Biography

tewonawonga

  • Nickname: tewonawonga

My sister, Beth, and I wore matching dresses made by our grandmother to our aunt's wedding.

In 1977, Beth and I wore matching dressed (made by our grandmother) to our aunt’s wedding.

 

When I was little, I couldn’t wait to grow up.

What would I look like? Who would I marry? What kinds of kids would I have and what would I name them? What would I do for a living?

Every time I’d wonder or worry or dream about my future, I’d find myself writing down my thoughts.

My parents divorced when I was seven. Two years later, my mom remarried (my stepfather is on the left), and then my youngest sister, Mary, arrived two years after that.

I liked being the oldest (I was so bossy!) and I loved taking care of my younger sisters. Sometimes, though, it was actually really hard. I didn’t always know how to handle situations, especially when it came to my weekends. Beth and I still visited our biological father, and it wasn’t easy leaving our little sister and all of our friends behind whenever we visited our “other house”.

Writing became my comfort zone, my security blanket, my binky.

Well, I didn’t grow up to be as tall as I’d hoped; in fact, I’m shorter than my sisters, even though I’m the oldest. It used to bother me being the shortest person in the room, but I learned you can’t worry about the things you can’t change.

I probably insisted on standing in this photo…just so I could LOOK tall. And yes, mullets were acceptable back in those days.

That’s me on the left. My younger sister Beth was already taller than me…and pretty soon Mary would be taller than BOTH of us

 

 

And, I didn’t grow up to marry any of the singers or movie stars on the posters in my bedroom. In fact, the man I married turned out better than all of them put together.

He’s funny and kind and smart, he taught me how to sail, and he’s a great dad (and, he doesn’t mind that I’m short!).

Mike and I on our wedding day: July 20, 1991.

One of the very best things about my husband is that he’s a lot like my dad.

My dad and me, right before my wedding.

Mike and I met at The University of Illinois, and we’ve been married more than 20 years.

Oh, and all the names I ever dreamed of calling our children? I didn’t use any of them! I love the names my husband and I picked out for our kids, because they seem to fit each one just perfectly:

Henry, Maggie and Nate

 

 

For the longest time, I searched for a job I loved. When I was younger, I babysat, delivered newspapers, and mowed lawns. During high school and college, I sold clothes, waited tables, made copies, typed reports, and answered phones. After I graduated with a degree in advertising from The University of Illinois, I helped to make TV commercials for cereals like Froot Loops, Rice Krispies, and Potato Buds.

The truth is, I never liked waking up early (still don’t) and I never imagined myself doing any of those jobs forever. Even more truth…I wasn’t very good at my job, probably because I wasn’t doing something that I loved. I’d write funny stories in my journal or letters to my friends and family about how silly my jobs were…especially when I felt like crying (which, unfortunately, happened a LOT). During tough times, my mom and my sisters have been (and continue to be) my biggest sources of support.

The sisters! Christine, Beth and Mary.

Mom and me with a street performer in Mexico.

 

When I worked in advertising, one of my favorite things to do during my time off was volunteering in the baby nursery at Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago. Every Saturday morning, I’d rock the newborns and take their first official photograph. I couldn’t wait to be a mom. Here’s a video I found on the internet of a newborn’s first day of life: click here.

When I was twenty-seven, I went back to school and became a teacher for young children. I finally found something I really loved doing. It took me seven years to earn my master’s degree and certification because I had three children during my graduate work. While raising the kids and finishing my studies, I taught preschool students. It was amazing watching them enter a classroom for the very first time, usually knowing no one. Little by little, day by day, they’d figure things out. They’d try things so many times before getting them right, and as frustrated as they’d sometimes get, giving up was never an option. Their little minds worked overtime, learning things like taking turns, sharing, learning letters and numbers and songs and new friends’ names…they always kept learning more.

The book that reminded me to listen to my heart.

Once, when my friend Suzanne saw that I felt overwhelmed by motherhood, she handed me Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s GIFT FROM THE SEA.

Suzanne knew I loved my job and my children, but she could also see that I needed to fuel my own creative energies. Reading that book reminded me how much I’d missed writing. How and when had I stopped making time to write?

After almost ten years of teaching, I was 39 years old and my youngest son was ready to start kindergarten. I decided I’d take a one-year break from teaching to write a novel. I had no idea how to do that — or even what I wanted to write.  I just knew I needed to do it. I’ve never been so sure about anything.

I quickly realized that writing a novel is a staggering undertaking. I read books and articles, talked to writers and novelists, attended conferences and workshops, and felt overwhelmed and unprepared almost every step of the way. How could I, at forty years old, jump into the world of publishing? I’d hear phrases like, “It’s brutal out there,” and “Your chances of getting published these days are slim.” However, I met so many people who felt the same way and kept on writing. They, like me, knew that this was what they loved doing most.

One day, while having breakfast and writing in an Evanston, Illinois restaurant, I thought, I’m really fortunate. So many people are out of work these days, and I’m lucky enough to be able to sit here writing. Then I realized, If my husband lost his job today, I wouldn’t be able to work on my my writing every day. My mind raced, and I wondered, What would happen if my husband lost his job and I wasn’t able to go back to teaching? How would our kids be affected? How would their lives change? What would happen to our house? To our lives here in Evanston? And at that moment, I knew in my heart that I wanted to write a book about a young girl, my daughter’s age, whose parents both find themselves unemployed. I wanted to write the story from her perspective. There’s so much discussion these days about how the economy and unemployment affects taxpayers and businesses and even world politics, but I rarely hear about how kids feel. They notice things far more than people realize. They’re affected by the stress their parents feel, and they’ll often feel responsible for that stress, even if they don’t understand it. As a mother, I wanted to write a book that reminded kids and their parents what really matters most in life: family. As a teacher, I wanted to write a book that introduced new ways of thinking about things (like living with less materialism) in an interesting way. As the wife of a sailor, I wanted to somehow incorporate what a bonding experience life on a boat can be. And as a new writer, I had no idea how to bring all these hopes and dreams together.  Sometimes I’d feel paralyzed. Sometimes I couldn’t write my ideas down fast enough. But one thing kept me going: writing.

I started a blog about my journey. It’s called Riding The Waves. It gives me a place to keep track of my progress, stay connected to readers and writers out there, and, when all else fails, keep my writing muscles from freezing up. I don’t believe in writer’s block…if I get stuck, I switch gears and write about something else until I rediscover inspiration.

On Labor Day weekend of 2010, I received a call from an editor.  AOL had just launched an online news source called Patch.com, and she asked if I’d consider writing a local column.

“How did you even know I’m a writer?” I asked.

“Your blog,” she said. “My boss Googled “writers in Evanston” and your name came up. He liked your work and recommended you.”

My first paid job as a writer!

For my first few months with Patch.com, I wrote two articles a day, five days a week. My novel work took a huge back seat, but my writing and connections in Evanston and beyond grew stronger. And, just when I thought I couldn’t keep up the pace at Patch.com any longer, my column was thankfully cut back to three posts per week (Monday/Wednesday/Friday). Writing for Patch gives me a great excuse to stay on the lookout for news in my town, and the scaled-back workload let me get back to MY LIFE AFLOAT.

I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t write. It’s the activity I feel most comfortable doing (besides breathing and blinking). Writing is something I do when I’m happy, when I’m sad, when I’m confused, when I’m lonely… it’s my most natural way of expressing myself.

It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to do for a living. I didn’t figure it out until I was 40 years old! I don’t regret any of my jobs before I became a writer, though. Every one of them taught me about myself and helped me see my strengths and weaknesses. I’m glad I tried lots of things, because now I can say, without a doubt, that I’ve figured out what I was always meant to do.

Maggie, Mike, Henry, me and Nate on Mackinac Island in Michigan. July 19, 2011.

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