The Yin and Yang of the Road

As disconcerting as a disruption of routine can be, it shakes us up in ways sorely needed, if not desired.

Relaxation takes a lot of preparation.

Drinking copious amounts of water cleanses the body; emptying the bladder repeatedly is a pain in the back side.

The Police made a lot of ska-infused upbeat rhythms with lyrics about a lot of messed up stuff.

The road is alluring but lonely.

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Jennifer Butler Basile

Junk food satisfies the soul but not the blood sugar.

Craft superstores, while offering everything a crafter might need, can cause panic attacks.

When the radio dial spins through all other numbers unsuccessfully, a country music station will still tune in.

A handful of Twizzlers is worth a bagful of oranges.

Twenty-nine hours of time with a beloved friend is worth all the trouble and travel.

Bluebird

I hate books with sad endings.  But I love Bob Staake’s.

The Donut Chef is in heavy rotation in our house.  I cannot eat a donut without proclaiming, “There’s nothing quite like glazed, I think!”

So when I spied a new title, Bluebird, on prominent display in my child’s library at open house, I couldn’t resist removing it from its perch for a peek.  My first grader came home with it a few weeks later much to my delight.

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Every workshop on children’s writing I’ve attended, particularly those on picture books, says you must have a happy ending or at least end on a positive note of some sort.  Kids need to know they will prevail in some fashion.  Lately, I‘ve been finding many books that are heartbreaking!  After reading Bluebird, I have to say, my excitement in finding a new Staake book was quelled somewhat by the poignant moments at the end of it.

A lonely boy begins a new school year.  Two bullies have him pegged from the moment the class queues up outside.  After school, he heads in one direction, the rest of the children, the other.  He is all alone save the bluebird that has been quietly watching him all day – from tree branches and windowsills.  Immersed in his solitary confinement, he does not notice the bird flit along beside him, until she swoops in low over his head and engages him.  With a fun mixture of tag, hide-and-seek, and follow-the-leader, the two become friends as they move through the city.  These are the only times we see the boy smile.  As he floats a boat in the park, the bird perched upon its mast, drawing the attention and friendship of a nearby boy and girl, readers rejoice with the boy and finally relax.  He will be okay.  He has found happiness, even if one bright spot of it.

And then he passes under the bridge – where three bullies want not friendship, but his beloved toy boat.  At first, the bird hangs back, watching from atop the bridge.  I wanted the bird to rescue him, but the workshops have also taught me that protagonists need to solve problems for themselves.  Still, I was angry that his new friend was seemingly hanging him out to dry.  But when the situation turns dire and the boy truly needs him, she swoops in.  She blocks the blow the boy would’ve received from a stick thrown by the bullies, but sacrifices her own life in the process.  To their possibly redeeming credit, the bullies are appalled by the result of their actions.  A flurry of rainbow-hued birds lifts the boy and the bluebird into the sky for the spiritual denouement.

His friend dies?  He finally has someone that makes him smile and she’s dead?  This is not the gooey goodness of a glazed donut!  But it does adhere to that positive tenet of children’s literature: through the process of nurturing this friendship and finding what makes him happy, the boy can now fly on his own.  The bluebird has taught him how to find happiness on his own.

The plot of this book is riveting and transcendent.  What is astounding is that there is no narrative text whatsoever.  Staake tells this incredibly intricate and rich tale with nary a word.  It is a true testament to his amazing graphic skills.

This book may not have been what I was expecting, but happiness rarely is.  Bluebird joins Bob Staake’s catalog as another superb example of children’s literature.

On Her Way

My daughter has reached the age at which I formed a consciousness.

We all have snippets of early childhood, maybe even earlier; bits and pieces of memory.  Sitting on grandfather’s lap to create a painting.  Banging on the ledge above the backseat because you couldn’t sit quietly in mass.  How much is real memory, spotty because of time elapsed, and how much is fabricated from photographs and family story?  And when does the real narrative begin?

I remember all of third grade.

I remember playing at friends’ houses, sleepovers, sitting under a desk goofing with a classmate.  That is the year I think of as starting true friendships and forming my own separate identity (though I didn’t know it at the time).  That is the year my eldest daughter has just begun.

Four days into school and she asked for her first ‘play date’, though I’m sure that term has fallen out of fashion with her set.  She and her friend had already arranged it on their bus ride home one afternoon; it was just up to the adults to assent once they’d filled us in.  She’d had her first sleepover at this girl’s house last year (her one and only thus far save relatives’ houses and no – I wasn’t ready for that), played there once this summer, and gone to the beach with her once.  This was the friend’s first time at our home.

I later realized that I adopted the always-appreciated (on my part) mode of parental supervision my mother employed whenever I had friends over growing up.  There, but not.  Seen, but not noticed.  Moving through, not hovering.  Accessible, but not in your face.  My mom always joined the conversation when drawn in – and usually made some fun comment – but never horned in.  She always made sure we were safe and having fun, but in such a way that made us still feel like we were on our own.  Similar to my mode of relating to young children, which I think I also adopted from my mother: let them come to you when they’re comfortable; don’t force yourself on them.

As my daughter and her friend’s conversation floated in from the adjacent room and later the porch window, I heard the exchanges and tenor of my own third grade days; the way kids talk when there are no adults around, the free and easy language and grown-up cadences because they are the big kahunas with no one else around.  My daughter introduced her friend to her way of life on her own turf; her likes and dislikes, her favorite activities and special belongings.  Her friend got to see how she interacts with her sisters and me and my husband.  She welcomed her into her home, her nest, a secret club of sorts – a level of friendship that can’t be reached at school.

A level of friendship that can’t be reached, I don’t think, until this age, this magic number where our little kids morph even more into distinct little beings.

My daughter and her friend played so nicely.  They were polite.  My daughter didn’t even goad her friend to join her in tormenting her little sisters.  But I sense the shift.  One more step in her leaving the home, one more layer of my baby shed.

I know – not because I’ve mothered a child this age before, but because I’ve been this age before.  I remember it as formative, solid memories in my experience.

She’s on her way.

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