14 years, Nichole was previously on staff as an editor, columnist, and television spokesperson. She received her master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where she received the school’s annual award for long-form literary journalism, and has written for publications including Psychology Today, Elle, Health, Salon, The Millions, and Post Road Literary Magazine. She lives outside Boston with her husband and five children, and is at work on her second novel, set in 1989 Moscow.