Bouncy balls & rejection letters

“Mom, watch this!” CJ calls as I’m walking towards the dryer. It’s the battle cry of children everywhere.

I turn and he dramatically tosses his small pink bouncy ball in the air, where it then hits the floor and pings against a wall. 

“Wow!” I exclaim. “That was a high bounce!”

He smiles, satisfied with my reaction, and runs to retrieve the ball. 

It happens again a few minutes later. This time Kyeler shouts, “Mom, look!” I turn from my pile of laundry, not sure what I’m supposed to be looking at. “I fold my clothes!” He announces proudly. Sure enough, there’s his Spider-Man shirt in a crumpled heap next to him. “Great job, buddy!” I tell him. “Thanks for helping!”

Sometimes I wonder if this is me every time I submit a piece of writing. “Watch me! See? Look what I did!” It’s not enough to simply do something I enjoy and feel proud of, I want the acknowledgement of others.

Part of this is coming from a healthy place. I love it when my words can make someone feel seen or encouraged, and an obvious way to do that is to seek publication. More eyes on my writing equals more impact on others, more points of meaningful connection.

Another part of this desire is just the little kid in me, thinking that what I do isn’t valuable unless someone else sees it. Thinking that I’m not good enough unless someone tells me enthusiastically, “Great job! That was a high bounce!”

Back in January I submitted an essay to a new-to-me website. The essay was one I had written a long time ago and just hadn’t found the right home for yet. It was on a topic that was very close to my heart, and it felt vulnerable—scary, even—to put into the world. A few days after submitting the essay I received a short email back from the publication site. “We appreciated the opportunity to read this piece. However, we’re afraid we will have to pass.”


I understood, of course, that this rejection didn’t mean I was a terrible writer or a terrible human. But it still stung. It still felt like I excitedly showed someone how high I could bounce a ball and they coolly replied, “Unimpressive.”

The rejection email ended up being a relatively small road bump in my day. I’m certainly not going to stop writing, and I may even continue trying to get that essay published. But it did make me stop and think—perhaps something valuable was lost when I gave my words to someone else. Instead of being an avenue of quiet creativity and healing for me, they became a performance for others.

This morning I was washing the breakfast dishes and it occurred to me that my children were being unusually quiet. I crept over to the playroom and peered in. Both boys were crouched over their Magnatile creations, stacking brightly colored squares on top of each other. I backed away slowly, not wanting them to see me. If the cardinal rule of babies is never to wake them when they’re sleeping, then the cardinal rule of toddlers is never to interrupt them when they’re playing by themselves.

It was a delight to see my boys concentrating on those Magnatiles, content to work on something without my acknowledgement. I hope over time they can learn the deep satisfaction that comes from doing something you love, just for the pure joy of it, even if no one else sees.

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