I have a book coming out soon, and although I want to resist likening its arrival to childbirth—a hackneyed analogy at best—the comparison seems to invite itself. Parallels are everywhere. Perhaps because my editor is a retired doctor, it is not hard to envision the publishing team in scrubs, standing shoulder to shoulder in a brightly lit room, ready to deliver the book. There is the copyeditor, poised to make the necessary cuts, a cover designer prepared to clean things up for public presentation, and a marketing director already drafting the big announcement. In the next few weeks, with their help, I will hold a copy of my book in my very own hands.
With two weeks to go until publication, I remind myself of third-trimester me. I wander the house, distracted, snacking and aimlessly checking email. I have the vague sense I should be preparing but, as with the birth of my first child, no clear sense of what preparation entails. After attending a webinar on how to market a book, I am paralyzed by the extent of my ignorance. Instead of drumming up a social media following or working on my “platform,” I start a jigsaw puzzle.
The weight of expectation slows me down. I have some new writing ideas, but now doesn’t feel like the right time to begin a big project. Occasionally, in a moment of weakness, I open older drafts of the essays included in the book. This is a dangerous proposition. What if I find something I want to change? I signed off on the copyedited version weeks ago; there is no more rewriting now. I quickly close out of those files. I am stuck in the strange in-between of waiting, unable to move forward, unable to go back.
With little energy to read, and even less to write, I find myself lost. Then, a bit of serendipity comes along to focus my attention. My 18-year-old high school senior, Oliver, notices that the date my book comes out is the same day he will learn if he has been admitted to the college of his choice. The news of this coincidence clears my book pregnancy brain and delivers me back to myself. In the life of my family, this book is one thing among many.
Standing in the shower this morning, ruminating on my son’s impending departure, I experience once again the strange mixture of joy, relief, and grief that has come to characterize my thoughts about Oliver leaving home. In a matter of months (admissions staff and pandemic permitting) we will pull our minivan into a circular drive outside of some large dorm. He and his brothers will hop out, stretch, and begin to unload. Eventually, after a few hours of room set up, some unpacking, and maybe a meal out, Oliver will make it clear that he is ready for us to go. He will be itching to get to know his new surroundings. His new people. I can imagine him walking us to the door, but after that, the picture gets blurry. I suppose there will be goodbyes, and tears (his dad’s and mine), and a strange and subdued ride home. The rest of us left with the realized grief of his absence, aware that an era of our family’s life has come to a close.
Alongside this grief, however, there will also be joy. Oliver is a great kid who will upend expectations in ways I dare not predict. I don’t get to go with him to college, but I know he will thrive. He will make his way in the world. And there is undeniable relief in the idea that the stuff of daily life is now his, and his alone, to manage. Reasonable bedtime? Homework completion? New deodorant? The ball is in his court now. We have loved and modeled and done all we could. The time has come to let go.
When, in the midst of the shower steam, this last sentence floats through my brain, I pause. And in the strange twinning of Oliver’s college journey and my book’s path to publication, I understand that the childbirth metaphor is misplaced. I have been likening this whole book business to the wrong end of parenting. The publication of my book is not its birth. My book arrived long ago—long before any publisher was on the scene. Through the difficult work that is writing—the work of shaping ideas, sweating over sentences, endlessly reordering paragraphs and cutting those most dear—the book came to be. The hard labor is behind me now. My job, more recently, has been to tend to what is. To read and reread, listen and amend. To let the text develop with time.
While I don’t think my book will ever be done, it is, by some indefinable metric, ready. And because it is ready, I see that, rather than expectant mother, I am more like the parent about to send her child into the world. After years of love and care, I have no choice but to release this book. I cannot follow it into readers’ rooms and further explain what I meant. I can no longer rework or retract an ill-constructed phrase. There is no more editing or rethinking or refining. My only option is to trust that, having given all I had to give, the book will speak for itself. With or without my social media skills, it will make its way in the world.
I’m out of the shower now, wrapped in a towel, trying to explain this revelation to my husband who is brushing his teeth. Our middle child enters the steamy bathroom, in search of his favorite hoodie. He is followed by the dog. Standing there with the two of them, and the dog, in front of the fogged up mirror, I am grounded by the chaos of the present. Someday soon, my book will be out. Not long after that, Oliver will leave. There is nothing more I can do. They are ready. It is time for me to let go.