Friday, May 4, 2018

What a Wonderful Year

I type this sitting at a table inside the Atlanta airport, on my iPad, alongside a glass of white wine. Through a strange set of circumstances (a school visit schedule that ended at one, the instant availability of an Uber driver in Warrenton, VA, an extremely accommodating Delta airlines employee, and decent luck with the hellacious Dulles security line) I got ontology flight leaving at 3pm rather than 5:30 and am therefore scheduled to land at my Home airport at 8:15 instead of 11:30. I am grateful. I had a great day and an excellent week, but I am very glad to be headed home.

Today was my final school visit of the 2017-2018 academic year.  Between the book tour arranged by my publisher and events I arranged privately, I visited 39 schools this academic year. I gave presentations at 3 public libraries and many, many bookstores. I spoke at 5 major conferences. I have been gone nearly as much as I’ve been at home.

I have learned to pack for a week of presentations with only a carry-on bag. I have learned to adapt any presentation at any moment, including on a Friday afternoon when your “maximum 300” middle-school audience turns out to be 600 students seated on rickety enormous bleachers in a gym, whose windows can not be covered so no one can see the presentation slides (the microphone won’t work either). I’ve learned to stock less-than-3 oz sizes of all my favorite toiletries and also to check all small white tubes carefully, as the only thing worse than brushing your teeth with Benadryl is brushing them with Monostat.

I’ve learned to always set two alarms.

I’ve learned to hang onto the little cardboard envelope they stick your hotel key into, because it has your room number written on it, and after six hotels in six days you won’t clearly remember what city you’re in, much less what room number.

I’ve met hundreds of excellent educators and thousands of wonderful students. I love the people I write stories for. I think of the child who told me, forthrightly, that she was in foster care, so she understood how Ada felt. I think of the boy staring at me this morning, concentrating so hard my entire presentation, asking a very thoughtful question, and how afterward his teacher said she’d never seen him engaged before. I think of the children who draw pictures of ponies and who hoped Mam would get bombed and who loved Ada every bit as much as I do. I think of the eighth-grader in a small conservative town, who got up the courage to ask flat out, “Is Susan gay?” I think of his classmates, who cheered when I answered, “Yes.”

I think of the students from that group who came up to me after my presentation to thank me for writing about a loving gay parental figure, because they had loving gay parents. I think of the little girl who stood up and said into a microphone, “I have dyslexia. Are you saying I could really be a writer?” And I think of the way her face lit with joy when I answered, “of course you can, if you have a story to tell.”

I think of the unknown child who drew a sign on a piece of lined notebook paper, ripped it out, and taped it on the wall of his or her school library, right next to the place where I’d stand. “Kimberly Brubaker Bradley,” it read, “welcome home.”