“Thank-You-Ma’am” or “Fan Mail to My Perfect Fan”

Hey, Momma – did you know a “thank-you-ma’am” is defined as “a bump or depression in the road”? “From its causing the head to nod as though in acknowledgment of a favor”, it says. Amazing, the bits of trivia a glance through a dictionary can turn up.

In other news…

"It's your birthday?!"
“It’s your birthday?!”

It’s your birthday! And since I gave Daddy his very own blog post in recognition of his birthday, I can in good conscience do no less for you today. ‘Cause, y’know, you’re just as special. (:

So let’s take a few moments to celebrate the role you’ve played in making me the awesome author gal on the brink of publication we all know and love today, why don’t we?

You gave birth to me. Obvious, but vital.

You treated me like a wordsmith-to-be from day one. No baby talk between you and me, oh no. (Not until these last few years, anyway.) Your one-sided conversation showed Infant Me how English was supposed to sound, and your intolerance for non-words like “lookit” guided my early communication toward a healthy formality. Everyone who compliments me as well-spoken has you to thank.

You taught me that every character has his or her own voice. All your patient repetitions of “Spot” flap-books really drove that lesson home. Turtles advising us to “try the basket” sound different from lions declaring, “No one can see me!” With your example before me – not to mention countless hours of your audio book picks in the kitchen and on the road – I learned how reading aloud can make a story leap off the page, and how crucial it is to let each character I create sound true to their individual selves.

Spot and I share this in common.
Spot and I share this in common.

You let it be okay to treat fiction as reality. If I wanted to be Sherlock Holmes, you handed me a deerstalker cap and set me off on a Birthday Hunt mystery. When my obsessions moved in a more boy band and “Lord of the Rings” direction, you arranged for the Backstreet Boys and some Scottish pirate person growling about Aragorn to leave me a string of touching messages on the phone’s answering machine. And even now, you’ll buddy around with Will Scarlet when he bursts into our conversations, like he does. As interesting an experience as it might have been to get sent to a mental institution, I like the way you deal with me better.

You always supported my creative endeavors. …Even if the endeavor was a big glob of colored glue. You never begrudged my colossal wastes of paper on treasure maps to nowhere, board games with no rules, summonses, ventriloquist dummies, and of course, stories. You gave me pretty much free rein to dabble in artistic media, and when I eventually decided that my strongest passion lay in writing, you rooted for me 100%. You became one of my first critique partners and complaint buddies about writerly pet peeves; a listening ear when I need to talk through story stumbles, and a sometimes surprising source of inspiration; a wall between the world’s bothersome distractions and my writer’s cave; and the first person I want to go to with either hard disappointments or heady victories. I don’t know how authors without amazing mommies do it.

You pretty much did everything there was to do, shy of writing my stories for me. I’m glad you left that part to me. I happen to love my job, more or less as much as I love you.

Thank you, ma’am, Backstreet-style. I luvva you.

Momma and Me, circa her 55th Birthday

“Homeschool”

When I was a precious tyke of five, or so my mother tells me, I was ready and eager to head off and seek my fortune in the public schooling system. Trouble was, my birthday came particularly late in the year – too late, apparently, for the local schools to accept me until the following year. I wasn’t interested in waiting, and neither was Mom, so she decided “to instruct [me] in an educational program outside of established schools, [specifically] in the home”. In other words, she homeschooled me.

            Since that pivotal day, The People have wanted to know: Did I go to school in my pajamas?

            (Could someone please explain this obsession with getting away with life in one’s pajamas? This is one of many things I’ve never understood about the world.)

            Other FAQs included something along the lines of:

“So… what grade are you in?”

“How do you make friends?”

“Is it weird having your mom as a teacher?”

“Do you wish that you could go to regular school?”

            I’ll start out by putting an end to your slow death by curiosity, informing you that yes, I did sometimes tackle my lessons while wearing pajamas. And I gotta tell ya, it really wasn’t all that. Algebra is algebra, no matter your ensemble. And all else being equal, I’ll usually prefer to be dressed.

            As for the grading system, we barely bothered with it. My classmates (a.k.a. sisters) and I learned new material whenever we’d gotten the knack of the old stuff. The incorporated workbooks, computer programs, and videos might have been aimed at any grade, from that comparable to most other children our respective ages, to high school or college-level students. To simplify life in the world outside, I would generally claim whatever grade matched my age, but it was basically a worthless answer to a silly question.

            …Not as silly a question as the one about making friends, of course. Was I seriously getting asked how I met people by people who had obviously managed to meet me?? I was homeschooled, not a prisoner in solitary confinement. I left the house all the time for lessons of all sorts – dance, gymnastics, horseback riding, ice skating, piano, theater. I joined an orchestra with MYA (acronym, “Midwest Young Artists”). I took tons of park district classes for art, acting, some “fit kids” thing where they ran you up a hill. I went to church. I chatted up kids in the grocery store parking lot. (Seriously, I ended up getting invited to two of that girl’s birthday parties.) Strange but true: You don’t actually have to lock up a child in a classroom full of children their age for three seasons out of four to gain them friends. Socialization doesn’t have to sound like a nightmare.

            Talking of nightmares, you know those kids who want to die of shame after having accidentally called their teacher “Mommy”? Never worried me. Mommy was my teacher, and I forgave her for it. She listened patiently as I sounded out a story, syllable by syllable, and she made mathematical word problems comprehensible. She recorded herself reading my piano instructor’s notes for me when I couldn’t be bothered to decipher cursive writing, ending every directive with the pleasant command, “Turn off the tape, and do that.” She encouraged reading and writing and drawing and viewing edutainment like “Kratt’s Creatures”, “Bill Nye the Science Guy”, and my favorite forever, “The Magic School Bus”.

            Ah, school buses… The real reason that I ever wanted to go to public school in the first place, I’m told, and therefore one of the very few features of public school that ever caused me to feel that I was possibly missing out. School bus rides, field trips to outer space and under the sea and inside a classmate, food fights… my lack in these areas was my only regret. (And having subsequently ridden in a school bus and decided that throwing food everywhere is wasteful and gross, my list of unrealized dreams shortens.)

            I liked being homeschooled; probably would have enjoyed being unschooled, too. (More on unschooling here and also here, for the curious.) And I’m proud to represent (homeschoolers unite!) as a living refutation of all those bizarre stereotypes that would have you believe that homeschoolers are a special brand of uneducated freak.

            …Not denying that I’m a freak, mind you. But I’m thinking that’s mostly genetic. Thanks for everything, Mom.