Tag Archives: childhood

Chat: If Our Daughters Want to Shave Our Heads, We Will Let Them (And other parenting lessons we learned from Will Smith)

Willow Smith shaved her head recently, and when Parade Magazine asked him about it, Will Smith said this:

“We let Willow cut her hair. When you have a little girl, it’s like how can you teach her that you’re in control of her body? If I teach her that I’m in charge of whether or not she can touch her hair, she’s going to replace me with some other man when she goes out in the world. She can’t cut my hair but that’s her hair. She has got to have command of her body. So when she goes out into the world, she’s going out with a command that is hers. She is used to making those decisions herself. We try to keep giving them those decisions until they can hold the full weight of their lives.”

Inspired by Will Smith (a phrase I never in a million years thought I would type), Lauren and Jen talk about setting boundaries and answering tough questions.

Lauren: So, would you let Dorothy shave her head?

Jen:  I shaved my head, when I was 19.

Lauren:  Cooooool.

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Little Victories, Big Celebrations: Parenthood, Praise, and Why I Will Never Be A Tiger Mom.

At 10:45 last night my girls were still wide awake, buzzing with excitement from the ballet recital. They had been in bed for an hour and a half. And by in bed, I mean, climbing the bunk bed ladder to exchange stuffed animals, going back and forth to the bathroom to get drinks of water, spilling the water on their nightstand, running down the hallway to report various concerns and misdeeds to me, and playing with their collection of stuffed birds that whistle and chirp authentic birdsongs when you squeeze them.

It’s been a momentous week here: field day, the last day of preschool, first haircut, dress rehearsal, and then the recital Saturday. We successfully managed teacher gifts and extra babysitting hours and  tricycle races and costumes with very large tutus. I am so proud of them. Of all of us, really.

Lucy zooming around the bend in the tricycle races.

I realize that for people who are not parents, these are exactly the sort of accomplishments that seem silly.

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“Then M. in his plane was just on his way:” RIP Maurice Sendak

Like every Sendak story, “Where the Wild Things Are” explores his preoccupations, chief among which are the vicissitudes of his own childhood, and the temerity and fragility of children in general. His narrative is almost always about a child in danger whose best defense is imagination.

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I love reading Maurice Sendak books with my girls. The transgression, the danger, the nudity. Continue reading

Can somebody refill my magic please?

My younger sister had a baby this week: a beautiful, healthy, baby girl with fuzzy hair. At our house, Margeaux is the baby, but holding my niece, I was struck immediately by two thoughts:

  1. Margeaux is enormous.

Neither of these is exactly true, although Margeaux does have deliciously chunky baby thighs and a round tummy.  Snuggling Paige, I felt a mix of longing and sadness and relief, that I won’t have those newborn moments again.

I don’t miss the sleepless nights, obviously. That kind of physical fatigue is awful, deadening. At our house, it inevitably led to middle of the night shouting matches; when Dorothy was a baby we had to institute a rule that anything we said to one another between midnight and 6 am didn’t require an apology in the morning. We recognized that when 3 am rolls around and it seems like you have been awake forever and it will be dark forever and this night will never end and this baby will never stop crying it is possible that you will shout something like “You will never understand how I feel right now! She’s not latched on to your body 24 hours a day! IT’S LIKE YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE A BABY!”

I don’t miss the physical fatigue. Although Margeuax doesn’t sleep through the night, nursing and cosleeping have been a tremendous relief for me. I’m sure in an alternate universe where I have no children I would be even more well rested, but mostly, I feel okay. I am certainly not stumbling around in an exhausted haze the way I remember doing in those first few weeks. These days, I struggle with a different kind of fatigue. There’s no longer a 24 hour per day demand for my physical presence, but the intensity of their waking hours some days leaves me similarly deadened.

Partly this is because they are too little to have much independence: someone has to make (and clean up) the meals and the snacks, turn on another episode of Dora, get the crayons off the counter, find the stickers, remind them not to run willy nilly in the parking lot, snap the princess dress up dress in the back, tie the ribbon leash on the stuffed giraffe, resolve the dispute over the iguana puppet. I have heard parents say that you shouldn’t get involved, that they need to practice solving their own problems and that conflict will bubble up and blow over whether or not you intervene. Apparently those people’s children are destined to be brokering Mid-East peace treaties while mine are ruling tiny nations as benevolent dictators. My girls fight hard, and they don’t back down.

To be clear: they don’t fight or bicker constantly. They love to play together, and most of their day is spent in a swirl of pretending. “I’m the mama and you are the sweetie,” Dorothy will say, and then they put on hats and drive the laundry basket to the grocery store. Or they are vets taking care of sick animals, bandaging stuffed animal ears and legs with ribbons. Or they are teachers, or pilots, or explorers, or doctors, or princesses, or ballerinas, or some strange combination of the two.  Bathing suit, tutu, and a toy stethoscope? Ballerina doctor. Sparkly dress, sun hat, and backpack? Explorer princess.

The fights spring up out of nowhere: one minute they are happily playing fairy princess school and the next minute they are sobbing and screaming and occasionally even hitting or pushing. I NEED THE GIRAFFE AND SHE HAS THE GIRAFFE AND I AM THE GIRAFFE DOCTOR AND SHE CANT BE THE GIRAFFE DOCTOR GIVE ME THE GIRAFFE NOW NOW NOW! Or this gem from a couple days ago: I PUT MY MAGIC ON THE LADDER AND SHE TOUCHED THE LADDER AND MY MAGIC GOT ON HER AND I AM OUT OF MAGIC AND ITS NOT FAIR!


The sharing disputes are fairly easy to resolve: set a timer, accept that there might continue to be tears until someone loses interest. But ladder magic?

The emotions, the needs, the desires are so intense these days. When they are happy they are overjoyed and when they are sad the world is ending and when they are angry they fling themselves at one another or the floor full force. I’m realizing more and more that my parenting energy is spent helping them learn to manage the tides of their emotions: yes, you are sad that the balloon deflated, let’s acknowledge that and then shift our focus to something that makes you feel happy, like drawig a picture of the balloon. Yes, you are angry, let’s work together to solve this problem. Use your words to say how you feel, ask for help from a grown up, think about how the other person feels too. Can I use my mama magic to refill your magic?

None of this work seems like it should be exhausting, not in the way that actually going without sleep is exhausting.  But at the end of the day, when they are finally tucked in, the relief is tremendous, and the desire to check out mentally with a cocktail and tv is fierce. During their waking hours, I feel held open, spreading myself wide to shelter them, trying to be chef and nurse and peacemaker and traffic cop and chauffeur and teacher and maid and cruise ship activities director, trying to make sure they are whole and healthy and safe and joyful. It’s not that they need me every minute, it’s that the moment of need could be any moment, so I can never really be present or focused on anything else. I am always waiting, listening, watching out of the corner of my eye for tears or danger. By the time bedtime comes and everyone is safe in dreamland, I have so little left. It’s hard to find the energy to be really present in conversation with T, or to focus on a book, or writing, or anything that requires more thought than rum punch and Dancing With the Stars.

Last night at my book club (wine club) a friend whose sons are in high school and college pointed out that although they need you less as they get older, the worries you have are so much bigger. What if they are in a car accident, what if they lose the scholarship, what if they make terrible decisions about drinking or drugs? Thinking about the scope of those fears, I felt grateful for the fights over ladder magic and the pink My Little Pony.

Holding my niece at the hospital, I felt keenly aware of how quickly time passes, how quickly they grow to be chubby crawling babies like Margeaux and then explorer princess doctors like D and Lucy. How can it all happen so fast when the days themselves feel so endless? How can I be more present for them and for me, not caught up in nostalgia for baby days or impatient for the next milestone? Would these issues seem less fraught if I worked less, or more, or if we all went on an epic road trip?

I’d like to spend another hour writing, thinking, but Lucy’s sitting at the other end of the couch drinking chocolate milk, and T is patiently emptying the dishwasher, and it looks like it might be a good morning for a bike ride. Time to pour the next cup of coffee and gather my strength.

If Mama Nervosa were talented photographers instead of bloggers…

“The stress, the chaos, and the need to simultaneously escape and connect are issue that I investigate in this body of work.  We live in a culture where we are both “child centered” and “self-obsessed.”  The struggle between living in the moment versus escaping to another reality is intense since these two opposites strive to dominate.  Caught in the swirl of soccer practices, play dates, work, and trying to find our way in our “make-over” culture, we must still create the space to find ourselves.” Julie Blackmon, Artist Statement

My lifelong friend, Steph, pointed me in the direction of Julie Blackmon’s photography, and rather blew my mind. I love her domestic scenes and I feel like the tensions she explores — between self and child, beauty and chaos, escape and connection — match up so well with the questions and themes we sometimes explore on Mama Nervosa.

“The expectations of family life have never been more at odds with each other.  These issues, as well as the relationship between the domestic landscape of the past and present, are issues I have explored in these photographs.  I believe there are moments that can be found throughout any given day that bring sanctuary.  It is in finding these moments amidst the stress of the everyday that my life as a mother parallels my work as an artist, and where the dynamics of family life throughout time seem remarkably unchanged.  As an artist and as a mother, I believe life’s most poignant moments come from the ability to fuse fantasy and reality:  to see the mythic amidst the chaos.” Julie Blackmon, Artist Statement

Blackmon is one of 9 children and a mother of 3. Her photographs are inspired by the domestic scenes of Jan Steen, a 17th century Dutch painter whose ribald scenes of boisterous families are so archetypical that they actually use the phrase “Jan Steen household” to describe messy homes with kids running everywhere. (So, see, my house is like art.) That she can connect these very modern images to art of the 17th century illustrates her point that family dynamics seem “remarkably unchanged” over time. In other words, our worries and issues aren’t news! But isn’t that intriguing?

Where can I begin with what I love about these images? First, I love the settings: beautiful, stylized interiors that feel like they’re from the past. Any of these interiors could be used for a lifestyle blog, right? They’re gorgeous. But the scenes are scattered and often cluttered (see the patio above — numerous balls, the unfurled hose, the brown grass). It’s confusing and exhilerating: can a beautiful space be messy? Seriously, can it?

These images flirt with danger: a child standing in the high chair that’s supposed to keep him safe so an adult can mop in the next room; a child playing with egg shells; a baby standing on the table. The kids aren’t in obvious danger but considering how paranoid modern culture is about child safety and supervision, they are taboo. Is this benign negligence? What would DHS think about children playing near an open fire while Mom has her head buried in an oversized fashion magazine? What do you think about it?

Adults are peripheral, distracted, and preoccupied in Blackmon’s photos. This reminds me of Jen and I discussing children’s television shows in which parents are absent: we enjoy the idea of the home as child-centered, parents as incidental to the dramas of their lives. Blackmon’s photos focus on the children’s experiences and emotions. Often they are naked, messy, and serious: these are not your professional portraits where kids play grown up; these kids mirror adults in expression and complexity. She does not sentimentalize childhood as particularly joyful, innocent, and magical.

Adults are permitted to be self-focused, even indulgent. We’re interested in, even comfortable with that, but when we discussed these shows on facebook, other parents were disturbed by shows that do not feature parental supervision.

This image is called “playgroup” and look how it focuses on the women’s interactions rather than the children. I know that my playdates/playgroups are organized so I can interact with grownups, with my children’s play incidental to that! At the same time, these adults are infantilized a bit, through the elaborate costume dress of the standing woman and the woman curled up on the ground looking up at her (it’s hard to tell, due to the angle, if she’s a grown up or a kid) and the sprawled legs of the woman on the left mirrored by those of the baby. Aren’t we all playing grown up, kinda? She depicts these adults without judgment. Blackmon isn’t taking a stand about the right or better way to parent, but representing tensions in modern parenting culture.

For balance, here’s “Merry Family” by Jan Steen:

I could go on and on analyzing and commenting on these images. What do you think?

YA Lit of Yesteryear

This week, Jen and I chatted about YA literature we loved in our youth, mostly late 80s and early 90s. Next week, we’ll discuss contemporary YA lit, with a special focus on HUNGER GAMES!!!!! WHICH JEN HASN’T READ BEFORE!!! OK I’m too excited.

We discovered this fantastic blog that reads/reviews novels and series that we read as kids, so if you’re looking for a bit of nostalgia, check out Nikki’s blog. She has it all broken down by category. Fantastic. This blog is also about awful series from the 80s (featuring one of my faves from youth, The Gymnasts!) and she’s just started back up, so that’s cool.

For snarky fun about the BSC, check this out:

OK, let’s get our nostalgia on!

Lauren: Are you ready to chat?

2:17 PM Jennifer: Yes! Can we talk about The Hunky Dory Dairy, in which a girl tries to marry her mother off to an Amish ghost?

Lauren: WTF. We can talk about that as I add it to my Goodreads “to read” list

2:18 PM Jennifer: I think he was actually from the past, but my tween mind conflated that with the present-day Amish.

Lauren: That sounds really hot.

Sexy Amish ghost is definitely the kind of thing I’d form a crush around.

2:19 PM Jennifer: The girl and her mom were able to travel back in time on a milk truck. It was awesome.

Lauren: That sounds fantastic.

Jennifer: Tweens of today are missing out!

Lauren: It’s all vampires these days, gross.

Jennifer: We had Goosebumps. More ghosts, fewer vampires.

2:20 PM Lauren: Totally: Fear Street and Christopher Pike books were all about serial killers and ghosts, but I don’t remember vampires being a big deal.

Jennifer: The Bunnicula series was about vampire bunnies, right?

Lauren: YES.

2:21 PM I was just reading recaps of those books.

We actually read that book as a class when I was in 3rd grade. But Bunnicula was a vegan-pire. He needed vegetable juice.

2:22 PM Jennifer: Right. I remember the cover being orange, with a picture of a bunny and a white vegetable-maybe a stalk of celery? The juice had been sucked out of it.

 Lauren: Yes. I also had one of the sequels, Howliday Inn, which I liked quite a bit.

Jennifer: Right. We had that one too.

2:23 PM Lauren: I don’t know if those qualify as “YA” lit but they were very good.

Jennifer: I think I read those around the same time as the Baby Sitters Club, but before the Sweet Valley Twins.

Lauren: We should maybe do something scandalous and name years here

Jennifer: I was not allowed to read Sweet Valley High, and so I read them on the playground in sixth grade.

2:24 PM Lauren: Because as I was making notes for this, I realized that I read “YA” lit for a fairly limited amount of time before I started taking smartass AP lit classes in HS and didn’t read for fun anymore

And I wonder if our years overlap that much or what ages we considered ourselves reading “YA” lit.

Jennifer: Oh, yikes. I can work backwards from my high school grad to my YA years…

2:25 PM Lauren: I was never forbidden to read books, but I probably should have been because SVH was a) awful and b) full of adult shit that was not appropriate for a 4th grader to read.

Jennifer: I believe I was reading SVH secretly on the playground in approximately 1988.

Lauren: I started reading YA-ish stuff around 4th grade (which for me was ’89) with my biggest reading years being 5th and 6th grade. Tapered off in early HS, around ’95.

2:26 PM Jennifer: I remember a particularly scandalous scene involving one of the Wakefield twins making out with a boy in a pool.

Lauren: I know someone had a boyfriend who wasn’t in HS and there was some shady shit, I think he was on drugs.

Do you remember Enid, Elizabeth’s BFF? WTF kind of name is Enid?

Didn’t she end up paralyzed or something?

2:27 PM Jennifer: I don’t remember Enid. Or drugs. But I had to read quickly and in short increments, so I sometimes had to just read the sections other girls marked off as “good”.

Lauren: Nice!

2:28 PM I didn’t get into SVH deeply, I think it was just too beyond me at that age.

It might as well have been based on Mars, it was so unrelated to my quotidian existence in Peoria IL.

BUT, I DO remember hiding the fact that I read the Children in the Attic series. (sic — should be Flowers in the Attic)

2:29 PM Jennifer: Right. Most YA felt like that to me. The BSC was an exception, which may be why I read them so avidly.

Lauren: Because that stuff? Was TWISTED. And I knew my parents would not be cool with that content. I interlibrary loaned those books and seriously thought the librarians would not let me check them out.

Jennifer: Nobody I knew was allowed to read the Children in the Attic books, so nobody had copies to circulate on the playground.

And my mom took me to the library.

Lauren: Wow, draconian censorship in Michigan!!

My Mom took me to the library but paid ZERO attention to what I did or read.

2:30 PM Jennifer: I did read a lot of sunfire romances, which my mom didn’t approve of but also didn’t forbid.

Lauren: Which is why I could read about incestuous sex and allllll kinds of other things that made me feel funny.

Haha. I went through a romance novel phase in 8th grade.

I can remember the first one I read REALLY clearly, I kind of loved it.

It was a completely typical Harlequin romance but I remember it in detail.

2:31 PM Jennifer: The Sunfire series was actually written for YA readers. Historical romance fiction. I remember one about a Pilgrim girl who came over on the Mayflower.

 Lauren: Oooo. I hated historical fiction, but continue.

Jennifer: She fell in love with someone inappropriate, of course. A pastor’s son? A Native American? I don’t remember.

Lauren: Hot.

2:32 PM Jennifer: Right? I recognize the romance novel tropes now, but it was all news to me then.

Lauren: Completely.

Now that we’re talking, I realize how much of my YA reading activities had to do with finding and then hiding books that would tell me secrets about sex.

The BSC was obviously not in this category.

2:33 PM I remember reading a book about a teen pregnancy and being like !! (Someone to Love Me by Jeanette Eyerly) and one that had a (SHHHH!) gay person (Crazy Vanilla by something something).

Jennifer: But isn’t that how everything about adolescence is? Simultaneously trying to hold on to childhood and fast forward to adulthood?

Lauren: Right

2:34 PM Jennifer: Oh! I remember my first book with a lesbian character. Annie on my mind?

Lauren: Juxtaposing Ramona Quimby with Sweet Valley and making it work somehow.


2:36 PM Jennifer: YES. I can see the cover clearly in my mind. Weird how the cover art stays with me for so many of these books.

Lauren: I can remember weird flashes of images from the books but not always the covers.

Probably because I sped-read through them so often.

2:37 PM I know I’ve read every Nancy Drew — or at least every one written until about 1991 — even the shitty newer ones.

 Jennifer: I read alot of Nancy Drew. Also Trixie Belden.

Lauren: Totally!

I got all my friends hooked on Trixie Belden in 4th grade.

Jennifer: And some of the newer Nancy Drew meets the Hardy Boys.

2:38 PM Lauren: Yes. I ended up getting irritated with those books, ultimately.

Mostly because the personalities of all the characters were expressed entirely through their wardrobes, and their wardrobes were absurd.

Jennifer: Wardrobes and cars. What more could you possibly need to know?

2:39 PM Lauren: Yes, the cars.

And Nancy’s weird rel with her Dad, and was she seriously 18 the whole time?

Jennifer: Totally unrelatable for me. Did you ever read a book that made you want to change your name?

I desperately wanted to be Anastasia, like Anastasia Krupnik.

2:40 PM Lauren: Natasha was a name I loved.

A lot of my play at that age — 4th/5th/6th grade — involved using a “fake name”

I think my first fake name was Victoria.

Jennifer: I may have even vowed to name my daughter Anastasia. Sorry, 11 year old self. That promise had to be broken.

2:41 PM Lauren: I remember a fondness for the name Acacia

which is a kind of tree. In 4th grade I actually asked for and received a baby name book for Christmas.

So I got a lot of strange inspiration from that.

Jennifer: I named a tree in my parents yard Algernon, after Flowers for Algernon.

Lauren: Awww.

I read that for school in 8th grade.

2:42 PM So, clearly a defining feature of YA fic in the late 80s: WEIRD NAMES.

Jennifer: Also: I felt like a lot of YA characters has intense relationships with their moms that didn’t seem like my real life at all.

2:43 PM Lauren: Interesting.

Jennifer: The Hunky Dory Dairy, The Great Mom Swap, You Shouldn’t Have to Say Goodbye (the mom dies of cancer in that one).

2:44 PM Even the girls in the BSC seemed to have a level of friendship and understanding with their moms.

Lauren: Funny, I keep thinking of books where the Moms are absent or checked out in some way… Ramona Quimby‘s Mom works, several of the Moms in Willo Davis Roberts books (Don’t Hurt Laurie, Megan’s Island, etc) are absent or messed up…

  Maybe we were seeking out opposites?

I was pretty chummy with my Mom, at least she was around a lot and I trusted her.

2:45 PM I didn’t confide in her about my crushes or like, get mani-pedis together, though.

Jennifer: Right. My mom was definitely not a confidante.

2:46 PM Lauren: Clearly not with her anti-SVH policies.

Jennifer: And even though she took us to the library and sometimes set limits on books, I don’t remember talking to her very much abotu what I was reading.

Lauren: Yeah…

My sister, Mom, and I all swapped books together, like mystery series we all liked (Charlotte MacLeod books, Cat Who mysteries)

2:47 PM but we didn’t talk about them a lot.

My sis and I did, but not with Mom for whatever reason, even though we were all burning through the same series.

Jennifer: Huh. My mom and I swap books as adults, but that didn’t start till I was in college. Maybe even grad school.

2:48 PM Lauren: We still get each other books. A few years ago, my sis and I read the same mystery series by Louise Penny

and got all huffy when my Mom said she didn’t like them. We were like WTF you are nuts.

But it isn’t all book clubby. Although now my sis and I buy each other books so we have someone to talk to about them like, ahem, Hunger Games.

2:49 PM Jennifer: I LOVE to talk about books now (it’s why I became a professor!). But as a kid and a teen, I thought of reading as a really solitary space. Books were a buffer between me and a world that DIDN’T UNDERSTAND.

Lauren: YES

So true

2:50 PM My heaviest reading years were my most miserable: 5th and 6th grade.

I read all the time: on the bus to and from school, under my desk DURING school, at the dinner table, when I woke up, when I went to bed, etc etc.

Jennifer: Yes. I read constantly. Every available second. And I read some books over and over.

2:51 PM Lauren: Definitely.

I would check out stacks of books, like 20, and get through all of them.

Jennifer: I was limited to 10 a week from the library.

Lauren: Did you like fantasy lit?

Jennifer: I read Madeline L’Engle’s books over and over.

2:52 PM A Wrinkle in Time, of course, but also the series about the Austin family.

Lauren: I got through the first 3 but when Meg grows up, I get disinterested.

2:53 PM I actually reread those last summer and experienced the same loss of focus in Swiftly Tilting Planet, so I moved on.

2:54 PM Jennifer: It’s funny how my memories of them are so hazy, (dolphins? starfish? wasn’t one of them a marine biologist? did they travel to other planets? a couple of them were psychic?), but I vividly remember how intense the experience of reading them was.

Lauren: Yes to everything you just said.

My sister loved those books.

Jennifer: I think I loved them for the same reason I loved Dirty Dancing: smart girl AND love AND sex.

Lauren: She always finished series that I never got through, like every Anne McCaffrey book ever written, the Austin stories, Chronicles of Narnia.

Jennifer: Although Dirty Dancing didn’t have the dolphin angle.

2:55 PM Lauren: YES I remember the sex stuff too and loving how adult she treated her readers about it.

Jennifer: Oh, I loved Chronicle of Narnia too.

Lauren: I only got through book 3.

Apparently I have a short attention span! 😉

Jennifer: Ha!

Lauren: I also fizzed out on Anne of Green Gables books after book 4.

Jennifer: I wanted to be Anne of Green Gables.

2:56 PM Lauren: After she married Gilbert I was like, borrring! And I knew one of her kids died and that made me too sad so I just avoided it.

Jennifer: Actually, I wanted to be most of the characters I read about. And I actively sought out books about death, even though I would cry uncontrollably while reading them.

Lauren: Awww!! ❤

I identified really strongly with characters, too.

2:57 PM In fact, I think that’s one of the reasons I had to STOP reading fantasy novels.

I went through this really intense phase in 8th grade

Where I was obsessed with The Three Musketeers.

I mean, I wrote fanfic novels based on it, and only listened to classical music (?) and convinced myself I’d been born in the wrong century.

2:58 PM Jennifer: Did you know there is BSC fanfic? It’s disturbing.

Lauren: And it just got so depressing to think about how none of that stuff would ever happen to me — I couldn’t go back in time, and I couldn’t become a wizard or talk to dragons. My life would never be that cool. So I just had to quit.

BSC fanfic?? The books themselves are practically fanfic, how is that even possible?

Please tell me it isn’t slash fanfic.

Jennifer: Yes. It is slash fanfic. * see clarification at bottom of post

Lauren: NO.

2:59 PM I.


Jennifer: YES.


Jennifer: That was my feeling as well.


Jennifer: I can’t stop you. But you’ll regret it.


3:00 PM Lauren: Noooooo

Jennifer: I remember reading books like The Egypt Game and wishing desperately I had some special secret power that nobody around me knew about. But yeah, on some level I knew it wasn’t true.

Are you reading BSC fanfic right now?

Because I warned you.

Lauren: “stacey comes back to stoneybrook, but charlotte johannsen doesn’t need a babysitter anymore.”

Jennifer: STOP.

3:01 PM Lauren: Ugh, at some point all fanfic just becomes a Penthouse story with recognizable names.

Jennifer: Right?

3:02 PM Lauren: Weird, I can’t imagine liking BSC enough to Go There.

Jennifer: And the tween/teen emotional stuff I connect to those books is already intense.

I don’t want to add adult layers to that.

Lauren: Yeah. That just feels wrong.

3:03 PM Jennifer: Although maybe that’s the appeal, reworking those emotional experiences?

Lauren: I suppose so…

It’s weird because I should have been a fanfic-er.

I was completely wired for that.

But I ended up, once the internet happened, getting really annoyed with the ways people changed characters and narratives.

3:04 PM I felt like it violated the author’s intention and that was Not Right to me. Maybe I’d been brainwashed too much by AP lit courses or something.

Jennifer: Maybe you’re a memoir-ist at heart?

Lauren: I got into a really heated argument on a Labyrinth fan list about some fanfic and was like fuck all y’all!

Jennifer: Ha!

Lauren: Maybe that’s where I started seeing myself more as an interpreter of texts than a creator of them.

3:05 PM Jennifer: I didn’t have a computer or internet access till college. I’m that old.

Lauren: That’s awesome,

We got the internet during my senior year in HS.

3:06 PM That’s when I connected all these weird worlds of people who liked the same stuff as me, including Labyrinth, and ya know, bands :).

Jennifer: Yes!

3:07 PM Huh. It seems like YA lit should have less importance in the Internet Age or whatever we call the present.

But that doesn’t seem to be true: YA books have gotten more intense.

Lauren: Definitely

I read a lot of YA lit and since most of my students, for now anyway, are just out of HS I see a lot if it.

3:08 PM I guess part of it is that YA lit has to be more “realistic” and inclusive and diverse and incorporate harder realities.

So that’s cool, writers like Chris Crutcher and Walter Dean Myers do good things.

3:09 PM Jennifer: I’ve taught Sherman Alexie’s YA book (you have too, I think). And I used a YA book about the Triangle fire in my gender studies class this semester.

It’s hard for me to imagine teaching the YA stuff from my youth, though I guess some of those books were hard hitting too.

Lauren: Oh my god, this BSC fanfic has them becoming basically a babysitter/prostitute club.

“Great idea” Kristy exclaimed.


3:10 PM Lauren: OK, OK!

YES I absolutely love Absolutely True Diary!

But some of the books I love seem really tame.

At the same time

I really enjoyed YA books of the 50s, even though they were really tame, when I was a kid.

So maybe our books will seem dated but still have an appeal.

3:11 PM I liked Beanie Malone books and I remember a series called Sue Barton Student Nurse or something.

 Jennifer: I guess Judy Blume is timeless.

Are You there God It’s Me Margaret and all.

Lauren: For sure.

3:12 PM Jennifer: Bridge to Terabithia stands the test of time.

Lauren: I never read that

because I knew it was sad!!

Jennifer: But The Against Taffy Sinclair Club? Probably not.

Again: I sought out books about death.

Lauren: That’s so awesome. I avoided death books like, ya know, the plague.

I don’t think the BSC will thrive in the future.

Mostly because no cell phones?

3:13 PM Jennifer: Also, the bad fashion choices.

Also, Stacy’s diabetes.

The BSC attempts to be hard hitting = diabetes.

Lauren: I loved books about diabetes!

3:14 PM There was a great book called Sugar Isn’t Everything that was all about diabetes

I based my 6th grade science fair presentation on it and got honorable mention.

Jennifer: Not intense enough for today’s youth. Now it’s all eating disorders and self harm.

3:15 PM Lauren: Right

Jennifer: Which is maybe a good connection to next week’s chat!

Lauren: A whole book about asthma would be boring.


Are you excited about Hunger GameS?

Jennifer: YES.

Lauren: I have to admit I am jealous because I know you are going to be hooked.  I have lost my copy and don’t know what to do!

Jennifer: I have it on my iPad. I better not lose that.

3:16 PM Lauren: haha

Jennifer: I have to go teach my class now. But I am excited for next week’s chat!

Lauren: OK! Me too!


Jennifer: TTYL!

What were your fave books as a kid? What series did you love? What themes or issues did you explore or work out through your reading choices? We’d love to hear your comments below (and get book recommendations!).

* In this conversation, I use the term “slash fanfic” incorrectly: “slash fanfic” is specific to fanfic that creates a romantic situation between two characters of the same sex, and I was using it in a more general way to indicate fanfic that was sexually explicit. That was inaccurate. I certainly have no problem with same-sex romances in fanfic or in real life, but DO have misgivings about “mature” fanfic featuring characters I loved in my pre-adolescent time, especially really, really bad fanfic that is less erotic than it is pornographic. I’ll never see Mr. Prezioso the same way.