Tag Archives: family

Top 10 Life Lessons I Learned from Ramona Quimby

I am often asked about my favorite author.   Children’s author Beverly Clearly, creator of my beloved Ramona series, recently celebrated her 100th birthday, so I was reminded that hers were the first books I truly loved.    While I read everything she wrote–The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Ellen Tebbets, and Henry Huggins to name a few–it was Ramona Quimby and her family that taught me at and early age about family, friendships, and how the world works.   My Top 10 Life Lessons learned from Ramona Quimby:

10.    Bricks make great toys.        As a child of the 70s, I spent my early years wandering outside with my neighborhood friends finding things to do.    Ramona and her sensible neighborhood friend Howie did the same and discovered the game of Brick Factory.     This involved nothing more than using a big rock to crush bricks into dust.

  Ramona brick factory

 I loved this idea.    My friend, Andrea, and I tried this more than once, finding that our modern 70s bricks must have been less crushable than Ramona’s, so Brick Factory never lasted long for us.    But the idea of finding fun in nothing was still inspiring.

9.  Teachers don’t always like their students.   My second grade teacher hated me.   I think my confidence irritated her, and when it showed she was quick to remind me that I wasn’t so smart or creative or funny.    It was a relief to read about Ramona’s stern, humorless teacher whose nylons sagged around her ankles and had no patience for Ramona’s antics.

8.   Toothpaste won’t go back in the tube.   Impulsive Ramona, mesmerized by the unblemished sleekness of a new tube, squeezed the entire thing into the sink.    Only after it was too late did she realize that, obviously, it’s not going back in.   Ramona’s practical mother made her scoop the chalky mess into a plastic bag, and she was a required to dip her toothbrush in the used toothpaste while the rest of the family got a new tube.   As an 8 year old I think I glimpsed the metaphor, because the image of Ramona living with the sticky consequences of her 5 minutes of fun stuck with me.

7.  Working moms are worn out.    My mom was one of the few that I knew who worked full time, so I recognized Dorothy Quimby’s exhaustion.   For Ramona, dinners were late, cookies weren’t homemade, and costumes for the church program were held together by safety pins.   But exhausted or not, moms are always there when you need them the most.

Ramona's mom

 

6.   Parents miss the little details that are oh-so-big in an 8 year old’s life.    “Is my egg hardboiled?” Ramona asked more than once, excited she could participate in the crack-your-egg-on-your-head-at-the-lunch table fad.   Of course it wasn’t, and Ramona was literally left with egg on her face in front of her classmates.   Once again, it was familiar to me as a kid whose mom sometimes missed the details.    But it’s even more relatable now–just ask my daughter who opened her bag at the lunch table to find a half eaten apple, sandwich crusts, and cheese wrappers–yesterday’s lunch, decaying in her bag because this mom forgot to pack a new one.

5.  Curly hair is better than straight.    Plain old straight haired Ramona was always jealous of perfect Susan with her boing-boing curls.    There’s always someone who is prettier, or smarter, or who has better stuff.   It’s the way of the world.

4.   I can still love my awesome new sandals even if no one else does.   Yard Ape told Ramona her feet looked big in her back to school sandals.    She looked down, noted that her feet did look bigger, and took no offense.   Her feet had grown over the summer,  she decided, so this was fact, not insult.    Ramona didn’t let his words crush her soul, or the love of her sandals.

Ramona's sandals

3.   The dark is scary.    Ramona longed for, and was finally rewarded with, her own room.    But that beautiful, coveted room was terrifying after the sun went down.    Ramona’s paralyzing fear, her tightly tucked blankets, and her desperate run for her parents made my own dark and spooky bedroom closet a little less frightening.

2.   Families struggle.    Mr. Quimby lost his job, so Mrs. Quimby had to go back to work.    Ramona fretted as her dad grew surly and started smoking.

Ramona's dad

Her parents bickered over pancakes, and Ramona and Beezus whispered their late night worries of divorce.    And then life went on, arguments forgotten.   Reading about the tribulations of the Quimby family, from the perspective of a second grader, was like peeking through a neighbor’s shutters and seeing that sometimes their lives were hard too.

1.  Joy is in the little stuff.    A little white bag of gummy bears, swinging high enough to kick tree branches, stomping in rain puddles.

Ramona puddles

Ramona taught me to look for simple pleasures and treasures.    Ramona’s life was ordinary, her adventures never extending much past her neighborhood or school, but spending an afternoon with Ramona was as soothing as hot chocolate and a fuzzy blanket.     What a gift to write with such honesty, warmth and humor.    Happy 100th birthday to my favorite author, Beverly Cleary.

 

 

Grateful

Words fail me sometimes, usually when there’s something important to say.    Tonight, on the eve of my book launch, I will try.

I am deeply grateful that a story that I wrote has been published.    Again.   Thanks to North Star press for investing in me a second time.

my book is here!

I am thrilled that my husband’s photo is the cover, and that the young woman on the cover is my daughter, Gracie.  I love to write about family–both biological and chosen–so it is only right that the cover comes from my family.

And speaking of family, I couldn’t have done this without everyone who read, critiqued and proofed multiple drafts of this book.     “Unattached” is so much better because of all the editors and cheerleaders I had along the way.

I also want to thank all the social workers out there who inspired this story.     County social work can be thankless, exhausting, and often invisible.   I write about our work because I want people to understand it.   So today, I also want to thank all my fellow county social workers for the heart and soul they put into their jobs every day.

And finally, thank you to everyone who has read “Unprotected” and will soon read “Unattached.”       Tomorrow, I will begin putting my new novel in your hands, and I will never forget what a privilege that is.

Biology, Chemistry, History…Family

Unprotected ultimately about family, and a young woman’s discovery that there are all kinds of family and many places that can be called home.

–from the back cover of unprotected

I wrote unprotected for many reasons–to vent about my job, to explain child protection, to do something creative–but above all I wanted to explore the meaning of family.

Family is biology–similar hair texture, body types, and tendency toward shyness or humor.  That familiar feeling that comes from looking into someone’s face and seeing your own.

Family is more than biology…it is history and chemistry too.

Family is shared experiences…eating Grandma Sabby’s molasses cookies with lemon frosting for breakfast…Grandma knew that her breakfast table was for anyone who might stop by, not just the relatives.

Family is that intangible connection, the feeling that comes in friendship when we think the same way, laugh at the same jokes, shop for the same boots just a half a size apart.    It is sharing a dorm floor and waiting for each other for dinner every day, even though guys don’t really do that.

Family is green bean hot dish, sunset pontoon rides, traveling across the state just to share the drive.

Family is shared pain, or joy, or grief.  It is lasagnas in the freezer, whoops of glee in the hallways, and tears at the funeral.

Family is caramel sundaes, Mahjongg with home health aides, flying in from New York because it’s important to be there.

Family is covering at work, praying every night, finding a way to bring out a smile.

Family is choice, effort, commitment, and promise.   It is pain, tension, and forgiveness.  It is security, safety, and relief.

Family is the reason that anything else on this earth counts at all.

And on this holiday when I am acutely aware of what I have lost, I am grateful that I have a family that is bigger and stronger than I ever knew.