I sat in the rocking chair in the corner of the classroom, the one surrounded by a colorful rug with shapes or letters or continents or something both educational and decorative at the same time.
His teacher introduced me. "Second graders, this is Tucker's mom, and she's an author. See this book? She wrote it, and she's going to read a bit to us today. Tuck, would you like to introduce her?"
"Yes. This is my mom, Mrs. Tricia Lott Williford. And she writes books. Only this is one of the practice ones, and the cover has changed to a girl in a blue dress who isn't my mom and her hands look different from my mom. But she wrote this book, and it's dedicated to me and my brother, and all of your moms should buy it."
Excellent PR, kiddo. You should be my sidekick or something.
Tuck stood next to me as I spoke to his classmates, and I put my arm around his waist just as I did with my own students. There's nothing like that shining moment when you can stand next to the sweet-smelling teacher with the jingling bracelet - especially if that teacher is your mom.
I jumped right in. "Well, you might know: Tucker's dad died three years ago," they nod their heads in agreement; this is no secret in the facts of who we are. "He got very sick really fast, and the doctors couldn't save him. But I want you to know: he had a special problem that made him die quickly, so you don't need to be afraid that this will happen to you or your parents. It's not something that happens very often."
I'm addressing the little worriers in the classroom, the ones who can't help but feel afraid that crisis is contagious.
I read a small passage, a few paragraphs that are funny, light, not traumatic, and very kid-friendly. In these paragraphs, our family is having dinner and the boys are melting down around us, and it ends with Robb telling the boys they really needed to stop complaining, stop negotiating, and please just eat their dinner. He tells them to be respectful to their mom because she prepared the meal, and in our family, we are respectful.
"Do you know what I love about this?" I feel surprised by how instinctively I recall my classroom techniques. "When Tucker's dad was alive, he was teaching Tucker and Tyler how to be respectful gentlemen. And you know what? They are so kind, thoughtful, respectful - such great boys. And their dad helped them learn to be that way."
(I don't even care if the entire class zoned out during this last paragraph. There's only one child who needs to hear these public declarations about him, his dad, his courage, and his character.)
(Tuck was beaming and nodding. His way of saying, "See? What she said? I'm that.")
I open the floor to questions, and we continue with a dialogue of how books are written, what is the process, is this really a job, can kids write books, and do I feel sad.
"Those are such great questions! You know what, this book that you see - it seems pretty perfect and complete, doesn't it? Guess what…" I lean in close to whisper, "there are some mistakes in this book! And sometimes - you might not believe me, but sometimes - my writing was terrible. Sometimes I wrote something and thought, Well, that's no good! It's a good thing I can start over again with a new page! That's how it is with writing: it isn't perfect the first time, and it's so important to let yourself make mistakes while you're figuring out just what you want to say."
(And while publishers determine the market and editors work on the subtitle and a marketing team troubleshoots the ways the title could cause some inaccuracy in search engines. Grace and patience, learning from the imperfect: this is the path.)
"Am I sad? Sure, sometimes. We do get a little sad sometimes, don't we, Tuck? But we have learned that even when the worst thing happened, we were still okay. So no matter what happens?"
Tuck said, "We will be okay."
Dear Tricia of Three Years Ago, To you, the girl who cannot eat or sleep and is fading away into a skeletal frame: Someday you will visit your son's class to talk to eight-year-olds about how to process sadness, grief, and greatest loss. And you won't even cry.