Sunday, September 28, 2008

Where The Heart Is by Jackie Lee Miles

I’m in the middle of my latest novel and have no idea how to fill up the additional pages I need to complete it. I have two hundred pages that I love and the ending in place that I’m more than satisfied with. I know where the climax is going and what it must contain. I have an understanding of exactly what it is I’m trying to say. Still I’m stuck with eighty blank pages. I’ve reread what I’ve written, so far, thirty-three times. I’ve left the manuscript alone for two entire weeks. Nothing—the pages sit there, large and inviting, but with no spark to ignite them.

I decide I need a distraction, something fulfilling and enriching. My daughter comes up with the perfect solution. She’s coming to Atlanta for a trade show. (She has a clothing line for little girls called Isabel Greika in honor of her firstborn daughter.)

“I’ll leave the kids with you,” she says. “It’s just the distraction you need. It’ll put everything into perspective. You’ll be so glad to get back to your writing the words will fly onto the page—guaranteed.”

She’s very convincing. And of course, I’ll be so glad to see them. They live five hundred miles away. It’s not like I can dash down the street like I used to and catch a glimpse of their latest antics. I have a one-year-old grandson and a four-year-old granddaughter coming to my rescue that I haven’t seen in over three months. It’s perfect.

Isabel arrives with her suitcase in hand. She’s a big girl. “I can carry it myself,” she says and drags it across my newly polished hardwood floors. I’m thinking if I can’t write next week when they’re gone I can at least re-polish the floor. This plan is working already.

Dolan, my one-year-old grandson is sound asleep and doesn’t realize he’s being handed over to the grandmother he hasn’t seen since he was nine months old. I swallow the lump in my throat and glance in the mirror in the entry way. My hair is combed and I have lipstick in place. I'm sure he won’t remember me, but hopefully I won’t scare him.

My daughter dashes off to her show. With Dolan asleep, Isabel and I sit on the front steps. It’s a beautiful day. She saunters down the circular driveway and examines a large crack in the cement. A colony of ants is pouring forth from a crevice.

“Nana,” she says, “Ants are really kind of cute, but I just gotta kill’em!” She proceeds to stomp on the crack. I burst out laughing. Kids really do say the darndest things.

Later we’re unpacking her suitcase and she hands me a small stack of photos sealed inside a plastic baggie. “I’m taking gymnastics,” she says proudly and eagerly pulls a hand full of pictures out of the plastic bag. “This is my friend Charlie,” she explains. “She’s taking gymnastics, too. She’s four, like me.”

Charlie towers over Isabel by a foot and a half.

“My, she’s a big four,” I say, realizing it may be true, but noticing also that Isabel is a petite four which makes Charlie’s height all the more pronounced.

Isabel examines the picture. Her brow is furrowed and her lips are pinched tightly together. “Well, next year when I’m five,” she quips, “I’ll be a big four, too!”

Hhhmmmm, wonder how that works? I take hold of her and give her a hug. Dolan’s awake now and crying. I go to the port-a-crib and pick him up. He takes one look at me and starts howling even louder. I decide to start with a clean diaper and go from there. In no time he’ll be used to me. But it’s not to be. Clean diapers and an offer of apple juice and a bottle bring no relief. He continues to howl.

“Don’t be scared, Dolan,” Isabel says. “This is my nana!”

Now that the introductions are out of the way, I spend the afternoon staging a puppet show. It works. Dolan is laughing and running around the family room, his tears long forgotten. Next we settle down on the sofa. Isabel produces a handful of storybooks. One by one I read each of them. Then I read them again. It’s time for a snack. I settle on bananas and crackers and fruit juice. It’s a hit. Movie time follows. Isabel produces her portable DVD player and slips a disk into the slot. Cinderella and Prince Charming
fill the small screen. Dolan’s not impressed. He sits and attempts to stack his assortment of blocks. I join him and show him the way to stack the blocks one on top of the other. He quickly knocks them all down. He thinks it’s hysterical.

“Nana,” Isabel says, “Come and see Dumbo.” She slips another CD into the slot. I plop down next to her on the sofa. These little tykes are starting to wear me out. Maybe it’s time for a nap. I put Dolan back in the port-o-crib and join Isabel on my bed. She’s curled up on her side, her favorite doll by her side. Before long they’re both asleep. I tiptoe down the hall to my office and check my email. I pull up my manuscript expecting a creative burst of energy to spill onto the page. Nothing. I tell myself I need more time with the kids. I’ve simply returned to the project too soon.

Two days later my daughter returns. Now I’m completely worn out and realize, if we’re smart, why we have children when we’re young. We pack the car and say our goodbyes. We load Dolan and Isabel in their car seats and fasten the safety harnesses.
I hug and kiss each of them one last time. I turn and hug my daughter, pat her head and pepper her face with kisses.

“Good luck with your writing,” she says, snapping her seatbelt in place. “I know whatever you do, it’ll be great.”

I wave and watch as they drive away. As the car disappears down the street I realize I don’t care whether or not the experiment worked. I’ve had three absolutely, positively, wonderful days. I’ve staged puppet shows, poured bubble baths, baked cookies; finger painted, played in the park, watched Cinderella three times, and read enough children’s books to know them by heart. I’ve soothed numerous boo-boos and kissed um-teen owies. I’ve tucked tiny toes under the covers and kissed little fingers poking out from above. And, I’ve collected more hugs and received more kisses than I ever thought possible. Nothing can top that—not even finishing a bestseller.

Jackie Lee Miles is the author of Dear Dwayne, Divorcing Dwayne, Cold Rock River, and Roseflower Creek Visit the website at Write to the author at

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