I can’t believe my baby is 17 today. This one’s for you Miss Molly.
Life With a Party Girl
By Jean Reidy
(originally published in FamilyFun August 2003)
“Mom, if I have the ‘Winter Beach Bash’ birthday party, can my friends still sleep over?” Molly, my nine-year-old, asks.
“Huh?” I’m studying the pantry shelves hoping for divine dinner inspiration.
“You know – more friends, no sleepover; fewer friends, sleepover.” She reminds me of my birthday “sanity-saver” rule.
“Oh.” I answer. She follows me to the cookbooks. I pull The 20-Minute Chef from the shelf. She ponders this briefly.
“Hmm. If I do have the beach party, can you and I make the ‘Smiling Sun’ cake?”
I’m trying to focus on “Quick Chicken Chimichangas,” but in my face, Molly waves a magazine cutout of a yellow-frosted, triple-layered, sugar-crystalled concoction with a licorice smile and perfect, triangular rays. A cake, I know, this 20-minute chef could recreate only with the help of Julia Child and Pythagoras.
“I can’t think about that now, Honey.”
She ignores me. “I think I will have the ‘Beach Bash,’ and invite maybe ten friends. We can all wear swimsuits. It’ll be so much fun.” She skips from the room humming “Happy Birthday.”
Should I be fretting about throwing that beach party in land-locked Denver, or baking that complicated cake, or listening to ten little girls shrieking “Surfin’ Safari,” or the fact that Molly’s birthday is in January, so sending them all outside to burn off their “Smiling Sun” sugar high, under the smiling sun, is unlikely? Of course not. I’m calmly pouring rice.
You see, Molly’s birthday is 335 days away.
But that makes no difference to her. She’s got birthday on the brain. Good thing her Mom doesn’t share her obsession. After all, someone has to cook dinner.
Molly is my youngest. When my oldest was born the day after Christmas, I was determined to not lose his birthday amid the trees and tinsel. So I hosted home-based extravaganzas – Astronaut Adventure parties, Mystical Magic parties, Cartoon Carnival parties – with that neurotic touch of “first child mommy mania.”
When my second was born a year and a half later, the parties continued, now for two children. But my enthusiasm was tempered by two-child fatigue and time challenges. Still, I hosted Dinosaur Dig parties, Backwards Blast parties and, scaling back, a recycled Mystical Magic party. The gap from December to May gave me time to catch my breath and scrape frosting from the couch.
My third child, a daughter, appeared in late January (a few years later, that is). By then, I had a repertoire of parties to choose from. I threw in a Tea Party and I was set. No one cared that the crowns from the King Arthur party became favors at the Princess party. Or that the Magic Hat looked a little frayed around the brim. Or that the magic rabbit had that “not again” look in his eyes. I was on party autopilot.
So when Molly came along on January 11th, my post Christmas curriculum was like a birthday assembly line. Crank out the party. Check it off the calendar. I had reached birthday burnout.
But this child would hear nothing of my mechanical methodologies. Ever since she could talk, she planned her birthdays with gusto. At an age when most kids worried about their next trip to the potty, Molly worried about her next trip to Party Planet.
She eyed the “Arthur” plates for her third birthday the day before her second. We bought the piñata fish for her fifth birthday so early, that in the months preceding, she practically cuddled the tissue gills right off. She flew reconnaissance through her siblings’ astronaut parties, and at eight-years-old announced, “They’re not for me.”
This year is no different. And while she plans and dreams of her surfside soiree’, she begs me to dream along with her. I cement both feet in the reality of the calendar and dismiss any discussion of Beach Bingo. I want to write off her focus as a kid’s slightly distorted view of the universe. And I internalize a litany of excuses like, “I’m shielding her from an unhealthy sense of self-importance,” or “If I don’t think about her birthday I’ll preserve her childhood,” or the well-worn, universal favorite, “I’m just too dang busy.”
My day planner scolds me through Valentine’s Day and soccer season. But by the time we make it to Summer, swim team, and the FamilyFun birthday issue, Molly has a blueprint for seashell and streamer placement.
In a weak moment, sometime between the last tennis match and the first saxophone lesson of the year, she breaks me. She has designed her invitations — bright umbrellas and beach balls under a smiley sun that nags from a bubble, “Are you ready for Molly’s Birthday Beach Fun?”
Ready? Of course I’m not ready. It’s five months away. I’ve got to get through Fall first. And it’s only a birthday. Birth day. I look at her happy, honey-colored eyes, her over four-and-a-half-foot tall body and her masterfully rendered invitation, and remember that it was nearly ten years ago.
The day my heart doubled and the rest of life stood still, once again. And I rediscovered the profound joy for which moms like me, with Sesame Street vocabularies, find so few words. The day that tired clichés, like “the miracle of birth,” exploded with meaning and I clung to them like I clung to
the baby in my arms.
Just when I thought I couldn’t love another child as much, along came one I couldn’t possibly love more. Like the others, a child that could never be replicated. Not her round, glowing face. Not her warm, buttery hands. Not her huge, happy heart.
And at that moment, I remember just how important a day a birthday is. Whether December 26th or May 13th or January 22nd … or January 11th. A day that should represent a year of celebration. A day well worth a perfect plan. A day well worth…
I know then, that if I’m not on Molly’s birthday bus, she’ll leave without me. I want to hop on board. After all, it won’t stop here forever. So, I help her check her spelling and leave blanks for the date and time. We scour party catalogs and discuss the downside of hauling sand to the basement.
By the first day of school, she is six names into her ever-changing guest list and I remember her original birth day guests – Dad pretzling gigantic arms around her tiny self, siblings munching McDonald’s near her hospital crib and slobbering her with ketchup kisses, grandmas pumping their needles wildly in a kind of baby blanket “knit-off.” And over us all, grandpas showering blessings from heaven above.
For that one day, she was the most important person on Earth.
And now, I wish I could slow Earth’s revolution round the Sun, conjure the ancient Egyptians and recreate a calendar full of January 11ths.
But I can’t. And the rest of life takes over. And I settle for one day – and succumb to the magic of the dreams and the plans.
So as Molly’s birthday draws near, we’ll ferret out beach balls among Fall merchandise. We’ll cull our seashell collection. We’ll dust off the “Endless Summer” CD. We’ll debate the practicality of sand in the basement. We’ll trick or treat. We’ll stuff the turkey. We’ll sing a Christmas carol or two. And come January 11th, we’ll be ready. We’ll shiver into our swimsuits, embark on a “Surfin’ Safari,” lick the crumbs from a Smiling Sun, and we’ll celebrate our little girl, who so beautifully reminds us – and reminds us, and reminds us – exactly why we celebrate.
One of my favorite golf pros practiced simplicity in his instruction. Rather than giving me twenty-minutes of pointers to think about during my five-second swing, he’d address just a few.
One of his more memorable lessons was when he placed me in perfect body position at address, then backswing, then finish. He had me hold those positions for several seconds each, then repeat the drill over and over. His point was that if you’re in perfect position at the beginning and end of your swing, your club will arc perfectly and you’ll hit the ball cleanly. He was right. With too flat an arc, I’d slice my shots right into the parking lot and with too steep an arc I’d chop up epic chunks of turf.
I’m still a hacker, but when I practice those perfect beginnings and endings my shots improve dramatically.
The same holds true for picture books.
So often when a picture book arc feels flat, writers will try to add more action or ramp up the climax. This might work, but often this solution leaves the story feeling confused, hectic or directionless. The arc rises too sharply.
Instead you might try to explore your beginning and endings to achieve that perfect arc. Here are some questions to ask of your story:
What sets the story in motion? What’s your catalyst? Is it clear? Is it special?
What’s your main character’s story problem? Is it clear from the start? Is it weighty enough? Will kids relate to it? Does it feel like a true obstacle?
What motivates your main character? Motivation often uncovers just the right trigger to start your story.
Does your ending tie to your beginning? Does it surprise? Does it disarm? Does it evoke emotion?
Even though the ending is known after the first read, will it still satisfy with subsequent reads? Will it satisfy a kid?
Picture books have a lot to accomplish in so few words – kind of like the five-second golf swing. If you start and finish in perfect form, there’s a good chance your story arc will score well with your young readers.
Join the adventures of middle-grade matchmaker Polly in this fun and funny new novel written by my darling critique buddy, Lindsay Eland. SCONES AND SENSIBILITY is available TODAY – just in time for those lucky girls on your Christmas list.
10. She represents picture book authors. 9. She’s a hands-on, editorial agent. Nothing goes out until it’s perfect. 8. She loves my projects – not all, but most. 7. She gently nudges me in the best direction for my career. 6. She responds to my e-mails by the end of the day. 5. She knows the business and targets submissions with expert precision. 4. She treats all my ideas with great respect. 3. She considers her clients one big family – we have our own Yahoo group. 2. She holds an annual retreat for her clients.
And the #1 reason why I love my agent … 1. She’s a lovely and lovable person – kind, considerate and fun.
Free critiques of select PB manuscripts – including those wretched rhymers (Yup, 3 of my upcoming PBs are written in verse!
It begins December 14th, and I’ve changed up the format a bit. Here’s how it will work:
Sign up for a critique by entering your PB WORKING TITLE in the comment section of this blog post anytime (midnight to midnight Mountain Time) on December 14th. Titles submitted before or after December 14th will not be considered.
I’ll throw all titles into a hat and pick 1 for critique. Please note, I’m only picking one so as not to dilute the auction value of my critique offered at the Bridget Zinn Auction. To up your chances of winning a critique, why not check out the auction too.
Keep in mind:
* Manuscripts must be 1000 words or less.
* I accept only fiction.
* Level of detail in the critique will vary based on my impression of the caliber of the writing.
* Please understand that I’m not an editor and will not be providing line-editing of your work. My critique will be comprised of suggestions for improving your manuscript. So please send me your most polished piece.
* The critique winner must e-mail me his/her manuscript as a Word attachment upon announcement of the winner. Manuscripts will be kept completely private. When I receive the manuscript, I’ll let the author know when they can expect my critique.
* As with any art form, likes and dislikes are entirely subjective. Please understand that my critiques are only one reader’s/writer’s opinion. It’s always wise to seek feedback from a few different readers. If my ideas resonate with you, they’re yours to use. If you disagree, I encourage you to compare my comments with those of other readers. But in the end, it’s your book. Stay true to your vision.
I look forward to reading your work. Jean P.S. For little “fashionistas” everywhere- TOO PURPLEY! – Preorder it now!
Bridget’s friends have done it again. Please check out the online auction – Bridget Kicks Cancer – for my fellow author and librarian Bridget Zinn.
From the auction website:
“All proceeds from this auction will go to Bridget Zinn and Barrett Dowell. Bridget is a 32-year-old author and librarian who was diagnosed with colon cancer last February. She and Barrett, who have been together since they were teenagers, were married in the hospital just minutes before she went into surgery to remove a large tumor on her colon. She is now undergoing expensive treatment to shrink – and we hope obliterate – additional tumors. The treatment is working, but much of it is not covered by her health insurance. Bridget & Barrett’s friends and family are rallying to help them pay the bills so that they can focus on Bridget’s health.“
I’m excited to be participating again. Bid to win an autographed F&G of TOO PURPLEY! OR a picture book manuscript critique from me OR other great items and services including books, toys, art, jewelry, critiques, home items and more.