Two weeks ago my debut novel, Substitute Me hit store shelves. I’ve authored two other non-fiction books, Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America and Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love & Spain, but completing my first novel is like a dream come true for me. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved to make up stories and I loved to read. So now I have accomplished by greatest dream. Cue the music, curtains close. Not! Becoming a published author has not changed the course of my every day life in any substantial way. I still have to go to work every morning, be a great mom to my two kids and keep a smile on my face while doing it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I love my life. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I could use some help every now and again.
The irony is not lost on me that my book, Substitute Me is about a woman in a similar position. The same position as most working mothers. Kate Carter, one of the two female protagonists in the book, is an ambitious PR executive about to return to work after her maternity leave. She loves staying home with her newborn son, but she loves her job too. So, she hires a nanny, just like the majority of other working women in her Brooklyn neighborhood. In the newspaper ad she places, she writes that she’s looking for a “substitute me” to “love her child as if he were her own.” Zora Anderson, an African-American woman who is trying to find her purpose in life, answers Kate’s ad and becomes Kate’s perfect substitute. Almost too perfect.
Even though in my novel the Carter household is forever altered after Zora takes over the domestic duties, sometimes I dream about hiring a ‘substitute me’ for myself. These days, that is my greatest dream.
If I had a substitute me, I’d want her to:
• Make a delicious breakfast every morning, including fresh-squeezed orange juice.
• Pack the boys’ school lunches with a healthy and fun rotation of meals that they’ll actually eat and not trade with the kids whose moms give them blue Kool-Aid and snacks with neon-orange cheese powder.
•Clean my house while I’m at work, paying special attention to the dust on all of the shelves, which I like to pretend I don’t notice.
• Make a scrumptious dinner that won’t make me fat, but tastes like it will
That would be pretty much all I’d ask for, but then again, we’re just dreaming here, so why stop? If I were in the market for a real ‘substitute me,’ I’d probably also ask her to:
• Take the boys to karate, baseball and music lessons, so I can work on my writing while they’re gone.
• Help the boys with their math homework when I can’t figure out what the heck ‘new math’ really means.
• Do the laundry because I have a tendency to avoid going down in the basement because I’m afraid of the spiders and crickets that sometimes like to jump out and scare me.
• Join the PTA at the boys’ school, so the school knows I want to be involved in my children’s’ education.
• Start a boy-scout troop in our neighborhood because the older kid wants to be a boy scout and there are no local troop leaders.
• Go out salsa dancing with my husband every once in awhile to remind him that the spark is still alive in our marriage.
• Start a savings account for the kids’ college fund, because that’s number 47 on my to-do list and I’m probably not going to get to it any time soon, at least not before the older one has to actually go to college. (Note: she should probably get another job too, so she can add sufficient funds to that account.)
That’s it. Obviously the likelihood of finding such a person is zero to none, but it sure is fun to think about that job description. What would you ask your ‘substitute me’ to do if given the chance? Everyone who answers that question in the comments will be entered in a drawing to win an autographed copy of the book, Substitute Me.
Lori L. Tharps is an assistant professor of journalism at Temple University. She is the author of two critically acclaimed non-fiction books, Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America and Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love & Spain.
Substitute Me is her first novel. For more information about Lori, please visit http://www.loritharps.com.
Thanks Lori for a great post – Ditto on your wishes!!!