I used to think I turned the pages of my life, but not anymore. Not quite at least. Now I believe circumstances and faces and objects steadily float past me, and the trick is learning which details have meaning and how to catch them.
When we adopted Maggie from China, I became a stay-at-home mother. I’d had careers, but nothing ever stuck. I’d always been waiting for something else.
During our first year, Maggie and I did pretty well at home, all things considered. She’d spent the first eleven months of her life in a huge Guangdong orphanage, so the quiet of our house and my constant attention surely kept her surprised.
I was an only child who had briefly babysat when I was in high school. Clearly, I didn’t know up from down about children, but I knew our world had to expand.
We tried Mommy and Me Gymnastics. The college-student instructor was beside herself with frustration. For one thing, I was old enough to be the mother of the other mothers. Next, we owned no athletic clothes. Class began with screaming children jumping into a pit filled with foam blocks. Maggie whispered, “I don’t want to jump into a hole, Mama.” I couldn’t disagree.
We tried an art event. Maggie didn’t want to draw the assigned lesson. I finished hers while no one was looking.
Each time I got to the part where the little girl sees the owl, Maggie placed her hand on the page. I have no idea why. But her tiny fingers showed me a book can find a child’s heart.
Money was tight in our house on one income, so I told her the book lived in the store, but we could visit it. Because it was a Caldecott winner, they kept copies on hand. On every trip, as I pushed her stroller through the door, Maggie said, “Find it.” I knew which book she meant.
So when I tried to write an adoption picture book and the plot stalled, I returned to Owl Moon and realized one economical sentence after another took that little girl on an important nighttime adventure. There was my map for Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale.
When it was published, it was difficult to know if my book mattered until an author event brought a particular family to my autograph table. The father chatted with me while his adopted two-year-old Chinese daughter flipped through the pages of her book, clearly looking for something. She stopped at the picture of the baby floating away in a basket. She pressed her little hand on the page and smiled at me. She thought she was showing me a picture. I knew she was showing me her heart.
It was a recent, accidental click on my computer that led me to a page about Jane Yolen’s Picture Book Boot Camp at her Massachusetts farmhouse. Knowing that points were surely converging, I enrolled for four inspiring days about writing and publishing. More significantly for me, however, I learned Jane took fifteen years to write Owl Moon, and the unnamed girl in the story is her daughter Heidi. I struggled for years to write Sweet Moon Baby, and the unnamed girl in my book is my daughter Maggie.
I went a long way for these details:
The moon is forever the moon, a shining mirror of everlasting promise.
One daughter looked at it and saw an owl.
One daughter looked at it and saw a home.
Two mothers looked at it and saw their daughters.
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