“Do you think they’re hiding the food on purpose?” my friend Katie whispers as we huddle under twinkling lights. We’re both clutching glasses of mediocre rosé.
“Probably. They want everyone to get tipsy before the bidding starts,” I smirk, adjusting my dress. Most of the women are wearing floppy hats to fit the Kentucky Derby theme, but our fascinators are undeniably cuter. Katie found them on Amazon for $10, along with matching suspender and bow tie sets for our husbands (who, surprisingly, did not complain).
The alcohol is flowing and there is no food in sight. This is my first PTA auction and it feels like a scene straight out of Big Little Lies. Better steer clear of the staircase.
“Let’s go, folks! We’re here to support the kids! Bid high and bid often ... ” a deep voice booms over the speakers.
I loop my arm through my husband’s, and we wander over to the auction table.
“Think we could get anything for twenty bucks?” I ask with a wink.
They save the big items for the live bidding, but the silent auction is pretty legit: braces for your kids, cases of wine, concert tickets, spa baskets, a staycation at a local hotel.
“Should we bid on the hotel?” my husband asks.
“You know we’ll lose,” I roll my eyes, “... but sure, why not?”
He scribbles $200 on the hotel bidding sheet, but we both know someone will offer 4x that by the end of the night, especially at the current wine to (lack of) food ratio. The next item we pass is a lice removal service, and I scratch my arms reading the description.
“Let’s put Luke and Katie’s bidding number on that one,” I giggle, elbowing my husband in the ribs. I need some bread.
I scoot to the next item, which quickly catches my eye: a $100 gift certificate toward Dream Enrichment Classes. The flyer outlines a series of programs for kids, including one called Little Engineers. My eyes light up. Our son Everett loves to build—marble runs, magna tiles, LEGOS, tunnels out of paper towel rolls—you name it, he’ll build it.
I scribble a figure on the form, and at the end of the auction, it’s the only thing we win.
“I have something for you,” my mom says, disappearing into a closet.
She returns seconds later holding a cardboard box filled with artifacts from my childhood.
“I’m probably just going to throw this all away ...” I caution.
She shrugs at my warning as I toss the box in the trunk of my car. This isn’t the first time she’s handed me a box of vintage toys and faded school projects. As an aspiring minimalist, I’m usually more concerned with where I am going to put the box than what’s inside of it.
Once home, I bring the box inside, place it on the kitchen counter, and dig into the contents while heating up leftovers for lunch.
Underneath the Leonardo DiCaprio book (yes, I said book), rests a small stack of signed posters from Melissa Joan Hart, or—as most of us know her—Sabrina the Teenage Witch. I remember sitting on the floor of my bedroom at nine years old copying addresses out of BOP magazine so I could send fan mail directly to my idols. (That was before you could stalk celebrities on Instagram—it was a different time.)
But the real gem I find in the box is a bunch of tiny pages ripped out of a Hello Kitty notebook.
Sorry this is sloppy! Today was great! My friend has the address of J.T.T.! She’s going to give it to me! I also went shopping today and got deodorant. I feel so grown up!
Bless. I continue to sort through diary post-its, old photos and class projects. The very last thing I pull from the box is a certificate, placed face down at the bottom. I turn it over and smile at what I’ve found: a Young Authors' Award.
My maiden name looks foreign for a split second, as I run my fingers across the attached gold ribbon. I silently thank my mom for preserving something so precious: a sliver of proof that I’ve always loved to write.
I’m sitting on the bed folding a pile of laundry when I hear the cry. I don’t even have to look up to know what’s wrong.
“It’s not working!” Everett wails, running into my room.
Two minutes ago, he was happy as a clam assembling a new LEGO set he got for his birthday.
“What’s not working?” I ask.
“The wheels,” he sniffles, “They’re supposed to turn, but they’re not turning!”
I take the monster-truck-in-progress out of his hands and wipe his face as we sit down on the corner of the rug in my bedroom to assess the situation. Sunlight bounces off the floor and makes one lone tear on Everett’s cheek look like a piece of glitter. I wonder if he’s going to give up. Will this be the point of frustration that drives him to abandon LEGOS once and for all, like the forsaken stack of crumpled drawings he could never get quite right?
Upon closer look, we figure out the wheels are simply on backwards and need to be turned around. Relief washes over his face and 30 seconds later, he is all smiles again. He disappears for the rest of the afternoon, determined to finish building it on his own.
Later that evening, I step on a LEGO piece left on the rug. I curse under my breath and place the extra piece on my vanity table, where it sits for three whole days. By the time I notice it again, I don’t have the heart to tell Everett his monster truck is missing a piece.
I quietly slip it into his memory box for safekeeping.
I am sitting on my couch going down a rabbit hole on Instagram. Another popular website has shut down and that makes eight (that I know of) in 2018. The emails keep coming. Some have sold to new owners while others have straight up folded.
One editor confesses to me: We still believe so strongly in the vision for the project, but with big powerful media outlets closing down left and right, it became clear that we could go all in with this and still not achieve the level of success we would need to make a return on our time investment. We were working so hard but we ran out of money to pay writers, and we hated asking people to write for free.
I nod. I understand.
Over the past four years, I have felt pressured—more than once—to turn this space into something I never wanted it to be. Well-meaning people have encouraged me to switch strategies, to be more competitive and aggressive here.
It has not always been easy to say no.
It has cost me more than money.
Every time I see a website fold, I think of what it would feel like to be the person who started the website. I think of the hundreds (thousands?) of hours spent creating that space. I think of what it would feel like to give up a dream. I think of what it would feel like to stand on the sidewalk and watch something you love float into the sky like a helium balloon.
I can barely stand the thought, which is why I’m still standing here with white knuckles around my string.
“Mommy I worked soooooo hard on this,” Everett tells me, clicking the last LEGO into place on some kind of dinosaur transformer. The age on the box says 7-12.
“You know,” he continues, “just like you and your book.”
I smile at the comparison. I think of all the months we spent writing and editing and worrying and praying. I remember the time I cried in the Chick-fil-a drive-thru. I think of all the nights I laid awake at 3 a.m., analyzing every word, every comma, every potential future Amazon review. I think of all the dreaming, all the writing, all the planning, all of the hours upon hours of work that took place before the words “book deal” were ever muttered.
I think of the 20 minutes my five-year-old has been working on that LEGO set, and how sweet it is that he thinks our accomplishments are the same. I think of how much I love chasing my dream right beside him—side by side, word by word, piece by piece.
I wonder if Everett will roll his eyes when I hand him a memory box 30 years from now. I wonder what he’ll grow up to be … will the LEGO piece mean anything to him?
Time will tell.
For now, we’re just going to sit here, together, and keep building things.