What You Need


Saturday our rural internet started feeling like we should be attaching rabbit ears to our modem, so I went to work at the round table with the red and white checkered table cloth at back of our local country store, parking myself next to the deli case, compete with a view of the giant rolltop desk that sits in front of a sign that reads, “If we don’t have it you don’t need it.”

Most Saturdays what I need, in addition to the internet, are soda and vittles from the deli, but there are other things I need from our country store that aren’t on any shelf — and they can’t be had any place else.

Yesterday, the store’s proprietress sat at the desk working on an order for the summer season, and we chatted as we both worked and visited with neighbors stopping in for groceries or a coffee break.

Around lunchtime, the owner’s granddaughter came in for her shift. Her son toddled behind her, continuing a time-honored tradition of ‘helping’ at the family business. Kids love the sights and constant flow of friends and family in and out, and this toddler did an excited two-step, giving a little squeal whenever someone he knew came through the door.

While his mom worked in the office, he darted between her and his great-grandmother.  Occasional soft whimpers began signaling the need for a nap , and his great-grandmother reached out, inviting him to snuggle with her for short nap. He went happily to her outstretched arms and, with a little help, climbed onto her lap, resting his head on her shoulder and looking as contented as a person can be.

It took only a moment to draw enough energy from that hug before he got back to the business of being a toddler. I watched him explore thinking how nice it is that somethings can still be made right with a hug, which was exactly what I needed

Talking Bout This Generation 

A popular meme depicting T1’s generation as iPhone-addicted idiots found its way into my Facebook feed tonight among the countless photos of his peers peacefully marching and calling for an end to violence.  

 I’m a member of the generation that, defined by John Hughes movies and political disengagement, came of age with the MTV and PacMan. At our high school most of the focus for seniors was on the goals that would improve our own lives. 

By contrast, this generation of high school seniors has engaged with the world (and they did inspire people around the world), starting the work towards their vision of a more positive future for their peers but also for the kids who will follow. They are indeed fixated, but technology seems to be the conduit for their passions, not the objects of it.

Remembering that the idea for the march was instigated by teenagers, it occurred to me that while my generation has been deriding the attention they lavish on smartphones and tablets, T1’s generation may have been using them to acquire and share ideas and make loftier plans than anyone has given them credit for. 

Thanks to T1 and his girlfriend (thinking SuperGal will be her secret identity since she has demonstrated some superpowers which are fodder for future posts), I do hear about kids making plans for futures defined by civic engagement, so when I see memes mocking their cohort, I tend to roll my eyes. It’s not enough, though, to just ignore an inaccurate stereotype. Today’s marches made me rethink how I should be talking about this generation, beginning with talking about and to them with respect .

A Sensitive Subject

For some reason I can’t quite remember, I found an hour or two to myself on Christmas Eve of all days. Presents were wrapped, someone else was responsible for Christmas Eve dinner, the table was set, and the Sunday New York Times was sitting on the end table waiting to be read. it turned out, that that Sunday Times contained a little lump of coal in the form of an article about the advent of sensitivity readers at publishing houses. I shouldn’t be surprised that there are 1 million ways to offend potential readers or that publishers might want to keep one or two of those readers, but I was suddenly very grateful for all the classic works of literature that, having survived government censors, had the good sense to be written before sensitivity readers existed. 

Then I thought about my own kids’ book (and future book ideas) and all the ways it might possibly offend people. 

The pictures are black-and-white and red all over, so some people might get offended by the predominance of red or the fact that the starring role in the book is played by kid with really bad hair. Or some sensitivity reader might worry that I’m insinuating that mom is with bad hair can’t get their kids to clean their rooms. 

 But as I thought about the ending of my little book about a kid who has his own idea about the definition of a clean room, I realized the people with whom I’m really gonna be in dutch are the millions of moms who are also trying to get their kids to clean their rooms. OK, so maybe I’ll only be in dutch with the moms who still have kids under 12. And I can whittle down that number to the number of moms who read my blog who haven’t figured out the magic formula for getting their kids under the age of 12 to clean their room. So that’s like, five or ten moms at least.

I don’t want to scare you because the book does have a happy ending, if you’re the kid with the messy room, and I do want to go on record that I am not endorsing the non-cleaning of rooms. I do find myself in the controversial situation of being willing to support a flexible definition of the term “clean room“.

This last week, was winter break and, after ordering Thing2 to clean his room two days in a row before he was allowed to invite friends over for “get together’s“ (formerly known as “play-dates” which, out of sensitivity to our resident tween, has been dropped from the approved household lexicon), I realize I’ve been a bit insensitive to him on this sensitive and highly controversial subject. 

Thing2, now getting better at making the room look clean (at least to the casual observer), will stuff a few things end of the bed where they were less likely to show and spend the rest of his energy putting away all the shards of paper from his last homemade light saber, organizing his props for his next special effects project, and finding a place for all the disassembled electronics he rescues from the trash.

When he’s done, the room still looks like hazardous waste site, but in all fairness, the madness is the result of a creative but methodical and investigative spirit. What looks like a shambles to me is for him a laboratory of life.

I’m a huge believer in encouraging the creative spark in everyone, especially in my offspring. That laboratory is why he comes to me at the end of the day to show me the special effects space movie he’s just made or the book he’s just “published”. So even though even a domestic anti-goddesses such as myself sometimes has to draw a line between the dirty socks on the floor to establish benchmarks for distinguishing the a laboratory from a trashcan with a bunkbed in it, the laboratory is part of what makes Thing2 grow.  

It’s also why, at the end of a book about a little boy who has his own idea about how to clean room, I decided to let that idea win out.

Rules to be Broken


One of the great things about DIY publishing is that you get to break rules when you feel like they need to be broken.

One of the rules in traditional publishing it’s the children’s picture books should be 32 pages. There are a few exceptions, but not many. The irony is that those exceptions often tend to be exceptional.

As I’m perusing books pilfered from Thing2’s bookshelf, some of the most dogeared titles — The Giving Tree, Where The Wild Things Are — break rules with regard to page length. 

As I dig deeper, I also notice that the books that still stand out for us are those that may not have perfect “story book” endings but are somehow still satisfying. They may hint at a darker side of life but enlighten their readers. 

They do something truly exceptional. They trust children.

As I’m whittling words and laying out spreads, I’m keeping in mind that there is at least one rule I don’t want to break – and that’s to trust kids.

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From Mac on the Occasion of his 17th Birthday

For Mac on the Occasion of his 17th Birthdayweb

 

Wanting to protect him in his formative years, I’ve never written Thing1’s name on this blog. On the occasion of his 17th birthday last week, however, Thing1 went on a walk-about up the back of Mount Equinox, the highest peak of the Taconics. It was from the top of the Equinox, about 4PM, that he sent me the photo that inspired this painting.

Mac – short for MacLean is as independent-minded as you’d think someone with a name like his might be, but he’s also something I’ve never been.  

He’s brave. Not fearless – but brave.

On the way up the mountain, he texted a few photos and the occasional weather report –  ‘a storm is passing and it’s so cool – don’t worry, Mom’.  His phone ran out of battery before he could text about the bear that crossed his path on the way down the mountain, but neither a lack of communications or a close encounter of the furry kind sent him scurrying to our doorstep.  The only thing that brought him off the mountain seemed to be the acknowledgement that, as it got darker out, his mother would be doing what mothers do best – worrying.

When he got back, he showed us the pictures he’d taken and told us of everything he’d seen — the abandoned farm, the gates of the monastery that sits midway up the mountain and the animals that had crossed his path.  He ended his story with plans for a next hike and an invitation to join him on a future adventure, and I realized we’d received the best possible birthday present from Mac on his 17th birthday.

We heard a kid who could acknowledge the reality of unexpected dangers on a hike while refusing to let fear keep him from the path.  And I knew his invitation wasn’t a cry for help but an encouragement to join him on a new adventure.