It occurred to me the other day, in between pondering the cryptic lyrics of Boy George’s “Karma Chameleon” song (he claims his dreams are red, gold and green, and that somehow this makes loving easier) and wondering if bacon and peanut butter could be blended together as a tasty treat, that the red line reaction of children, in relation to their age, is amazingly insightful. And that the previous sentence was a VERY long sentence. This sentence is a short sentence.
As the father of three boys, ranging from 6 , to almost 10 (that “almost” is very important and I am reminded on a daily basis), to 12, I am exposed to a variety of age-appropriate concerns, decisions, interests, lexicons, and activities. As a children’s writer, it’s like having my own lab. I have three little experiments running around in my own household Petri dish. No, I am not wearing a lab coat. That’s my robe. I wear a lab coat as a robe. Don’t judge me!
But this week, I took particular notice of those things deemed meltdown worthy. Like “End of Days” worthy…as far as my test subjects, I mean my children, were concerned. And while I calmed the situation, righted the universe, and otherwise defused what we adults might consider trivial or absurd, I allowed myself to look at the world through the eyes of my children. In fact, children’s writer icon, Roald Dahl, in talking about why he wrote what he wrote and why adults were depicted in such exaggerated and often unsavory light, stated, “adults should get down on their knees for a week, in order to remember what it’s like to live in a world in which the people with all the power literally loom over you.”
By looking at the situations through their eyes, it not only helped me in communicating with them about the problem, it helped me further understand the world of that age group; the worlds we, as children’s writers, are expected to traverse and to return, with stories to share. Authentic stories, that illuminate, celebrate, commiserate and validate the plights and perils of our characters and readers. How can we do that if we don’t duct tape our adult minds, shove them in a steamer trunk, and be children again?
Like Peter Pan, the children’s writer does not have to grow up. Should not grow up. Our stories depend on our connection to our inner Neverland.
So, here are the events that brought my children to their knees this week:
- First grade: 1) He was not allowed to consume some mysterious drink from the neighbor’s house that “warmed your neck and made it smooth” (it turned out to be water). Apparently, water from your friend tastes better than water from your own house. 2) After 67 consecutive days of peanut butter and jelly, mom packed him a turkey sandwich. Despite the fact that he likes turkey, turkey sandwiches are not palatable. Ham would have been ok. Lunch meat negotiations are in effect. 3) He was not allowed to wear his psychedelic tie dye frog hoodie (that is too small and too tight anymore) with his bright red pants. There is a circus in town. I was afraid they might hire him away.
- Fourth grade: 1) He is not allowed to play “Grand Theft Auto” even though “ALL” his friends can. Sorry, we don’t endorse games built around felony, prostitution, and gang violence. 2) He is not allowed to stay up as late as his older brother. He has made it quite clear that this age segregation is not at all fair and that he is “almost in middle school.” Two years qualifies as almost. 3) We will not run out and buy him $150 “Lebron X” sneakers so that he can suddenly dunk the basketball while playing a sport he had no interest in until a month ago.
- Seventh grade: 1) His old hair gel would not give him the “perfect spike” 2) His brother left toothpaste glopped up in his sink 3) He had to get off the Xbox before finishing round 27 of some zombie survival round online with his friends. Sorry, school night. The zombies will be there tomorrow.
These were their trials and tribulations, and thus…mine as well. These are the experiences our child protagonists experience, and these are the experiences our readers are familiar with. So, pay attention to the children in your life. Share their woes. Share their anger, angst, and frustration…and then put it to work in your story.