Conventional Wisdom

Somehow, today is Wednesday. I will forgive it, at some point, and I hope you forgive me, too. Last week I was in Madison, Wisconsin for Gamehole Con, an excellent gaming convention where I got to run my first D&D game for non-children and also talk about writing some. That also means I got a little scrambled in the coming back home process, what with late planes and missed connections and the creeping specter of “con crud.”

This is my fourth or fifth convention since I had kids. Not only have I had a decent amount of practice, I’ve also seen how it changes as they get older. Conventions and conferences aren’t a required part of your writing career, but they can be important. So here’s some tips and observations you might find useful.

Conning while Pregnant

If I had only known how much bigger I was going to get…

If you’re going to attend a con while pregnant, preparation is key. Comfy shoes are a must. Water bottle is too. Build in lots of resting time, especially if you’re attending as a pro and doing panels or workshops or the like. If you have to travel and can get there a day early, I highly recommend it. Club soda with lime and bitters is a good “fake” drink if you’re not telling folks you’re pregnant yet, and frankly, I like the taste of it anyway.

Unexpected benefit: As much as you’re peeing, you’re also washing your hands constantly. I’ve never gotten con crud while pregnant.

 

Conning with baby

OH MY GOD, DON’T DO IT.

…Okay, sorry. You might guess this didn’t work great for me. When Tiny Mr. I was nine months old, I went to Gen Con because my publisher was launching a big multi-author series that I was a part of, as well as hosting a story summit to discuss the books going forward. He was still nursing, and I was going to be gone long enough that he very well might have weaned while I was gone. I brought my sister along to help and we made it work.

But as much as he was a bad sleeper at home, it was a hundred times worse in a hotel. We kept him on Seattle time, which helped when I had late night obligations, but that didn’t do much good when I needed to sneak out by 9:00. I can still remember going to a breakfast meeting where one of the people I was meeting went, “Oh my god, what did he do to you?” Two hours of nonconsecutive sleep will do that. All that said, I’d do it again. Being there was important for my career, and him coming along meant he could keep nursing. People went nuts for him—babies are good ice-breakers—and weirdly, it meant I connected with other parents who’d had to come alone.

That said, it’s this experience that keeps me from having a “conning with kids” section.

 

Missing your kids

Being away from your babies can be really hard. If you’re their primary caregiver, you worry they’re not getting everything they need. Is Daddy singing the right bedtime song? Is Mommy doing the voices right in the book? Does Grandpa understand how incredibly important Mr. Monkey is to nap time, or is Grandma letting them watch TV all evening because it didn’t hurt you? You worry—irrationally, perhaps—that they’ll be miserable without you or—worse—they’ll forget you.

Finding a place you can Skype or Facetime or some other video call is an excellent way to stave off those worries. My first con away from Tiny Mr. I, I staked out no fewer than four spots around Gen Con where I could make a call. We talked first thing in the morning, after he woke up from his nap, and before bed most days. My husband sent pictures and videos. It made it easier to enjoy myself.

I also spent some time looking through the dealers’ hall for a present. This won’t work at every convention, obviously, but it put a little focus on my shopping and gave me a connection.

 

…Or not

You don’t have to miss them. It’s okay if you don’t miss them. This year we left both kids with their grandparents and my husband and I went to Gen Con alone. It was amazing. On the way home I realized how soon we’d be back to normal, and I’m not going to lie, I thought about telling my husband to circle the block a few more times.

Conventions are a place where you get to be yourself as a writer. You get to talk about writing, and other adult things, and spend time with other writers, artists, and other people who understand how to wipe their noses. Kids are wonderful, but they also take a lot of emotional, physical, and mental labor. It’s okay to enjoy a break. It’s okay to look forward to it. It’s okay to go around the block one more time, and it’s okay to enjoy the whole thing but then break down crying when your plane is fifteen minutes late, because that’s fifteen more minutes away from your babies (…hypothetically, I mean). You’re a complex person and it’s good for your kids to see that.

 

Getting back to normal

So here we are now. I arrived home on Monday morning at 1:30 am (because American Airlines, that’s why), sick as a dog, only to get up at 7:00 am because Tiny Mr. I has school. I’d been away five days and shifting back into the routine was harder than I expected. Who are these tiny people and why are they grabbing on me? The con-hangover is real, and it’s harder, I think, with kids. One minute, people are stopping you to tell you how they love your books and wanting to hear the story behind that one scene…the next your child is throwing a tantrum on the floor because they have to wear jeans. I find my patience is a lot thinner after a professional event, especially for problems that stem from a lack of listening—but you have to settle back in to being a parent and a writer.

Make time to reset. I find it best if I can have some quiet, alone time, and some time to work. I put off thank you emails or “nice-to-meet-you” Tweets until another day. I ignore blog post deadlines, apparently, and I get myself back to where I can be both things at once.

 

What conventions are you heading to next year? Are you bringing your kids?

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