Any divorce brings with it serious life changes, especially for a woman with two elementary school children. But for Amanda Rowe, it also meant carving away time to do more writing. Rowe’s newest children’s book, If There Never Was a You, was recently published.
Although she continued her writing practice when her children were younger—producing three unpublished novels, personal essays, health and nutrition articles, greeting cards and poems—two years ago, right after she moved to Bordentown, she found herself with more alone time. Her 14-year-old son and almost-16-year-old daughter were busy with friends and sports, or they were away at the home of her ex-husband, and she began to get an “empty nest feeling.”
Now that she had a little more free time (as much as is possible with a full-time job as administrator of the graduate program in Princeton University’s sociology department), she says, “I started to think, ‘How can I be productive with this time?’”
Musing about the enjoyment she had had from her children when they were small, she says, “I started thinking about how my life would have been different if they had never been born.” These thoughts congealed into a poem that captured her love of the small things they had brought into her life.
Realizing that the poem was well suited to becoming a children’s book, she submitted it to publishers. Familius quickly picked it up, to the surprise of Rowe, who had never published a children’s book. Rowe was especially pleased with the illustrations by Olga Skomorokhova, so much so that she decided to interview the illustrator for her blog. The piece is soon to go live on Rowe’s website.
“My writing career has been a huge surprise,” she says, adding that the marketing demands were “nothing like I pictured.” An introvert, Rowe started writing in part because she wanted to be home and by herself. But when Familius’s publicist told her she needed to have an online presence and get out there and meet with people, she developed a website and started a blog.
But what she feared most was the book tour, which turned out to be very positive. “It forced me out of comfort zone into something that now I love,” she says.
Rowe grew up in Manchester, in Ocean County. Her father works with computers, and her mother is a paralegal. Rowe graduated from Manchester Township High School in 1993 and attended Eastern College, now Eastern University, in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, on the Main Line in Philadelphia.
Rowe took a leave of absence for what was supposed to be a semester, for personal reasons. She intended to go back, but ended up working her way up at United Teletech Federal Credit Union, starting as a teller and leaving three or four years later as branch manager.
Her next position was at Merrill Adams Associates, an executive consulting firm.
While there, she and her husband took a fateful walk on the Princeton University campus, where she kept wondering “what it would be like to come here every day.” She started applying for a university job, and 18 months later landed one as administrative assistant to “two very busy professors,” Noreen Goldman and Marta Tienda.
About five years into her marriage and three years into her Princeton University job, Rowe got pregnant with her daughter, who was born June 12, 2003. “I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom when the baby was little,” Rowe says, so she took a leave of absence that stretched to 10 years. Her son was born in fall 2004.
“I enjoyed the time at home with my kids, but missed working,” Rowe says. “I found myself craving an intellectual outlet when I was changing diapers and playing with Play Doh.”
That’s when she began freelance writing, grabbing moments to write “every time my kids were napping or at night when they were sleeping,” she says. “The nice thing about being a freelancer was that you could do it whenever you had time and you could take a week off if you needed to.”
Life began to throw additional challenges her way when at age 7 her daughter started losing weight and became lethargic and pale. “Everybody thought it was a weird childhood virus,” she recalls. Although the doctors reassured Rowe that her daughter would probably grow out of it, Rowe was not convinced. She says, “She was wasting away before our eyes.”
But Rowe kept pressing the doctors as her daughter’s weight and energy diminished, and eventually they did blood work, as well as a colonoscopy and endoscopy, and diagnosed Crohn’s, an inflammatory bowel disease. Once they had a diagnosis, they started with dietary changes. First, a liquid diet, then, because her body wasn’t digesting her food, they put her on predigested shakes and she started to gain weight, get her energy back, and went into remission.
In 2011 she and her ex-husband split unofficially and started the divorce process, agreeing to share custody. She moved with her children to a rented townhouse in Hamilton, where she took a break from writing as she tried to get her children situated. “All we needed was to find a new normal,” she says.
But normality was not to happen. One morning when she returned home after dropping her children at school, a pipe burst in the ceiling. The ceiling fell into their living room, and, she says, “we were homeless.”
At the time a friend invited them to move in short term, and eventually she found a place in Ewing, where she spent a couple of years. But the commute to take her children to school in Mansfield, where they had remained since the divorce, was a long one and began to take its toll. That’s when she decided to move to Bordentown, about 10 minutes from her children’s school.
Not long after the flood, her daughter’s health started to deteriorate. “She was in great pain, and everything she ate upset her,” Rowe says. Testing revealed that she had a stricture, a narrowing of the intestines that had caused a blockage and needed surgery right away. The surgery at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia was more complex than expected and lasted four hours instead of one, and the recovery was rough.
But her daughter came through with flying colors. “She has such a positive attitude,” Rowe says. “She’s been through so much, and she is kind, optimistic, loving, and strong.”
Having weathered these significant health struggles, her daughter looked for a way to help out other children with Crohn’s and has been involved in the yearly Walk for Hope, which raises funds for research on inflammatory bowel disease at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. This year, because of her commitments to the lacrosse team, she will not be participating.
Using the research she had done in the wake of her daughter’s health issues, Rowe started to write nonfiction articles on health, nutrition, and in particular Crohn’s disease. She also wrote personal essays that she is thrilled that she can now post on her new website.
Rowe maintains that by being both honest and vulnerable in her writing, she can use it as a way to connect with other people. “The best writing is relatable and it’s not going to be relatable if I’m sugarcoating it,” she says. “I think the fact that I openly talk about my struggles, my pain, and my failures lets people know it’s okay to be vulnerable and okay to have struggles.”
“It’s scary sometimes,” she says about publishing personal essays online. “I feel as if I am publishing my diary on the internet.” But, she adds, “maybe in sharing those struggles I can make someone who is struggling now feel less alone.”
Rowe’s experiences with divorce, single parenting, and her daughter’s health struggles have changed her. “I’ve been through a lot of difficult things in my life, and I hope that what that has done is give me empathy, made me less judgmental, and made me kinder,” she says.
“There has to be a purpose in all that pain,” she says. The purpose she has found is using her writing to offer help, encouragement, and hope to people who are suffering or struggling with issues she has faced.
For Rowe, her religion amplifies the lessons she has learned from writing and from life “I hope it makes me be more compassionate, be less judgmental, and be kinder. It encourages me to be generous and hopefully use whatever I have to help others and not for my own selfish ambition.”
Rowe moved to Bordentown not just for its “fantastic shops and restaurants.” She says, “It also has a real sense of community; I think people really rally around each other.” She had also been looking for a church with those communal values and found it at Celebration Community Church, which she describes as “kind, warm, and welcoming.”
Rowe recently finished a guest post for the Whole Mamas Club website on their theme for this month: single parenting. She is also working on getting her next children’s book published and looking for an agent to take care of the business side of her writing career.
“My kids have been the rock, the stable thing in my life, the best thing in my life,” Rowe says. She wrote the book because she wanted them “to know you make me happy.” Although as is true of all children, there are times when they are frustrating. “But at the end of the day I’m so thankful that they were born. After all these years, they are the highlight of my day.”
Both of her children seem to have inherited a bit of her creative gene. Her son, who she describes as “more of an athlete” (he plays soccer and baseball), also “excellent at drawing.” Her daughter, who is so much like Rowe that she calls her “Mini-me,” is an excellent writer, but also a cheerleader and lacrosse player.
Although her children have seen her struggles as a single mom, she says what has been most important is that they have seen her work through her challenges and overcome them. “It’s not easy, but that doesn’t mean you should give up,” she says.