Thursday, July 5, 2018

Why We Need Darkness in YA Literature

I buy books for my sons. I read reviews and get recommendations and thrust books into their hands and walk away. I don’t generally pre-read the books before I give them to the boys.

Every now and then (and a lot more often, lately) my kids will give a book back to me and insist that I read, too, because it was “so good.” I always want to know when they love something and why they love it, so I push it to the top of my TBR pile and dive in. 

Ya’ll, YA is dark AF. 

Let me break that down: 

Ya'll = I apologize for culturally appropriating “ya’ll” as I was raised in NY and live in Ohio and have no right to it. But in my defense, my Grandmother lived in West Virginia and my second mother grew up in West Virginia so I grew up hearing the word at home on occasion. Plus, please also consider that my best friend currently lives in West Virginia and gave me permission to use it. To be honest, there is no better word to refer affectionately to a group of people. 

YA = Young Adult literature, geared for readers aged 13-18 but enjoyed by all ages. 

is Dark AF = smoking, drinking, pornography, lying, death—things I did not think my son was ready to read about and yet were contained in the book I bought my son. 

But this is the world he lives in. I can’t protect him from the darkness of the world. And I shouldn’t try to. He’s going into high school this year. He needs these stories.

The truth is that my lectures don’t have as much value as I wish they did—and I pride myself on my very fine lecturers. I’ve had a lot of very useful experience with the darkness in life and I want my kids to benefit from the wisdom I’ve accumulated without having to experience it themselves.

And this is why we need drunk driving accidents in books about baseball. This is why all the darkness is necessary.  I can tell my kids that my brother’s best friend died in a drunk driving accident, but they don't know what that feels like. I can talk to them about standing up to peer pressure, but my lecture won’t allow them to vicariously explore both acquiescing and resisting a friend inviting them to make a terrible decision. Literature can. 

They can place themselves inside a story, enter through the protagonist’s eyes, cry if they need to as they turn the pages. (I certainly do.) And they can get an idea of what the stakes really are in life. They can feel how the world breaks your heart in a million different ways, but one step removed.

Whether they are ready for that or not, heartbreak is barreling down at them in a thousand forms—some tiny, others monumental. And maybe books will help my kids be a bit more ready for it when it hits.  Oh, that’s unrealistic to hope for, I know. Maybe these stories will show them that in the end, no matter how much it feels like grief will overwhelm you, eventually you go on. 

Friday, June 29, 2018

My Son is Starting High School as a 12-Year-Old and I’m Not Scared at All

OK, maybe I’m a little scared, I can’t lie. But overall, I’m a lot more comfortable with the idea than I ever imagined I would be.

I hadn’t planned on grade-skipping my son.  My son’s September birthday meant that he was already young for his grade.  Here in Ohio, the cut-off date for kindergarten varies by district—anywhere from August 15th to September 30th —so many kids in his class were already a full year older than him. But when we switched from a self-contained gifted school to the public school down the street, we didn’t have much choice.

The problem was math. Full disclosure—I hate math. Math makes me cry, but luckily computers have made it so that the amount of math I have to do in my head is practically zero. My son, however, loves math. It’s his favorite thing. He loves it so much that in 4th grade he worked independently and completed two years of math in one school year, and the school already had an accelerated program. Therein lied the problem—he was now going into 7th grade but taking 10th grade math, which my local school couldn’t figure out how to fit into his schedule.

The conversation went like this:
Gifted Coordinator: Can he just repeat Algebra? 
Me: No. He got an A+ in Algebra. He can’t sit through the exact same class again. 
Gift Coordinator: I don’t know how to make his schedule work. 
Me: Gifted students fall under special needs protection. You have to figure it out.

A few days later she called back again, and asked if we wanted to discuss whole-grade acceleration. There’s a long and involved process for grade skipping, it turns out. The child has to place two grade levels above the current grade (not just one), and there are lengthy conferences about all the dynamics in play: sports, siblings, physical stature, and emotional maturity.

The middle school principal asked,
“How will you feel next year, when he’s sitting in math class next to sixteen year olds, able to overhear their conversations?”
I had no good answer—because that was something I did worry about tremendously.
In the end, though, after reading everything I could find online, taking to every adult I knew who grade-skipped as a child or grade-skipped their own child, and talking with all my teacher-friends, we decided to go for it.

I will admit that my eyes misted up watching my eleven-year-old walk into school at the start of his eighth grade year—I was so afraid that the world would break my  son’s spirit. A year later, we all agree that it was the right decision.

Here are my takeaways from our year:

The first comments most people make about grade-skipping is in regards to athletics. First of all, I never planned on raising a professional athlete. There is nothing wrong with professional athletes, but raising one was never a personal goal of mine. That being said, my son had played baseball since he was seven, so I spoke with my son’s little league coach (who is also the high school varsity baseball coach) before I decided to grade-skip my son. It turns out, his daughter had grade-skipped as well.

“There are more academic scholarships than athletic scholarships,” he said. “You should always grade-skip. He’ll be fine in baseball.”
Now, I don’t know if he’ll make the freshman baseball team, but he is currently holding his own on the 14-year-old travel team as a 12-year-old.  Size definitely matters, but so does heart, focus, and the desire to work hard. He was a top player on the team for his actual age, and is still near the top of his current roster. Besides, if all else fails, he can continue to run cross-country—a multi-grade sport with no try-outs—and play baseball for the rec department team.

Gym class was fine. He likes sports, and has played a variety of them since he was little, so he’s pretty coordinated. He was never last-picked for a team—but then again, kids weren’t allowed to pick teams in gym class at his school. The only issue he had in P.E. was getting from the third floor to the gymnasium in four minutes.

Social Needs
Some kids treat him as a peer, and some kids treat him as a little brother/mascot, but so far, no one has bullied him.  On the first day of school, another student saw him eating alone, and pulled him into his group. My son now has as many friends at the new school as at the old one.

He’s managed to find kids with similar interests and emotional maturity in his new grade-level. While I worried a lot about dating, drugs, etc., it hasn’t been an issue.
Kids hit puberty at different ages no matter what grade they are in, and he’s not the only one of his friends who isn’t much interested in dating yet. He may not have slow danced with anyone at the formal but he wasn’t the only one who didn’t, and he still had an awesome time.

My son got all As and one B+ this year—he didn’t struggle with the work. The only place where the age-gap created a problem was in Health class—he was a little young for the subject matter. Even though he was uncomfortable, he had to get through it.
He’s going to need to know about relationships, drugs, and healthy sexuality going into high school, no matter how young he is. And that class spawned a lot of awkward conversations between the two of us—conversations that we needed to have before high school and I was shirking on.

Here’s the thing—middle school isn’t only filled with sweet young children eager to learn. He’s already witnessed other students acting out and experimenting with risky behavior, and he knows where he stands, and who he wants to stand next to. He’s more sure of who he is now than he ever has been before, and that’s a great place to be as a Freshman.

So now that my 12-year-old has survived eighth grade, I don’t have as many fears for high school. He’s got a group of friends that I both like and trust. I know he can handle the academics, and he’s got as good a shot as anyone in making the freshman baseball team. Whole grade acceleration may not be right for everyone, but so far, it’s worked out well for our family.

First Appeared June 29, 2018 on Modern Parents, Messy Kids.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Special Announcement

Caption by Big Pants

I am so excited to announce that Skyhorse Publishing has signed my second book, Mama, Mama, Only Mama! Stories, Blogs, and Hacked Recipes for the Newly Single Mother for release in early 2019!

Book description: 

Being a single mother means relaxing your cleanliness standards. A lot.

Being a single mother means missing your kids like crazy when your ex has them, only to want to give them back ten minutes after they come home.

Being a single mother means accepting sleep deprivation as a natural state.

Being a single mother means hauling a toddler, a baby and a diaper bag while wearing high heels and a cute skirt, because you never know when you’ll meet someone.

Being a single mother means finding out you are stronger than you ever knew was possible.

Since birth, Lara Lillibridge’s children wanted, “Mama, Mama, Only Mama!” whether they were tired or just woke up from a nap—whether they were starving or had just finished a bowl of goldfish crackers. Over ten years later, not much has changed. 

Written in the style of a diary with blogs, articles and recipes tucked between the pages, Mama, Mama, Only Mama follows Lara Lillibridge and her two children, Big Pants and Tiny Pants, out of divorce, through six years of single parenting, and into the family blender with a quasi-stepfather called SigO. Complete with highly useful recipes such as congealed s’more stew, recycled snack candy bars, instant oatmeal cookies and a fine chicken casserole that didn’t pass Tiny Pants’ “lick test,” Lillibridge grows into her role as mother, finds true love, and comes to terms with her ex-husband. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

New Blog

You may have noticed that I haven't been posting here much lately. OK, not once all year.
That's because I've moved over to which is much more professional sounding and has the bonus of being harder to spell and remember. 

I'm keeping this blog alive because it makes me happy, and I just may come back and post here again, once I get over the embarrassment of abandoning it for so long. 

Moving, Only-Mama style

Monday, December 7, 2015

Travel Brochure by Tiny Pants


Tiny Pants had to make a travel brochure for school this weekend. It was supposed to be about his home town, but it did allow for “any other place” or something. Tiny chose West Virginia. 

I felt this was a bit of an odd choice, since we live in Ohio, and he travels frequently to both Florida and Illinois.  Yes, I go to school in West Virginia, but Tiny has only been there once. 

Mama:  Why West Virginia? 
Tiny Pants:  It’s the only state I can draw.

Well, that clears up one mystery. 

His brochure proclaims: Wet, Wet, Wet, West Virginia. 

Mama: West Virginia is wet?
Tiny Pants: Yes.
Mama:  Are you sure?
Tiny Pants: Yes. 
Mama: You aren’t thinking, Wild, Wonderful West Virginia?
Tiny Pants: It’s wet, Mama.  Wet like a hurricane.
Mama:  Hurricane?
Tiny Pants: Yes. 
Mama:  Are you sure?
Tiny Pants: Yes. 

I kind of think this homework was for Social Studies, not Art and Imagination. But, you know, maybe he knows something I don’t. I’m not in the mood to argue. For all my friends in WV, to be on the safe side, I recommend you buy an umbrella. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Oh, Santa, I'm Sorry.

I took Big Pants and Tiny Pants downtown to see Santa, as I do every year. We take the train (which is quite possibly slower than driving, but more fun) but I messed with tradition just a little to take use a different station. The new one was closer, however it did smell like pee on the first floor and patchouli on the second floor. Big Pants voiced that in the decision of weird odor versus shorter drive I chose poorly, and I believe he made a valid point. 

I watched the children closely, because I have a feeling that this is the last year my kids will both still "believe." Tiny Pants wanted to know if the Santa we saw was an elf from the North Pole (my excuse for how Santa is in every mall across the country on the same day) or just a grown up in a costume. I asked him what he thought because I am the queen of avoiding difficult questions.  Big Pants was quick to interject a theory about oversized elves that seemed well thought-out and plausible. Big Pants, who is old enough to hate being called Big Pants, still finds Santa completely rational. As I type this, he is working on a science fair project involving the laminar flow of air and other principles of physics I really only halfway follow, yet he blindly accepts Santa. 

I’m starting to worry just a little that I’ve let it go on too long. At what point do I say something? Or, is it possible that he knows full well about Santa and is just trying not to disappoint me? 

Nope. Big Pants was a little awed by Santa. He was a bit intimidated to say what he really wanted for Christmas, but I gave him a nudge and he told Santa that he really wanted for Christmas - a DNA test. 

I’m not sure Santa understood that Big Pants wanted to learn whether his relatives really came from Germany as they claim, or if they are, as he suspects, Secret Lithuanians. Santa looked at me like perhaps I wasn’t a very choosy mom. 

Luckily, when Tiny Pants was reading his list to Santa, he substituted “real-looking rabbit stuffed animal” for “taxidermy rabbit” as he had written down. I’m not sure he could have handled DNA tests and dead animals in the same photo session. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Tiny Pants Makes an Unexpected Request For Christmas

I haven’t been posting here that much lately, mainly because I am not all that funny, and as the kids get older, they stubbornly refuse to provide me with free material. But every now and then, they still give me something worth sharing. 

Tiny Pants is making his Christmas list, because all he wants to do is shop and he’s making me crazy, so I told him to write Santa and stop bothering me. (I’m good at parenting like that.) 

So on his list there are a bunch of regular toy-type items that one would expect. But then we came to the One Thing He Wants Most of All. 

Tiny Pants:  Mama, can we get a live rabbit?
Mama: No. 
Tiny Pants: What do you call an animal that died and they stuff them?
Mama: Taxidermy?
Tiny Pants: Yeah, that’s it. That’s what I want most of all. A taxidermied rabbit. Can I google them?
Mama: Uh, yeah.
 (I was sitting next to him to make sure he didn't get anything to gruesome, for the record.)

Tiny then copied and pasted an image into his Christmas list, but he isn't exactly a pro at resizing, so the image is now stretched and flattened in a most unappealing way. 

I’ll have to let you know what Santa says when we visit him on Saturday. 

Footnote: At his age I did have a taxidermied squirrel I slept with every night, until I unwisely left it in my church school classroom and the janitor threw it away. I have to admit he comes by his weirdness honestly. 

P.S. Bonus points go to anyone who can explain why taxidermied is not a real word.