Jul 7, 2010

Making it Happen

I rarely know what to ask for for Mother's Day. When it's far off in the future I feel like one of those moms who doesn't really care for all the fuss. Just another Hallmark creation, here to keep the flower companies in business...I'm not going to fall for that...and so on and so forth.

And then the day arrives and we trek off to do something that I said it was just fine to plan way back in March--usually a barbecue at a cousin's house that comes complete with several bickery hours in a car on a highway, and I find myself getting kind of worked up internally that, here it is, MOTHER'S DAY, my ONLY day of the WHOLE year, and I'm cooped up with ungrateful children and a husband who might offer up a few criticisms about my driving. Mother's Day Shmother's Day, I might text a friend from the cousin's driveway. And then I soldier on, smiling, acting like it's a day like any other.

Perhaps my ambivalence is linked to my day-to-day awareness of how imperfect my mothering is. I'm not exactly a superhero of a mom. I hope that a car never backs over one of my children, not because I'm worried about the child so much as I'm afraid that we'll all discover that I'm the one mom who'll turn out to be incapable of lifting the vehicle off the kid. I'm not a big advocate for my children, so uncertain am I that I even know what's best for them. I'm not even good at protecting them from weirdos. One afternoon, on a sidewalk, a crazy lady came up to my children and demanded that they call her "auntie." I just kind of froze and encouraged them to go along with it. It was a terrible failing and I apologized to them later. But I was hardly the ferocious mother bear on heightened alert for things that might endanger her cubs. On the contrary, I urged them to be polite, do the 'auntie' thing, before whisking them off, tail between my legs.

But this Mother's Day I'm feeling a bit more deserving. Seems I found my mother bear.

My nine year old son has been completely enthralled by The Lightning Thief series of books--wonderful fantasies full of Greek Mythology, something he's also come to love. This has been a breakthrough year for him with reading and academics in general, and I've been awestruck by the perfectness of these books for him. He and his 4th grade reading group have been plodding through the books for the last several months, reading a few chapters at a time, creating final presentations for their class after finishing each one. Promising each other they won't read ahead is one of their deals, and there have been times when, after finishing a chapter, my son has been doubled over in agony because he couldn't turn the page to see what happened next. I've never seen him so engaged. Hooray.

And then I found out that Rick Riordan, the author, was going to be doing a reading-slash-Q&A session at Bank Street--way up town in Manhattan on a Friday night. Double-hooray! I emailed the teachers and reading group parents and everyone got excited, but when I called to 'reserve a spot' I found out that, not only was the event itself completely full, the waiting list was full. The best we could do, the lady offered, was to come and wait outside the event, and maybe the author would eventually sign their books. He was crushed.


I raced to the author's website to see what could be done. Surely he'd come visit their classroom that afternoon--right? Wrong. Don't even contact me about scheduling events until 2009, his website urged. He was very busy. No new events, no tag-ons to current events. Nothing.


I searched the calendar for anything else nearby. He'd be in Massachusetts the following day. Hmmm, I've always liked Massachusetts. He'd be in Indiana the day before. Well, my parents live in Ohio. That could be convenient. But then I saw that he'd be signing books in Books, Bytes, and Beyond in Glen Rock, NJ. GoogleMaps said it was a 50 minute trip, but to allow an hour and forty minutes.

I called the store and nailed it all down. Yes Rick Riordan would be signing books from 3-4 o'clock. No it wasn't a reading or a Q&A. Yes we'd have to buy the books there. No we didn't need to camp out the day before. Yes they could meet him. Hallelujah.

I emailed his publicist to say we'd be making the trip from Brooklyn and were hoping to have a picture taken with him. She responded that he'd be happy to accomodate.

My son was excited, his reading group was thrilled, parents were amused, teachers were cooperative. I picked everyone up from school at noon to allow three hours for the trip. We were NOT going to miss meeting this guy. No way.

We got to the bookstore an hour early (had to stop for AFFORDABLE New Jersey gas!) and got to know the women who work there. It took fifteen minutes to make our complicated combinations of purchases. Each child had money to spend, gifts to buy, hardcovers, softcovers, the works. The kids spoke animatedly about Greek Gods and the women in the store were impressed that they were only in 4th grade. Private school, right? they ventured. Nope, public shcool, we replied. Now they were really impressed.

When the author showed up the two girls in the group swooned, Marcia Brady-like. He was ushered into the room to get ready, and we lined up outside the door. When the door swung open a few mintues later we were invited to come in as a group. You must be the reading group from Brooklyn, Mr. Riordan said.

He signed each of their books, addressing each kid by name as he signed them. Then he asked if they had any questions. They had plenty. By the time our time with him was over, we'd had about ten solid minutes alone with him. We took several pictures, asked tons of questions. The kids forgave him for making one of the main characters a Yankees fan when they learned that he really doesn't have a preference for Yankees or Mets, being from Texas himself. They asked him about his inspiration, his writing habits, his favorite books, his children, his last name (first syllable rhymes with 'fire').

And then we were done. Elated, the kids spent the majority of the trip home talking about Greek Gods again. In The Lightning Thief, the main character--a kid from Manhattan--learns that one of his parents is a Greek God, and so the kids tossed around ideas about who their own Greek God parents might be. Having warlike tendencies meant Ares, falling in love easily might mean Aphrodite, loving to work hard could mean Hephaestus. We were enshrouded in fog as we drove over the George Washington Bridge and it was easy to imagine that Poseidon had something to do with it.

All of the details of the day had kept me from appreciating the magnitude of what was happening. It didn't hit me until later that night when I uploaded the photo we'd taken of Rick Riordan surrounded by the children. One boy thought to open his book wide to the signed front page, another girl holds two hard-bound books in front of her. Everyone is beaming. It had been an incredible experience that the kids would never forget. Who needs an overcrowded reading at Bank Street? We had a private audience with the man who's taught these kids to love books and Greek Mythology. I'd lifted the car off the kid.

Maybe I deserve a massage after all.