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  • Writer's pictureSarah T. Dubb

Up and Away : Parenting, Writing, and Growing

My kids went back to school last week.

It’s always a big time for all of us. In addition to all the scheduling and supply shopping and shoe crises, there’s the Big Feelings that inevitably hit me the night before they go back:

My babies are growing up.

Of course, they’re always growing up, but it hits harder this time of year. Somehow a new grade feels different and more dramatic than a new age, so the new school year carries a meaning and a heaviness that I don’t feel on birthdays. The kids are troopers every time, posing as they have every year in front of the mesquite tree in the back yard and then, because I’m just a lot, again in the front yard against our white stucco wall. They accept the extra-long hug in the morning and the extra long lists of questions in the afternoon.

But no matter how tightly I manage to squeeze them, eventually I have to let them go.

When I started writing BIRDING WITH BENEFITS (out June 2024—nice transition, right?!), I knew right away that my heroine Celeste would be a mom in her 40s. At the time, I intentionally made her a few years older than me, thinking that even as I was her creator, she could somehow hold wisdom I hadn’t yet gathered.

The truth is, that as I wrote Celeste, I looked up to her. I gave her a little more gusto and confidence then I had in myself at the time, thinking *maybe* I’d get there when I reached her age. And when I created her kid Morgan, I intentionally aged her older than my own children, putting her on the cusp of finishing high school. Teenagers were daunting to me then, but I knew Celeste could handle it. Celeste would learn how to let her daughter leave the nest so that, someday, I could do the same.

Well friends, writing and publishing take a long time. When BIRDING WITH BENEFITS is released (did I mention it will be June of 2024?), I will be one year older than Celeste’s 42 years, and my oldest child will be just a couple months shy of being 17 like Celeste’s daughter Morgan.

It just so happened that our first week back at school corresponded with my finishing up copy edits on my book. This was my first time working with a professional copy editor, and it was intense in every way. It was at both times extremely intimidating and also a great

honor to have someone look so closely at my work. My amazing copy editor created a detailed timeline of my story (including pointing out that one day I had Celeste birding when she was supposed to be working, doh!), a list of every name mentioned in the book and who they are (including Marjorie, our hero’s first kiss under the bleachers when he was 15), and (gloriously) every bird I list in the text throughout.

A screenshot of a section of the style guide, listing:American redstart, Anna's hummingbird, Arizona Beuaty magazine, Arizona Bird Festival, Arizona Ornithological Society; the ornithological society, Arizona Ornithology Bird Binge, ash-throated flycatcher
A snippet from the wonderful style guide put together by my copy editors

I’ve revisited these characters again and again, so nothing they do should surprise me. But every time we encounter an object of creation, we come at it as someone brand new. This time, I was reading the manuscript after sending my children off to their first day of school. This time, I was in my Big Feelings about transitions and next steps. This time, I was thinking about how to celebrate the growth of my children, not wallow in it.

And I found the comfort I needed within the text, some of the words written years ago by a younger me grappling with how it would feel to have your own child stand taller than you in the kitchen (now mine does), to know that no amount of wishing will make time stand still (I've tried).

Without giving too much away, Celeste and her daughter have a fight, as mothers and children sometimes do. In the aftermath, Celeste is pondering their next steps, and she has this bit of thinking:

Morgan was growing up and away from her exactly as she should, but for now Celeste wanted to travel back two weeks and somehow stop their blow-up. Shit, she wanted to travel back years and hold little Morgan in her arms.

But all they could do was grow.

This phrase, up and away, is something I think and say a lot at this time of year, and about parenting in general. It’s a little encouragement on those days when it all seems to be going too fast.

My kids are supposed to grow up and away from me. When they branch out without me, when they do something independently, when they start another year of school, when they don’t need me—it’s because things are going right.

My children moving up and away from me is, in fact, the entire point of what I’m doing as a parent.

It was fitting to meditate on these words and feelings as I moved through my copy edits, the last stage in which I am able to make any substantial changes to the text of the book. This was the last time I could properly dig into sentences, tracking messy changes as I went.

In other words, my book is done.

Now, it moves up and away from me. Up, into the hands of the designers, the marketers, the artists and sales teams. Away, into the hands of blurbers, reviewers, and ultimately – readers.

This is what happens when things go right. My book moving up and away from me is, in fact, the entire point of what I’m doing as a writer.

So here’s to transitions, friends. Because all we can do is keep growing.

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