Oh, I am going to admit a dirty little secret. Ready?
Freckles McYoungest and I have been watching old seasons of The Jersey Shore.
Man. I felt filthy just typing that.
It started when we were with Bottled Lightning, and she kind of sort of FORCED US to watch an episode or two. Holy Cannoli. The DRAMA. I couldn’t. Stand it.
We came home to the land of Antenna TV where I guess Freckles watched the rest of the episodes on Hulu or Netflix or something.
I must admit that now–I am fascinated. I honestly have never known people like this. Well, I might have run across them, but I didn’t stick around to see what made them tick.
Now, a couple of episodes into the Miami Season of The Jersey Shore, it’s easy to see who is a kid sowing wild oats:
and who is a frickin’ sociopath.
Favorite quote of the day:
“You stepped on the only toes you had in the house.”
The Situation to Angelina
If you haven’t seen this amazing slice of Americana, let me explain. Approximately half-a-dozen twenty-somethings hang out in a house for a couple of months near the beach and party. Oh yeah. Occasionally they go to a minimum-wage job. Mostly they get drunk and have Drama. (Please note the capital “D”.)
OH BUT LISHA. HOW CAN YOU MAKE FUN OF THESE PEOPLE MAKING DRAMA WHEN YOU WRITE YA AND CHAMPION TEEN DRAMA AND NEVER, EVER MAKE FUN OF IT? EVER.
Thank you for asking.
Teens aren’t manufacturing their drama. There stuff really IS as big as they’re feeling it. First love. Choosing and getting into the right college. Losing your best friend. Standing up to peer pressure. Enlisting in the army. Deciding what to believe in, independent of your parents. Yeah. That’s big.
These guys on the Jersey Shore? They’re stirring up trouble, just so they can feel alive.
So there you have it, writers–the difference between flat characters and ones you can build a story on. You can’t put my characters’ day into a few gifs.
AND THEY NEVER EVEN ACTUALLY GO TO THE BEACH!!!
When Freckles McYoungest was in eighth grade, her Catholic elementary school got a new principal. It was a shame, because the old principal had been there since before Freckles had been born. Mrs. Original Principal had ushered BoyWonder and Bottled Lightning from preschool through their Wonder Years, and we’d hoped she’d shake Freckles’ hand when she received her eighth grade diploma.
BOY, WOULD WE MISS HER.
Because we soon found out that the new principal came from the only diocese IN THE NATION that refused to comply with the National Bishops’ guidelines on sex abuse. You know, about being transparent, educating kids and caretakers about safety, advocating for kids and not protecting the perpetrator, stuff like that.
That is a sign of CONSERVATISM in the extreme.
And so the weekly newsletters came home with inspirational stories about martyrs torn to pieces by wild beasts and how Caesar wore their intestines as a belt, and the virginal peasant girl who refused to let the duke kiss her hand so he flayed her alive for Jesus, or whatever. WITH XEROXED HOLY CARDS.
Yes, yes, but when are the high school entrance exams?
Then the day came when she went too far.
Our small but well-kept library, due to the efforts of our excellent, no-guff school librarian, had one copy of…
The Golden Compass.
It would have escaped the attention of Principal Throwback if The Parent hadn’t complained.
Well, hysteria on Principal Throwback’s part.
She sent home a three-page *special edition* newsletter on why she was removing the book from the library. But why stop there? She banned kids from bringing the book to school. She also urged us not to allow our children to read the book, or any book of Phillip Pullman’s, because he was an ATHEIST. And she attached reviews from Commonsense Media, and other documentation to prove his atheism.
As I read through the papers, hairs stood up on the back of my neck.
I asked Freckles’ if she’d heard about it–she hadn’t. I gave her the papers. I know. I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to do that. Phone calls were made. By Freckles. And other children whose mothers do things they’re not supposed to.
Enter a girl I will call Fleur. A genius kind of girl, a leader, with spiffy parents. She had read Golden Compass, and was not at all pleased with being told what she could and could not read. And that atheists were dangerous. Also, that the eighth graders were too weak-willed to use their own brains.
Oh yes, you would love to know this girl.
The libraries and book stores–new and used, were cleaned out.
Because every eighth grader carried around a copy of The Golden Compass at that school. All day. For weeks. And none of the teachers stopped them.
How many read it? Probably not many.
But they could if they wanted to.
Bottled Lightning is home.
Freckles McYoungest has finished her sophomore year.
I try desperately to stick to my writing schedule.
This is what happens.
Last night I get a text from Bottled Lightning:
mom i have the sleepieeeeez but im in class 😦
She’s 21, in college about a thousand miles from here. But if she’s bored, she can get in touch with her mommy anytime, anywhere.
I THINK THIS IS WEIRD.
When I went to college, all of 90 miles away, I did not communicate with my parents until Christmas. My mother even sent me a letter once with a pre-stamped postcard that asked me to “check here if you’re alive”.
Okay, maybe I carried it a little too far.
However, if I got in a scrape, I had to figure my way out of it. Now our kids can call their parents to tell them what to do. Unfortunately for my Unholy Trio, I often won’t.
One of my proudest moments as a mother was when Freckles McYoungest had some sort of conundrum, (I don’t even remember what it was), and I told her I wasn’t going to figure things out for her. She sighed and said, “I know. You’re going to talk me through it so I do it myself.”
I did text Bottled Lightning back:
And turned my cell phone off.
Okay, all you parents who are easily offended, line up. You are about to get schooled.
There seems to be two types of parents these days. We’ve got the morons who pay absolutely no attention to their kids, figure their responsibility to their spawn ended the day they plopped them out.
I’m not talking to you. Your kind has always been around, and should be euthanized immediately.
No, the kind I want to talk to have some hope of being salvaged, because most (certainly not all) have their children’s best interest at heart. So open your ears, suckers–message coming in:
Holy Mother of Perpetual Motion, how do you think your kids are going to mature into independent adults if you don’t let them experience life on their own? If you structure their days, make their decisions, keep them safe every moment and never let them take a risk, how do you expect them to grow up?
This year, I have:
Met a 16yr old boy who didn’t know how to pump gas.
Encountered innumerable 16yr old boys whose curfews were 11pm or even 10pm. On a weekend?
Been inspected by scores of parents, who don’t trust their children’s judgment on whether our family maintains a safe environment.
Honest to Stinky Pete, when do you think your kid will learn to rely on himself? College? Because let me tell ya Stella, by then, it’s too late.
If you want your kid to make good choices when he/she goes to college, be a good judge of character, have street smarts, know how to think on his/her feet, be able to take care of him/herself–then your kid has to start doing it a lot sooner than the week before they leave for Wotsommata U.
We live in an area where the kids can walk to an ice cream store, dime store, toy store–and that’s just what we let our kids start doing with a friend at the age of 10.
When they were 12, they could go to a different movie in the cineplex than the parents went to.
14, we dropped them off and picked them up from the cineplex.
15, they could stay out at supervised friend’s homes until 11:30. I trusted THEM to tell me if the parent was present, and if there was any nefarious activity going on. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t talking to them, watching them, inspecting the house from the car when I picked them up. PARENTS, JUST BECAUSE YOU DON’T HEAR FROM ME, DOESN’T MEAN I’M NOT PAYING ATTENTION. I know what a drunk kid looks like, or a high one. Come on. I grew up in the ’70s.
16, they were driving. Boy, did their world open up. Bottled Lightning drove a carload of friends to Fort Scott for a ghost tour at Halloween. And she drove them to Omaha for a day trip to the zoo. Yes, I let her do this. The friends’ parents let them go. And today, they are all brilliant, self-sufficient college students, world travelers. Freckles McYoungest has laid out her proposals for road trips to me. When they have come to fruition, I will let you know.
Heck, the first summer after his freshman year of college, Boywonder cranked up his 30yr old Honda Civic and tooted off to Gettysburg for the big Battle re-enactment. His Missouri unit backed out at the last minute so he drove, literally 1,000 miles, without knowing a soul. He met up with some North Carolinians and had a great time. BECAUSE MY KIDS KNOW HOW TO MAKE THEIR WAY ON THEIR OWN.
So Helicopter Parents? Please. I’m beggin’ you.
This is the Hairy Beast that lives with us. (Like the kids, I don’t want to compromise her privacy by revealing her true name.) She is totally devoted to me and the crumbs that I drop. She follows me around, hides under my feet–I am her mama, through no fault of my own.
Our first dog, Sandy, (God rest her omnivorous soul) was the kids’ dog. She played with them, towed them on their sleds, ran their obstacle courses, burrowed in their clean clothes, ate their vegetables under the table, hunted Easter eggs, slept with them…
I swear, this is going to come around to writing.
Bottled Lightning came home this weekend for the first time since Christmas. We were all very happy-pappy to see her. We hugged and kissed her on the front sidewalk. And Hairy Beast spied her through the glass of the storm door.
She tore out the front and ran down the steps making a sound I’d never heard before. Something like a whine and a yip and a shriek.
I swear to you, she sounded like she was greeting someone she thought had died.
She wiggled and jumped and went on and on and on. We were astonished, because while she had always been friendly to Bottled Lightning, she had never seemed—swoonish.
What I’d failed to consider was that even the minor players of our family story have an inner life. JUST LIKE IN OUR WRITING.
Hairy Beast’s inner life goes unnoticed most of the time, which is the way it should be. She’s a dog. But this one time, her emotions overwhelmed her. And made us feel our own joy even more.
Hairy Beast’s spontaneous outburst reminded me that minor characters aren’t just filler. While they might be there to support the plot or the main character, the writer must consider them individuals with their own thoughts, feelings and backgrounds.
Catler lives with us too.
She has taught me a very important lesson also:
Keep a look-out.
The guy who invented this:
died last month. Hans Beck, aged 79.
Bow your heads, moms and dads, for a man of brilliance.
Boywonder and Bottled Lightning own the above systems and a great many of their accoutrements. Freckles McYoungest had an American Doll instead. What a mistake. I shudder to think of the fracas that is coming when it’s time to divide up the “good” toys. Sweet Mary Malone in the Morning. It’s gonna be a rumble.
If there’s one type of toy that every one of them loooooved it was Playmobil. And each kid used the sets in their own unique way.
Boywonder set up the fort with the soldiers and Indians and horses in tableaus of impending horror. At that point right before the bloodshed began. A raised tomahawk. A gun across a saddle. Later he added prospectors off in a gully, the stagecoach racing for the fort. He set the scene around his room and then we all tiptoed among the frozen story for weeks, until it was time to nestle each piece back in the box.
Bottled Lightning told me (after she had grown up) that she almost fainted when Santa brought her dollhouse when she was five. With joy, I’m guessing. Her method of “play”–if you can call it that–was to set everything up where it belonged. Beds in bedrooms. Table and chairs in dining room, knives forks and spoons in correct drawers, etc. Like an inventory. NO ONE WAS TO TOUCH A THING. EVERYTHING WAS WHERE IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE AND GOD HELP THE CHILD THAT CAME TO THE HOUSE AND WANTED TO–GASP–PLAY! WITH THE DOLLHOUSE!!!
Freckles McYoungest came along after Bottled Lightning had outgrown the dollhouse. Bottled Lightning was persuaded to let her little sister borrow it, after being appropriately bribed. Freckles had those little jointed figures running and riding in the car and sleeping on the roof. They flew on the carpets, baked dinner for Indians, (who visited from the fort one day, for God’s sake, don’t tell Boywonder,) and held extremely animated conversations. They changed their aprons and hats. The mom became the maid. (Wonder where she got that idea.) The dog talked. Or barked. Or sang. (And often had to poop. Loudly.)
So thank you, Hans Beck. I think you helped me raise an engineer, a statistician, and a storyteller.
Rest in Peace.
I have returned from taking Bottled Lightning back to school.
If you’re going to be driving through the Texas panhandle on I-40, here’s a few tips:
1. Have an air conditioner.
2. If you don’t have an air conditioner, don’t go in August.
But DO go. There are some really iconic stops on either side of Amarillo.
On a long trip, the four most beautiful words in the english language are: “Rest Area 1 Mile”. There’s a doozy of a rest area east of Amarillo that is fueled by its own wind turbine. Like a maverick that escaped the herd at the wind farm.
And speaking of herds, roll up your windows when you pass the humongous feedlots. Unless you want to kill most of your alveoli. Yes, I know you’ve smelled dog doo or perhaps even the odd cow pie, but believe me, you have no idea. The stench that breaks loose from a feed lot is sentient.
And speaking of alveoli…
Okay, I can’t think of a smooth segway from lung sacs to the largest cross in the western hemisphere, complete with stations of the cross, empty tomb and gift shop for your convenience.
And last but not least, the fabulous CADILLAC RANCH. Here it is at its installation:
And to see how it looks today……….
Please refer to Imaginal Realm’s banner.
And if you know what today’s blog title refers to, I award you the official certification of Austin City Limits Watcher.
My daughter, Bottled Lightning is home.
She spent a month in the Land of the Rampant Cow and Pungent Streets.
India, that is.
Bottled Lightning is not your typical middle child. She always has a goal, an adventure or a cause that she’s working on.
I’ve often wondered if she was switched at birth.
Even when she was a child, she was always busy. When she was two she was forever cutting things out of construction paper. What they were…well, she knew what they were, even if we didn’t. She collected cicada skins and glued them to cardboard in the attitude of an invading army. She trained the dog to jump a course like a horse.
This year she brought school supplies to El Salvador. Spearheaded a girl-trip to Hawaii in three days. Built a house in New Orleans. Canyoned in Switzerland. Made super-deluxe A+ grades in college and worked two jobs.
And she’s not on amphetamines. Or even coffee.