A toddler does a puzzle.

“I made it to the county level at Science Fair. Look at the medal I got.” You and I embraced, beamed, laughed with delight. We glowed. Grandpa was proud, too. We’d all helped you clarify your questions, keep a notebook and collect data. You and Grandpa hiked the creek, took photos, assessed the substrate. We were all invested in your success, not our own, because on your own you had to shine in the interview with the biologist, know the research, tell what you learned and speak with understanding and knowledge. You did it and won. I felt we all did. We live vicariously through our children’s successes and struggles- as it should be. We resonate with what’s the same about us: interests, personality traits, likes, dislikes and temperaments. We also know our child. In this case, I know you and knew that you would benefit from a public success. You needed to be seen at school for what we know you to be, a naturalist, curious and intelligent. Capable. To be awarded along with a few peers for your work. We built scaffolds for your success, but you alone rose to meet the goals. You feel pride of accomplishment after hard work. Perfect ending. You win, go to the county level science fair.

You, among other wonderful characteristics are autistic with ADHD, struggle to remember why the pencil is pinched between your fingers, during a test. You stand staring blankly at me after I have asked you to wash up for school, then twenty minutes later pull on your jacket and run for the car, having forgotten to wash up. We adapt: keep a brush, wipes and a toothbrush in the car. Have a reward system for tasks completed, timers, calculators for math, and incentives at each completed phase of a writing assignment. With your good thinking, we have come up with cues to support, do not chastise you for delays, forgetting and your curt responses. We work hard at it.

So that during the science fair process, which lasted a couple of months, if you had bad days, but something was due, you had to keep up. That wasn’t often true in your other schoolwork. You wrote, calculated and hiked the creek when you were able, on the good days and put completed work in queues to turn them in as they were due. It all seemed good- You were going to finish a big project, to feel a sense of accomplishment. Then you put on the brakes. Something was going on inside. That happened a lot. You couldn’t do another thing. Wouldn’t.

It makes sense to let you feel the natural consequence of not finishing. Right? Parents can take a hard line. But you do not feel remorse in the same way I would have. You seem to not feel the consequence of your refusal. Maybe you removed your self from the task and it disappeared. But in this case it would come back to bite you, this was to be displayed, judged by local scientists, seen by the school and broader community. It was not a math page, a private moment between you and your teacher. You’d have to face the fact that you didn’t finish the project out in the open with your peers. Would you have felt embarrassed, remorseful? I thought so.

So, how much to help? A recurring question when we work with kids on schoolwork: Scaffolding, reframe, individualize the assignment and tell of our own journeys. I told you that your daddy had a science fair project go to the county fair. He studied dog tick remedies, made potions and was so proud to have his picture in the paper. I love science, am a naturalist, too, an observer, a wonderer and wanderer. I wanted you to finish your research paper, the layout and the full project. I wanted you to feel success. When a toddler does a puzzle and we twist one piece into position for her, we know we shouldn’t have done it. That’s what I did. I helped. I over-helped. You had read journals, online, reports of endangered fish, projects to save them, stream health and listed the references in your journal. I read them, too, clipped relevant information from them, citing the references and sent it to your computer. When you did nothing with them, I asked you to use the quotes in the passages to build your report. You didn’t do it, but turned in the report quoted, cited and compiled of the citations stacked in order, one after the other, the way I had clipped them out. That was your report. Cited, but not connected with words of your own. Damn. I let it go. At least you didn’t pretend the writing was yours. Could you possibly succeed?

Can you tell a Healthy Stream from an Unhealthy one? Come See the Santa Cruz County Science Fair this Saturday and talk to the scientists.

This week, as you prepared his project for a bigger venue, competing with kids from the entire county, some in high school, I stepped back. On your own you made a diorama of a healthy and unhealthy stream model.  You love making dioramas. You picked mosses on a hike to add to the healthy side, built a small man made barrier, a damn for the unhealthy side. This is an area of mastery, this is what you are good at, and this an important moment in your world. And you did it yourself, with our support.

The Photo Shoot

A writer makes choices along the journey toward publishing with its fame, fans and riches (or whatever one’s goals may be). Those were the ones on my list when I was sixteen, again at twenty-six, but by fifty-six I’d wised up, and began to focus on one: publishing. But in order to get to that step I had to give up the idea of making a living as a writer, have had achieved a certain amount of fame and already an acquired fan-base. Not the kind of fame that has twenty year olds exclaiming, “Hi. Remember me? I was in your first grade class?” No, broader recognition than that. One must have a platform, which, like a soap box, serves as a place from which the writer speaks and is listened to, followed by thousands and following many more.

            Today, a writer, who by nature is often a loner, must get around, say things to thousands of people, and have more up her sleeve, no end of things to exclaim, post, tweet or toot. And that’s before the book release. A writer is a politician, pokes placards into lawns, prints up her own bumper stickers, free when you sign up online for her monthly newsletter, delivered right into your hands through your email: “Have you read Nancy’s book? Or you could request a custom license plate frame with her most recent working title and web address flashing in lights along the narrow strips, bottom and top.

            Recognition is a must before the writer can seek a publishing deal, before she seeks an agent: the earlier you begin gaining recognition, the better. Before she starts to write. Before she can read? Should parents get their child a website at birth? A Facebook account? A blog? Instagram and Twitter handles? Is that what you call it, a handle?  A baby you tube channel? People get their infants a wine locker, add a bottle each year or plant an apple tree fertilized by the placenta, many start a college fund, which, by the way, when the child is three is used up to get the child on the waiting list at the best preschool in town.

            Well, not me. As a child of the fifties we got none of that, and I started a college fund for my children that turned out to be good thing because after the divorce I needed it for rent. Facial recognition? Now there’s a topic. Maybe it was my family (or just me), but looking at myself was private. If I had a poppy seed in my tooth, I stepped into the bathroom, a pimple? Same thing. Was my hair okay? I avoided, at all costs getting caught looking in the rear view mirror to check my lip gloss. At sixteen I was gifted a tiny mirror in a velvet case for my purse, but gave it away after it sat unused. The last time I posed for a head shot was at graduation; my shoulders draped in black silk.

            Facial recognition requires a photo, posting it, maybe several versions in different outfits with different expressions. Not a “Selfie”, although some people have gotten very good at that. But for me, who never dared to put on mascara or lipstick in my car mirror. Groom in public?    I need at least one professional head-shot, dressing the torso for a sought-after image. Black jacket, silk blouse: real estate agent. Light linen jacket, rose shell, a large pendant necklace and a scarf for creativity. Hands at chin: psychologist. A yoga teacher in warrior pose, full body tights, a plaid shirt and felt hat for the western mystery thriller writer, a head tilt, lips licked, chin down, neck back, smile, not too big; smiling makes wrinkles. Do I dare ask her to airbrush wrinkles or match both eyebrows?

            The cost for a photo shoot comes due before I’ve sold the book, even the idea of my book. I decided to pay someone to help me set up my website, to keep it current, newsy and get back to followers. Oh, my, followers. I have been working on that list. I will offer a free gift when you sign up for my free newsletter, but need someone to tweet for me on topic, post relevant articles and the reviews I write and watch for topical news stories. I follow publishing trends, post blogs because once I have all that in place, my identity established, I am somewhat recognizable. I will publish a few stand-alones, pack my bio with lists of successes and then ready to seek an agent.

All of this assumes my story is a great one, literary, crafted skillfully and regularly revised and edited with the support of a brilliant critique group. No typos. Oh, I nearly forgot: hire an editor, struggle through revisions, pay her in full to cut 25% to meet a recommendation for a manuscript under 300 pages? Once confident, I can now to submit a set of queries, and include my spiffy web address. But wait, I need one more blast of confidence, lest I have missed something crucial: An online webinar that begins this month on preparing the manuscript, finding an agent, and how to get published.

            Look for my book, Fallen From the Nest, in the next few years at your local book-seller. Sign up to get my newsletter at gmabrown.com and read my blog at WordPress Letters to Montana Out on the street, say “Hey” if you recognize me. NancyKayBrown.com, gmabrown

Photo by Portia Shao, Positive Vista Photography & Art, Santa Cruz