I hate the feeling that I am getting old. It’s not that I feel particularly old, it’s just that there have been moments that make me feel old. When things you love are called “classic”; when an actor or actress you like passes away; when you talk about a memory with someone younger than you and you relive “where you were” at the time, only to have them share that they weren’t even born yet or are too young to remember. It makes you pause.
In my group of close friends, I am the youngest. I am usually on the “younger” end of this. They’ll roll their eyes, call me “Freshman” or say “I forgot, you’re a baby”. To be on the older end, is unsettling, and it happens more and more.
When my daughter Rachael turned 9, we had a sleepover at our house with some of her friends. My friend Sheri stopped by for a bit after work to join the fun, and her daughter Molly was one of the party guests. She came in and said “Hey … I just heard Michael Jackson died!” I gave some sort of response like “No way … I can’t believe it!”. The girls all stopped what they were doing to look at us. Rachael said “Who is Michael Jackson?” Sheri and I looked at each other, in total disbelief, and realized that we either failed as parents, or we were much older than we like to think we are. That was one of the first times I realized I am not as young as I think I am.
There’s another funny story that one day Rach (again) came home from school after a music class and said to me, “Mom … do you know that someone SHOT John Lennon?” She was so upset about this news, and looked confused as to why I was not as shocked and upset as she was. I said “Yeah, baby. That happened a long time ago, I think the late 70’s or early 80’s”. She said “You mean NINETEEN 70’s? Wow!” Um yes … and since I was born in this era, I did not appreciate the emphasis on NINETEEN.
I had another “I am getting old” moment this past week, with the news that Beverly Cleary passed away, at the age of 104.
I was an avid reader when I was a kid. I was awkward, shy and quite the wallflower. Books were my escape. I read all the time. In my bedroom, outside, in the car. I always had my nose in a book. I would even “sneak” reading at night.
In the house I grew up in, our bedrooms were upstairs and my parents would leave the hall light on at night. I would quietly lay across my bedroom floor, using the hall light to read in the dark. If I heard the stairs creak (a sign that my parents were on their way up), I would quickly jump back into bed, and pretend to be asleep. I don’t know if I was as sneaky as I thought I was, but I felt like I got away with this a lot. I remember trying to use a flashlight and read under my covers, assuming my parents wouldn’t see the light. When that plan failed, I resorted to a tactical approach.
I cleaned out the floor of my closet, took my bright pink bean bag chair, the lamp from my desk, some blankets and created a space where I could read. I told my parents it was my “quiet hangout”. At night, I would use my pillow person (his name was Trappers) to make it look like I was sleeping, and I would go into my closet, under a blanket using my desk lamp to read. Pretty sneaky, huh?
I smile now remembering the great lengths that I used to go to, just so I could read. I was, and still am, a lifelong reader and I give a lot of credit to my favorite childhood authors. Beverly Cleary was one of them. I loved the Ramona series, and while I was never brave like she was, I felt the same way she did. And my “annoying older sister, Beezus” was an older brother, so I could relate. I connected with her in so many ways and admired her spirit. She was what I wanted to be. Brave. She inspired me to break out of my shell, and she comforted me when I found myself grounded, which was often.
Ramona Quimby, Pippi Longstocking, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Anne Shirley were some of my favorite characters when I was a kid, and helped shape me into who I am today. They each gave me something that I needed, and their stories helped me get through a lot. I would get lost in their story, compare my own troubles with theirs, and find inspiration in their strength.
After reading ‘The Babysitter’s Club’ I was inspired to start my own babysitting service, and I remember my mom even getting me business cards to help me get started.
After reading ‘The Boxcar Children’, I thought “If they can do it, I can do it” and tried to talk my older brother into running away with me to do just that. Since we had no boxcar in the woods to live in, that plan never came to fruition. Honestly, I don’t know how hard he looked.
It makes me sad that the books that had such a profound impact on my childhood may be getting swallowed up in the noise and distractions kids have today. While my older daughter loves to read as I did, my youngest could care less about picking up a book. She just doesn’t love it like I do, and has other interests.
Thank you, Beverly Cleary, and to all of the authors who helped me through so much. When I was mad at my parents, fighting with my brother, or hiding from my little sister, I had their stories and their families to keep my company. I got lost in their lives and found comfort in their adventures.
We lost a true treasure this past week, but I am thankful that her stories will live on, forever.