My eleven-year-old found the diary I kept when I was her age. Here’s what it looks like. Fortunately, it was locked. I mean, who knew what ridiculousness I had written in there, never ever anticipating that one day I would have a daughter of my own—three in fact!—who would be interested in reading it. I panicked. Then I remembered the wonderful thing about a diary. It’s private. Yep, there are some things in our lives that are meant to be kept close to the chest. Or at least they should be. Can you believe I remembered the combination thirty years later? Sorry, I digress.
Last week I spoke with fifth graders at Pine-Richland’s Eden Hall Upper Elementary school about being a writer. Later that day, I promised to share with you the advice I gave the budding authors. I’ll work up to it because really this whole post illustrates my point, but it might not mean anything yet. While preparing for the talk, I asked myself what makes writing and reading worthwhile to me. A common denominator seems to transcend genre and audience—a thread woven through literature from the beginning of time. And that is this: at the heart of a good book is a story that makes us feel something. Kids are no exception. They want to feel something, too. But how does the author do it?
I’m embarrassed to admit this, but not long ago I found myself out of touch with my kids and their books. I know that sounds odd coming from a parent who is also a writer, so let me explain. I often seek out books for my kids to read—from the library, bookstore, or my own stash. Books that either resonated with me at their ages or a new title I think they’d like based on the genre or author. Never is a bedside table bare. But lately, I’ve been missing the mark. It occurred to me that when my kids began reading independently, I’d assumed they didn’t need me, and I’d drifted out of their literary world a bit. The bedtime routine became simpler. No longer was I re-reading the same picture book a gazillion times while in the back of my mind was that tower of dirty dishes, emails to answer, and catch-up time with my husband. This was a good thing, right?
It’s not often that I get one-on-one time with one of my daughters who are now 6, 8 and 10. Having three girls in four years means a whole lot of togetherness. They share most of the same activities, friends, and secret pacts. As it should be. So when my tween asked me to take her to the mall to shop for clothes for her birthday, I jumped at the chance to hang out with her. But wait—did she say clothes? Not toys? My baby was officially a tween.
I’m all for healthy food my kids will eat and enjoy. Don’t get me wrong though. I’m not above slinging hot dogs to the back of the minivan on our way to gymnastics and I can whip up mac-n-cheese in my sleep, but thanks to my sister, I learned a thing or two about how to shop for and prepare more healthy meals for my family. At first, I resisted, thinking it’s all a ruse. Organic anything is trendy and costly. Are we simply absorbing the extra costs created by the certification process for farms to be labeled as organic, or does it really benefit us? A pesticide-free ear of corn from a local farmer may be laced with worms or go off in a day. And who has time to be running out every two seconds for fresh produce. But what if there is a better way?
I kill plants. It’s what I do. My mom gave me a potted ficus in my first apartment. All the leaves turned yellow and dropped off. It weeped a pile of curled brown leaves, suffering a slow, painful death under my negligence. Mom whisked it out the door, promising to nurse it back to life. My boyfriend (who later married me despite my curse on all things green) gave me a love knot tree and I killed that, too. It resurfaced probably to taunt me as the topiary centerpiece at our best friends’ wedding. My friend teased, “You gonna forget to feed your kid someday?”
As a gift for my Mom’s birthday, I took her back to Beaver, the quaint town on the Ohio river where she grew up. As Mom and I walked from her brick home on the corner of Bank and Commerce along her usual route to the store where Grandma sent her to buy milk and bread, I stepped back in time. I never knew Mom had a green bike named Bess with a basket for her bunny. That her mother paid her a nickel to play with the girl up the street instead of the boys in the alley. And how my grandfather, the principal of Beaver High School, turned away a boy who came to take Mom out on a date. Back then, kids played outside. Grandma blew a whistle twice to call Mom and my uncles in for supper. And, like many mothers in those days, Grandma’s schedule went like this: she washed clothes on Monday, ironed on Tuesday, sewed on Wednesday, cleaned on Thursday. We’re not sure what she did on Friday. Rested, we hope.