Last night, I had my career, my integrity, my professional efficacy – nay, my very Self – called into question by a bunch of rowdy, eight-year-old Scouts.
Usually, my darling husband (eagle scout, voyageur, jack of all trades and man for all seasons) is in charge of taking my son to Cub Scouts, but last night he was doing his duty as a Princeton alum and was interviewing a young, bright-eyed, starry-futured applicant, and I, therefore, was in charge of The Boy.
So, with his neckerchief and his badges and his belt loops, his official uniform shirt and Wolf Cub seed hat, we set off into the slushy wasteland of Winter Minnesota and walked into the chaos of a Scout meeting. The boys were running around, jumping on chairs, wrestling, hitting balloons in the air, play fighting, engaging in fart contests, taking flying leaps across tables, and so forth, when my son suddenly said to a group of boys, “That’s my mom. She’s an author.”
The boys were not impressed.
“A real one,” Leo clarified. “She writes books. Lots of ’em.”
Now, I wrote about this a couple months ago when my kids expressed their very strong aversion to allowing anyone (and, specifically teachery anyones) to know that I wrote books for a living. Because it’s embarrassing, apparently. And it makes teachers assume things about them (wrong things, my kids said). Fine. So you can imagine my surprise at my son’s sudden blabbing about my chosen carrer.
The boys stopped their playing and regarded me.
“Is that true?” one boy said. He had very tall, very curly brown hair.
“Yep,” I said.
“Real books?” another boy said. His hair had been shaven close to his head, what was left was as dense as moss. “Like with words and pictures.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Some have only words. Others have words and a few pictures. Others have words and mostly pictures. It’s a mix.”
“Like what?” another boy said. This one had glasses.
“What pictures?” I said.
“No,” said the big boy with the short, dense hair. “What books?”
“Well,” I said. “I wrote The Mostly True Story of Jack.”
The boys gave me a blank look. “I’ve never heard of it,” said the boy with tall hair.
“Well,” I said. “You’re pretty young. It’s mostly fourth and fifth graders who read that.”
The boys all crossed their arms and gave me a look that said, yeah. tell me another one.
I changed the subject. “Did you guys have a fun time at Winter Camp?”
“Did you write The Magic Tree House?” asked boy-in-glasses.
“No,” I said. “But I wrote a book called Iron Hearted Violet.”
“That one has a dragon in it.” Leo said.
“OH!” said the boy with mossy hair. “Is it How to Train your Dragon?” his eyes were wide and bright. He glowed.
“No,” I said.
“Oh,” he said, crumpling, his face sinking into a skeptical expression.
“Did you write Goosebumps?”
“Alas, no,” I said.
“No,” I said.
I sighed. “No.”
There was a long pause. The boys looked – well, not mad; just disappointed.
“You’re not a real writer, are you?”
I gazed at the ceiling. Because, you know? It’s not like I didn’t agree. This thing about legitimacy verses fraudulence, this assumption of the fakery and poseury? This is a thing that I fight every day. It eats me up sometimes. And I’m not alone. Hell, it might be eating you up. Right now. Every day we have to fight against it in order to return to the page. And, for my part, I’m not always successful.
“I think I’m probably not,” I admitted. Leo, I could see, was disappointed. I didn’t blame him. I was not nearly as impressive as he though I would be. I’m sorry, I mouthed at my son, but he wouldn’t meet my eye. “Let’s go make cupcakes,” I said to the boys. And so we did.
And it was wonderful. I got milk on my shoes and flour on my butt and egg in my hair and batter up my nose and a large chunk of frosting in my purse (that part remains a mystery; my purse wasn’t even in the kitchen; the boys have assured me they are blameless; they told me with wide eyes and angelic expressions. Little stinkers.). Later, after the boys ostensibly washed their dishes, some of the parents stayed behind to re-wash the dishes while the rest of the parents and Scouts went upstairs to the scout room to discuss the upcoming pinewood derby.
Twenty minutes later, the Scouts came thundering down the stairs.
One of them held – I swear to god – The Wee Book of Pee.
“Did you write this?” tall-haired-boy said.
“Yes,” I said.
“I TOLD YOU,” Leo said. “DIDN’T I TELL YOU?”
The boy looked at the book, examined the name and pursed his lips together. “I like that book.”
“We have that book in my school,” glasses boy said.
“So do we,” moss-hair said.
“WE GO TO THE SAME SCHOOL,” glasses said.
“I don’t” said tall hair, “but we have it too. In the library.”
“It’s part of a series,” Leo said. He was beaming. He was sparkly. He could hardly stay in his shoes. I was astonished. “But it’s the best one. I told you she was a real writer.”
“Are all of your books about pee?” another boy said. He was shorter than the others, with very large, brown, solemn eyes.
“No,” I said.
“Well,” he said, his voice very serious, “they probably should be.”