Wednesday morning I kissed Briar goodbye, got Avery on the bus, and squeezed Finley and Sean before driving to Albany to fly to Orlando for the Mom2.0 Summit. I was nominated for an award in the category of Best Writing. Last year I was nominated in the category Break Out of the Year. I was souped up in a heady mix of anticipation, sheepishness, and desperation. I wanted it not to be a fluke, for me not to be a fluke.
I set my mind to enjoying the time and allowing myself to expand, spilling out of my “always” and “ought tos” and filling the cracks of places I’ve never allowed myself to go. I should note that the location made it much easier to throw my cares away. The Ritz Carlton is Orlando is a dreamy place. I wandered around, palm trees towering at every turn, making me feel as if it any moment they might start lumbering next to me and speaking like characters from a Where the Wild Things Are and Moana mash up. The moon was every bit as present in my days, making the three days feel like a walking dream.
Wednesday afternoon was a whirlwind of having women whose faces I’ve seen more online than in person come to life in vibrant, better-than-I-imagined ways. The electricity of purpose and focus was palpable. The other thing I felt everywhere I went was respect and interest, pockets of conversation and collaboration. Christine Koh pulled me into a session on Meningitis vaccinations, where I met Morra Aarons Mele in the flesh. Listening to a mother talk about watching her daughter spend 8 months in the hospital after contracting meningitis was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I was riveted by the session and reminded of the power we each have to share with our peers. If you use Twitter I encourage you to check out the hashtag #Take5forMeningitis
Tangent—many of you may know that about 24 hours after I left town all 3 of my daughters were evacuated from their school after the “credible threat” of a bomb on campus. I watched from thousands of miles away as social media blew up. I had friends text and call, keeping me in the loop. Say what you will about Facebook, but as the day progressed I witnessed firsthand how much we rely on one another for guidance, insight, and support. These tools can be incredible forces for good.
One of my favorite moments was passing Meagan Francis and Sarah Powers in the lobby. Meagan turned spun toward me on her heel.
“I’m sorry. Have I ever, have we ever…I mean I’ve been friends with you online for years, have I ever stopped and actually said hello?” Her face was one huge smile and when Meagan smiles at you, it feels like a wink and a hug at the same time.
“No, you haven’t and neither have I,” I said smiling back.
She smiled wider and said, “Here, let’s fix that and touch bodies,” or something like that as she pulled me into a hug. Sarah was smiling and then leaned in and said, “I know you online too.” We all laughed and, at least for me, these tiny moments of recognition and connection are what it’s all about.
I woke up early Thursday morning and joined 50 other women in a morning yoga session in the “Citrus Garden.” Birds perched in the palm trees and along the balcony and sang to us. I spied a little lizard as it crawled past. I beamed even in the moment when I realized I was in front of the whole group doing a shaky warrior pose in the opposite direction from everyone else. I also had not yet found a ponytail band (eventually Deborah Cruz took pity on me and gave me one) and I was rocking a Paulie Shore meets Cynidi Lauper hairband-MacGuyver situation.
I participated in the Dove self-esteem workshops with Jess Weiner, which I’ll write about in a separate post. Dove has worked with 20 million young women on issues of self-esteem and they are on track to hit the 40 million mark by 2020. I am endlessly grateful for what they have done by committing to women’s health, because the truth is that they don’t have to, they could just sell product and make money. This work is critical and they do it really, really well.
I spoke with women about challenges, all of us struggling with different but similar things. I remembered to listen and ask questions instead of nervously filling the air with rambling. I had a moment when I realized that instead of hoping people will like me for me, the trick is to be willing to share my truest self with people without apology. Sitting with Natasha at the airport after sharing a 4am Uber together, I marveled at how improbable it is that a mom of 4 from Chicago who considers herself a “semi-homesteader” would be chatting with a mom of 3 from upstate new York, but there we were and it was amazing!
I won’t mince words, waiting for the awards ceremony to start and trying to reconcile my desperate wish to hear my name called and the deep respect I had for the other nominated women made me sick. I was shaking and trying to project a face that didn’t look like it needs a toilet and a wash cloth. Elaine sat beside me, rubbed my arm, and kept me laughing. My category was first and I felt like my ears were giant conch shells and the ocean was crashing inside my head. I watched our faces flash on the screen as they named each nominee. I reminded myself that being nominated with these women and recognized by my peers was plenty because it was.
I looked toward the stage and readied my “I’m ok” smile. “And the winner is… Lala Land.”
Silence. Thunderous applause and laughter.
I lost my a-ok smile and winced. “You can do it, Manda.”
They announced the winner and stumbled on the last name. I sat ready for the looks of, “You were really close, great job.”
“Amanda Magee, congratulations.”
Everything went silent in my head as I waited for another woman to walk up to the stage. I looked around and then I heard it again, “Amanda Magee.”
I shook and blinked my eyes. My name doesn’t get called. I couldn’t find the stairs, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t stop the montage of times I’ve sat at my keyboard. Nursing Briar, pumping for Ave, after work, in the pre-dawn hours during those years when Ave woke up at 3:45, the tears that have fallen on the keyboard as I’ve typed.
Then I was on the stage with different cheers and screams coming from the audience from people who have exchanged middle of the night emails with me or back channel facebook messages as one of us have wondered whether or not we can make it through a certain challenge.
I knew that I was up there not just for my writing, but because in writing, whether it’s comedy, advocacy, anger, education, or sentimentality (and we need it all), it is what is made possible that yields the demand and loyalty. It is knowing you can weep over dried flowers or rant over impossibly perfect cupcakes and gift bags that everyone but you can make—I believe it is in transforming the screen from a place where you read to being a mechanism for reaching through and clutching on to something or someone who makes you feel less alone.
Writing did that for me. I found a home and a purpose. I do believe I’m rambling now, which is also what I did as I stood up on that stage holding that impossibly heavy and wonderful statuette. I also told the MC, Andrew Shue, that I was grateful he came. No selfies with him, no “Hey let’s collaborate” as a matter of fact I don’t even know if I had the presence of mind to thank him for shaking my hand and congratulating me. I remember so little beyond the exquisite moment of realizing they had said my name.
Arnebya, Adrian, Rachel, Janelle being presented in your company, grouped with your writing and your beautiful selves was incredible. Mugging for the camera with Arnebya, chatting with Rachel, it felt otherworldly and I will never forget a second of it.
I have been watching Rebecca Woolf, who I so desperately wanted to meet in person last year, promote her Kickstarter campaign for the movie PANS. She is a writer who I actively admire. Her tenacity to pursue this movie, writing the screenplay over the years as she has been raising 4 children and conducting incredible campaigns that throw back the curtain on married parent sex and speaking honestly about watching our first borns come into themselves, awes me. I don’t want to stop.
I want to take the glow of this moment, preserve the feeling of it in the same way I can remember precisely how it felt as Briar came out of my body, inexplicably wondrous and natural. This dream and this life, I want to experience them open-ended, unlimited by my fear or assumptions, instead fueled by my desire to return to the keyboard and find new ways to take my heart and translate it to the page.
I hope you’ll keep me company as I move through these years of parenting older kids, working on my marriage and myself, and using my voice to talk about things like vaccines, social justice, bad hair, and hope.
Thank you from the bottom of my goofy heart.