“It was difficult for me to write about Max for a long time,” said Emily Regan of her 5-year-old son.
Several years of being in the reality of a situation so present it couldn’t be committed to paper kept her from doing so. But the two-time NAU graduate, Flagstaff author and mother managed to eventually chronicle both her son’s journey through a newborn heart transplant as well as the humorous moments before and between, culminating in a collection of self-published essays, “What’s an Adult?: No One Knows Anything and We’re All Going to Die,” as well as her most recent story,”Makeover Day.” The former was released in 2016, and the latter she wrote just a couple months ago.
Regan has always published under her maiden name, she said, continuing to do so even when she took on the married name Bannon.
“What’s an Adult?” is 161 pages and 23 essays of memoir meets observational humor as Regan tackles everything from social media to feeling like a fraud in the face of adulthood, to her son, Max.
“I constantly feel like someone is going to yell out at me ‘Gotcha! Just kidding, you’re not an adult,’ and now being a mom, sometimes I have no idea what I’m doing but I’m supposed to be the authority figure and, good lord, you know, I constantly feel like it’s ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ kind of thing,” Regan said.
Indeed the idea of feeling fraudulent is at the seed of “What’s an Adult,” the first essay of which, “Faking It,” follows Regan through high school, college, a 10-year high school reunion and thereafter; at each stage she expects to have reached grown-upness, yet it never comes. Turning 18, a post-graduation job at the local Boys and Girls club, moving into her NAU dorm, getting engaged to now-husband Jon, having a baby—somewhere around some corner adulthood lurks, but like Orpheus and Eurydice, you turn around to get a glimpse of it and it disappears.
This is perhaps most evident when “Faking It” arrives at Max’s hypoplastic left heart syndrome diagnosis.
“I felt unequipped to deal with the situation and yet doctors were looking at me for thing like ‘answers’ and ‘consent…’” Regan writes in “Faking It.” “With every medical form I signed, I felt convinced that that was the moment someone was going to announce that it’d all been a charade and I was not, in fact, an adult.”
Her readers learn of the congenital heart defect in an eye-opening, grounding few paragraphs. And yet, it doesn’t take long for Regan to bounce back to her familiar levity, joking that she feels like a “placeholder” parent and that one day “some nice lady in khakis and a sweater set and a responsible haircut,” will arrive to take over.
In her writing, Regan manages to place in harmony two ingredients that might otherwise be at odds with one another: Humor and fear, though it could also be argued that, like in any successful relationship, opposites attract for a reason.
“About a week after my son Max received his heart transplant, I was approached by one of the hospital’s public relations people, a woman named Jane.”
So starts “Makeover Day,”a story that teeters delicately between tragedy and the absurd as it follows Regan (two weeks after her son’s heart transplant) through a for-TV mom’s makeover sponsored by Phoenix Children’s Hospital. She and two other moms—one whose daughter had just had several tumors removed and the other whose son was having a kidney transplant later that day—are shuffled into the news station’s “makeover bus” on live television. None of the three want to be there, and their desire to return to their children is palpable.
When the perky news anchor asks Regan why she decided to do the makeover, she blurts out on camera, “Well Jane asked me to do it, so….” The anchor is taken aback and quickly moves on to the next mother.
“That’s what I’m always looking at in my writing, ‘cause I feel like people deal with heavy stuff and if you’re not laughing you’re crying, and I feel like during that first month of my son’s life we basically lived at the hospital. That can take a lot out of you, but you have to hang on to the funny moments,” Regan said.
Regan, in talking about her writing, frequently touches on a combination of guilt and caution in telling Max’s story. This is a leitmotif in “Makeover Day,” too,as she struggles with being away from her son and the fear of exploiting him for a “fluffy, feel-good story.”
“That’s another reason I was so hesitant to write about Max at first,” Regan said. “While we were both in it together, I also don’t want to exploit something that is his narrative and that he struggled through. He had all the surgeries, he had all the medical appointments, the transplant, the tests.”
Both book and essay deal in lightness and heaviness, painting a picture of what Jessica Friedmann calls the “broad and brutal and kaleidoscopic” experience that is motherhood.
Among her non-fiction pieces, Regan has also written sci-fi novels, fiction and historical fiction pieces. She is also hoping to write a murder mystery in the near future.