From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

Another Calling

Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.

Henry Ford

Leaving the work force to stay home with my kids for a while held unexpected benefits. One was a complete reevaluation of my career choice. Before our first child was born, my husband and I had it all figured out. We knew we wanted three kids. We’d have them close together, then when the youngest started school, I’d jump right back into my advertising career. The day I packed up my desk, that’s how I left it with my coworkers. “Ya’ll hold down the fort. I’ll be back in a few years.” But after fifteen years at home, I hope they’ve stopped waiting.

Advertising had been a perfect fit for me. Then a funny thing happened. A nurse I’d never seen before placed an eight-pound baby girl in my arms and, at that moment, I reevaluated everything. Before then I’d known exactly what mattered in life—making money and having fun. But as I lay in that hospital bed and looked into Haley’s eyes for the first time, I was surprised to realize that global warming and the arms race were now my problem. In that same instant, I realized I didn’t give a hoot how best to extol the attributes of the new Toyota Sienna. In the grand scheme of things, it just didn’t matter.

Fast forward seven years and two more babies. Advertising is the farthest thing from my mind as I spend my days with Big Bird and The Runaway Bunny. Now, mamas have to be careful what they say. There’s always an audience, one who takes things quite literally. And one day when I mused something like, “I always wanted to be a writer,” I suddenly found three pairs of eyes looking up at me as if to say, “But, Mama, you always tell us we can do anything we set our minds to.” It was one of those life-changing moments. I knew I either had to put my money where my mouth was or watch my children grow up and settle for less than what they really wanted.

Did I want to be a writer? I wasn’t sure. But looking into those eyes, I knew I was about to give it my best shot. I sat my girls down, seven-year-old Haley and five-year-old Molly, while two-year-old Hewson squirmed on my knee. I explained to them as best I could that Mama wanted to be a writer. I asked if they wanted to help me. They did. I told them it wouldn’t be easy. We’d probably work a long time before we ever saw anything I wrote published in a magazine or newspaper.

We made a list of the things we’d need to get started. Within a week I had a makeshift office set up in the laundry room, letterhead, office supplies, and a book to walk me through the beginning process. Even if I never saw my name on a byline, I figured this was a golden opportunity to teach my kids a lesson in determination and goal setting. We decided that because we knew we’d receive many rejection letters before anything was accepted and published, we’d welcome each one as a step closer to our goal.

I made sure they saw every essay and query for an article I sent out. Molly liked to hold the big yellow envelopes in her hands and say a prayer over them before she put them in the mailbox. We didn’t have to wait long before the rejections started rolling in. Sometimes several a day. We taped each one to the laundry room wall. Haley read them out loud to her brother and sister: “Does not meet our editorial needs at this time. Hope you have luck placing it elsewhere.” They took turns taping the letters on the wall. Months went by. We filled one wall, another, and started on the third. What a visual for my kids, I thought. Twenty, thirty years from now, when they’re faced with a challenge, a goal, an obstacle, they’ll close their eyes and picture that room, ceiling to floor with rejection letters, and their mom bent over the computer plugging away.

I have to admit there were days when sentences like “We appreciate you thinking of us but unfortunately . . .” and “We realize the time and effort you put into your submission. However . . . .” cut me to the quick. No matter how eloquently a rejection is worded, it’s still rejection, and some days it’s harder to take than others.

But the girls celebrated each one. “One step closer, right, Mama?” “Wow, we’re filling up another wall. Won’t be long now!”

One day a friend showed up with a large cork board. She nailed it on the remaining wall. In the middle she pinned a letter she’d written telling me what a terrific writer, mother, friend, and Christian she thought I was. I couldn’t have needed it more. After that I took other encouraging letters I received and pinned them on the board. The kids drew pictures of me at the computer and wrote encouraging messages: “Mom is a grat ritr!” and “We ar goin to sel a store soon!” When the rejection letters started to get to me, I’d turn my chair toward the board and drink in all that encouragement until I had the energy to get back to work.

Eight months into the process the phone rang. It was a sale! A month later another! Two months later another! We had a party and ceremoniously pulled all the rejection letters off the walls. They’d served their purpose. It’s been eight years now, and there are still lean months. But I’m happy to report that the world of advertising will have to keep going without me. Haley, Molly, and Hewson’s mommy is a writer now.

I was thinking the other day that I might like to take the next step and write a book. But something tells me I’d better keep that idea to myself—for a while anyway.

Mimi Greenwood Knight

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