The Art of Essential Living (and Writing)

My debut middle grade novel, Another Kind of Hurricane was sold on April 3, 2014. On that same day, I got a phone call from our social worker, asking if we would be interested in changing the age range of the child we were willing to adopt. We had been in the process of adopting a child for 3 years, and were approved up to the age of 24 months. She asked if we were interested in, let’s say, changing the upward end of the range to 28 months.

Translation of that question: There is a child that the adoption committee wants to match you with. He is slightly older than the age range you requested. If you change your age range you will be matched with your son.

Answer to that question: Yes. And yes and yes and also yes.

growingPlant1My book sold on the same day I found out about our son. Two excruciatingly long processes in the soil, sun and rain, and they flowered on exactly the same day.

Explain that. (Seriously. I’m collecting reasons, magical and logical, for why these two journeys are so intertwined.)

Or I will explain it. Or I will try, at least. But bear with me? I want to finally write a little about my son, who just came to live with us in December. I’ve been protective of his journey, not wanting to expose him too much in too public a way, but there is a part of it that I want to explore now. Here. With you all. And I’m not sure why, but I think it has something to do with writing. Maybe. We’ll see.

Image 15

In Honduras.

My son was born in Honduras and lived his three years there before we adopted him. He lived in the same town, with the same family. His life with his foster mother was secure and full of love. This is evident. He is fully himself wherever, thus far, he has been – in his home town; in Tegucigalpa, the capitol city of Honduras; on Roatan Island; on my parents’ farm in very rural Vermont; and now, in my town in Vermont, in our little village, in our house. In all of these places, in all of these landscapes, he is…who he is. Do you know what I mean? He’s got a solid sense of self. And he is very comfortable residing there. No need to defend himself, no need to hide himself.

I believe he is like this for two reasons: First, he came into the world this way. He must have. And second, his foster mother nurtured this in him – through her love and gift of security – during those critical early developmental years in his life. (The respect and awe I feel for her, this woman who took in my son with open arms, raised him, and then let him go with those same open arms…that is for another post another day.)

Because he has this innate sense of centeredness, he is very curious about and very comfortable finding the ways that he fits into the landscape of our family. And here is where maybe he and writing overlap? Or are woven together?

My son’s first three years were full of the routines and rhythms of household chores. I’m learning this about him. He loves to do the laundry with me, for example, and learned the order of button pushing to start the washing machine by the second time we did it together. He loves to cook too. He sits on the counter, his short legs kicking the wooden drawer underneath him, and he dumps the flour, cracks the eggs, and pours the milk. Stir is one of his first English words. He watched my other 3 kids come home from school for about 3 days before he began taking their lunch boxes out of their backpacks and bringing them to me – because he realized that was what they did, day after day, right after they piled through the door and spilled into the house.

This kid watches routines. He feels rhythms. And then he acts. He finds the places where he can fit himself into the beat, into the music, into the pauses and patterns – and then he inserts himself. The earnestness with which he pursues this breaks my heart wide open. He is so transparent. He is so clearly identifying and claiming his place in the family, and in this new life. But – or maybe and – at the same time, he is so clearly tapping into something that is familiar to him at his core.

Image 1

Trampolining in winter in negative digit temps. Welcome to Vermont, kid.

Rhythms and routines. This is how you write a book too, isn’t it? On a meta-level: make a routine for your writing. On a micro-level: find and follow the rhythms of your characters’ voices and of the story. But it’s deeper than that. And I don’t know if I can describe what I am feeling adequately here. (Maybe someone can give me insight after reading this?) There is an essential quality to my son’s life right now…as in, he is practically all essence. There is an authenticity that buzzes through and around him that’s palpable. Maybe this is because he is, in a way, being re-born right now. And that newborn time is all about essence and core and what-you-see-is-what-you-got, right? Most kids keep this for a while, some for a long while, so I am, by no means, suggesting that my son is unique in this…but I do think that, among the myriad of other reasons I am so lucky to be mothering this kid, I am privileged to be a part of this kind of essentialness in such an intimate way.

Image 7

Yup, he’s drinking it all in…

This – this essentialness – is what we strive for in our writing, isn’t it? The transparency and truthfulness of the human spirit that breaks open the hearts (and minds) of our readers? That inspires them – in even the smallest ways – to live fully inside of themselves?

I don’t know. I think so anyway. What I do know is that my son humbles me every single day.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *


Filed under Character Development, craft~writing, rhythms

39 responses to “The Art of Essential Living (and Writing)

  1. Wow, Tamara. Just wow.
    You’ve used such graceful (and grace-filled) words to describe your son and your (yours, his, your family’s, his foster mother’s) experience.

    It reminds me of a Fred Rogers’ quote about not ever fully knowing how important we may be to those we meet and those we have never even dreamed of. This goes both ways in each encounter.

    Your beautiful son is finding his sense of belonging in the rhythms, comfort, and love of your family. And at the same time you and your family are enhancing your sense of belonging as you make adjustments within these same rhythms, comfort, and love.

    What a beautiful gift for you all.

    Oh, and that book thing is cool, too! 😉


    • tamaraellissmith

      Oh thank you for this! Yes, you are so so SO right. We are absolutely enhancing our own sense of belonging…thank you for getting that…and reminding me of that too.


  2. Congratulations. What a keen observation!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. How beautiful! And that you opened your hearts and your homes to a fourth child from so far away… I’m speechless.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This post is gorgeous and moving. Thank you for sharing your son with us!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Joshua McCune

    Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful boy there. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. So beautiful. How lucky you are to have found eachother. Thank you for sharing your heart and the story of your awesome little boy with the big spirit 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is beyond lovely, Tamara! What a cute little munchkin you’ve hugged into your family. You are all so very blessed.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. kevanjatt

    This is beautiful and touching, Tamara. I kept thinking “this is all so perfect, meant to be, etc.” What a lucky boy to have found your family. What a lucky family to add one more.
    This post makes me happy.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Janet Fox

    Tam, this is so beautiful. As an adoptive parent, I truly believe that love out = love in, and the meshing of your writing and son’s arrival is no accident. You’ve given the world the gift of your book, and your son’s sweet soul is now there to grace your life. I’m so delighted to watch this journey unfold.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. mariagianferrari

    What a moving post, Tam! Thank you so much for sharing this story of your son–what an amazing boy! How lucky you are to have him, and how lucky he is to have you, and your family.

    I loved reading about the ways he folded himself into the family’s rhythms–so lovely, and true. You are all blooming 🙂 I think I hear a story blooming too, of the wonder about these too coinciding events in your life…


  11. So beautiful and true, I felt like I was also falling in love reading this. Thank you, Tam!


  12. Christine Hayes

    Simply gorgeous, Tam. Thanks so much for opening your heart and experiences to us. Your gift with words is no accident. You were meant to capture these moments as they shape your family and your journey as a writer, and to frame them for all those within the circle of your influence. I’m so happy for you!!!


    • tamaraellissmith

      Wow, Chris. Thank you for this. I have a feeling I will need to come back to it from time to time…to refocus…to relocate courage… ❤


  13. Lindsey Lane

    Oh Tam, I am so glad that you will be inserting you and your families journey into our rhythms and routines. My day is better now.


  14. This post is moving and beautiful and oh-so-happy! Thanks, Tam. And I’m so happy for you and your family.


  15. What a beautiful post! Your son–and you–are so very fortunate. Congratulations!


  16. Oh, we will take this kind of magic. Any time it comes. Thank you, Tam, for some lovely thinking about writing and life.

    My favorite part: “this essentialness – is what we strive for in our writing, isn’t it? The transparency and truthfulness of the human spirit that breaks open the hearts (and minds) of our readers? That inspires them – in even the smallest ways – to live fully inside of themselves?”


  17. You are wonderful, your family is wonderful, and it is wonderful to cry the happy tears that your post just made me cry.


  18. I know you’re saying a lot of elegant and eloquent things here, Tam. But personally, I just melt every time you say “my son.”


  19. Wow is right. So amazing! It sounds like he has an inner compass that points true-north – and I don’t think that is common at all. I am so happy for you and hope to meet your son someday! Hugs, e


    • tamaraellissmith

      I love that image, Elizabeth. An inner compass that points true north. And I think it is really true. I hadn’t thought of it before…thank you for this. Hugs to you too!


  20. Poornima Apte

    Tam, this writing has your beautiful signature and heart all over it. It brought me to tears. I can’t wait to meet your little guy! Hugs and kisses to all of you. xoxo


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.