childhood bucket list

Previously I’ve written about matters of vital importance, those things that children take extremely seriously–you know, things like quicksand, favorite colors, and how to stop, drop, and roll.

Well, my childhood obsessions did not end there. I read books like crazy, including a bunch of monthly series like The Baby-Sitter’s Club. I also consumed enormous quantities of television (Thank Goodness It’s Friday!).

Long-running series tend to recycle scenarios, so the more you read/watch the more you begin to believe these scenarios are common occurrences. Well, maybe you don’t, but Baby Sam sure did. I was convinced that, at any moment, the following situations waited right around the corner.

And I aimed to be prepared.

Without further ado:

THINGS MY CHILDHOOD MEDIA CONVINCED ME I WOULD HAVE DONE BY NOW

More extremely specific first aid

In addition to previously mentioned catastrophes such as getting a pencil in your eye or catching on fire, Baby Sam was also convinced that people choke on large pieces of food practically every week, and therefore I must be prepared to do the Heimlich Maneuver. Did I have professional training? No. Did I have any practice? No. But I watched Mrs. Doubtfire a bunch of times so I was definitely ready to step up to the plate.

It was also extremely important that I know how to splint a broken leg or apply a tourniquet (I didn’t say all of my books and television were aimed at children). Also, I was vaguely aware that I should keep candy bars around at all times, just in case a diabetic person had a dangerous sugar drop. You can thank The Baby-Sitters Club for that one.

Survive on my own in the woods

Is every child obsessed with children-surviving-the-wilderness narratives? Island of the Blue Dolphins! Hatchet and it’s even shittier sequel, The River! My Side of the Mountain! The Swiss Family Robinson! Even Stephen King wrote one: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. She was really into baseball. And she had to fight a bear.

These books taught me that, despite the fact that I never left my quiet suburban neighborhood, I might, without warning, be stranded in the woods, on an island, or even on a distant mountain. In order to survive this scenario that was definitely going to happen one day, I needed to know how to start a fire with sticks, how to account for light refraction when spear fishing, how to build a shelter, and of course, how to splint a broken leg.

Nurse a baby bird back to health

According to my childhood media, everywhere you looked there were baby birds straight up dropping from trees. When this definitely happened to me one day, it was going to be impossible to simply return the baby bird to its nest. Either its mother was dead, or its mother would cruelly reject it for smelling like asphalt. I was going to have to build a nest in a box and feed it worms until it was big enough to fly away. And then, obviously, it would be my friend, because imprinting.

Call 9-1-1

Okay, this one is a little more feasible and I suppose I have been involved in a couple of 9-1-1 calls over the years. However, my real calls have been stressful welfare-check situations, and not the cool, dramatic, dare I say heroic 9-1-1 calls of my imagination. Nobody ever got trapped in a well, or a basement (we don’t even have basements in earthquake country), or broke a leg (in which case, obviously, you should devise your own splint instead of waiting for paramedics).

What a disappointment.

Win something at a carnival

Clearly, every kid in the country had fall festivals and traveling circuses and holiday carnivals EXCEPT ME. There would be hay rides and elephants and big top tents and also apple picking and also a freak show and an aisle of barkers exhorting you to throw horseshoes or something (I was confused and these were all one massive combo community event). In retrospect, these all totally existed and my parents just never took me, because they knew the truth: carnivals are money pits of ride tickets and game tokens, and you’re never going to win anything because the carnies have rigged the games.

HOWEVER. I’d have liked the chance to try!!

Sneak into a haunted house

Where the hell are the haunted houses, I ask you? Where is that one house that everyone in the neighborhood knows was a total murder house, and now nobody will buy it, so it is slowly moldering away, covered in creeping vines and padlocks, except that there’s a broken window in the back and the sociopaths in your best friend gang won’t respect you unless you sneak inside and bring back a token to prove you did it, except the token is also haunted so now you’re totally haunted.

Where is it?

Snow day

Winter was supposed to mean snow. Snowballs, snow angels, snowmen (snowwomen), sledding, Christmas cheer, snow shovels and snowplows, mittens that you attach to your coat, hats with ear flaps, rosy cheeks, diabetic babysitters trapped in cars during blizzards and desperately in need of a candy bar.

But Baby Sam, you grew up in San Diego. Not the mountainous bit. The bit bordering the desert. We don’t even get snow.

What an uneventful childhood.

“the little frog!! and the little girl!!”

Last week I sold my first short story to a professional SFF magazine! I’ll post more when it comes out in early 2018. For now, suffice to say: I’m super excited and want to get some momentum going! Since I’m in the baby dark zone and utterly failing to edit the novel I finished this spring, I’m churning out some short stories instead to join the other three I have on perpetual submission. The agent hunt is only temporarily on hold, till I’m getting just a BIT more sleep.

It’s time for another 7-year-old writer Sam flashback! I told you all about my first real narrative tale, “What Hapend March Ninth!!” Now let’s dip into the writing frenzy that followed as I became not just author, but illustrator as well. Here is one of my first staple-bound construction paper illustrated shorts. It’s pretty clear that I had only recently encountered commas and silent ‘e’s.  And, true to this day, nothing is worth saying if it isn’t worth saying with! an! exclamation mark!

Behold the adventures of a girl and her beloved pet frog, aptly titled:

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The little frog!! and the little girl!!

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There ones was a girle! the girle! ->

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There ones was a girle frog!!! The frog!

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The girl, met the frog. Hi! Hi!

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The girl, took The frog home,

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They played, and played, and played

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The girle, got a pool for the frog! Yaa!

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They swam together!

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They did lots of fun things together, They were happy together, and They were happy They met, They were so, so, happy.

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They were best friends, They told evry body that they noo, if they were not to far away. They went for trips together, They calked rocks together, big or little rocks.

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One day it got cold so it was winter, togethe they made a snowman, withe the girles Mom!!!! Ice >

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The End!

 

formative years

I was wandering around the house like a very helpful poltergeist in the wee hours of this morning, tucking a sick toddler back under his blanket, patting a baby, starting a pot of coffee. And I started thinking about those first five years of life before school creates a clearer timeline of memory and you just exist in a blur of Mom and Dad and Sibling(s) and Home, punctuated by the occasional birthday party or trip to the park.

Scan0008I’m the second of six kids, but until I was seven there were only three of us. I was pure, unadulterated Middle Child. Middle kids jonesing for attention have two options: act out, or become overachieving people-pleasers. Ding ding ding for option two! Though I’ll note that I largely grew out of the people-pleasing, and am now obnoxiously insistent on doing everything my own way. Except even that is a backlash against the early people-pleasing! See? There’s no escaping. And I’m definitely still a hopeless workaholic.

Those early years are SO FORMATIVE. And yet, you barely remember any of it. I have some faint, ghostly memories of jumping up whenever we were asked to do chores, or experiencing anxiety at doing something wrong, but it’s hard to tell if those are real memories or the secondhand memories you form when your mom repeatedly tells you what your childhood was like. Do I remember my fifth birthday party, or just the home video of my fifth birthday party?

So now I’m looking at my own kids and wondering what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong. You can’t escape a bit of both. Am I raising them to be assertive but not bullies? Self-confident but not egotistical? Sensitive but not fragile? Appreciative? NICE? How much depends on their predispositions and innate potential, and how much is trying to push a boulder uphill?

And how does the sibling dynamic change things? What is the dynamic of raising one boy and one girl, as opposed to one boy and a boatload of girls? I’ve always been surrounded by sisters. My childhood was exceedingly loud. We’re still constantly up in each others’ business, and talk basically every single day via instant messenger. Will my kids be this close to each other? I hope so.

I don’t have a conclusion here, so I’ll turn the subject to writing. Any time that I’m grappling with a facet of my own life, I’m mentally filing it away for future character-building consideration. Writer friends, consider the sibling dynamic when building your characters’ backstories, even if it will never be explicitly mentioned in the main plot. What was this person like at five years old? Did life reinforce those personality traits, or dampen them, or strip them away? Why?

And don’t shy away from siblings. Fiction is chock-full of only children. I’m guilty of it, too. It simplifies the backstory and the choreography of plots that do involve family members, and let’s be honest, it’s hard to maintain the brooding allure of your anti-hero if his sister calls up and says, “Remember that time you pooped your pants at Jenny’s birthday party?” But he did. He totally did.

Big families lend themselves to comedy and sprawling epics, but they don’t have to be confined there. Maybe your brooding anti-hero was the oldest of eight and co-parented them through poverty. Or maybe he was the youngest and is trying to earn his way out of the shadow of many older siblings. Or maybe he was right in the middle and they all think he’s an asshole because he never calls home. Whether you mention the reason or not, he’s rooted in those core personality traits.

So. Who were you when you were five?

1/2 Italian is better than none

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Childhood hero right here

I could have SWORN I had a photo of myself as a little kid rocking my “1/2 Italian is Better Than None” t-shirt, but I couldn’t find it, so you get Madonna instead. Close enough.

I’m only half Italian, and I’m third generation, and I was raised in Southern California instead of Back East, which means I make a really good lasagna but would be totally laughed out of the room if I tried to relate to real Italian-Americans. For one thing, I don’t speak Italian. For another thing, did I mention SoCal? Because Goodfellas did not take place at the beach, brah.

(I can make jokes about Goodfellas because my mom grew up around there.)

Alas, my poor children will only have a meager quarter of Mediterranean DNA, which means they’ll probably tan even worse than I do and nobody will mistakenly assume they’re white Mexican. The near-black hair and hints of future cuddly nonna face are the only things I’ve got going for me.

Here are some of the tiny scraps of culture you absorb when you’re basically a white kid but you have lots of distant relatives with names like Antonello and you went to Catholic school through kindergarten.

You get the food, thank God. Most cultures revolve heavily around their food but Italians revolve heavily around their food. There’s a reason that when you google “Italian chef” you get this regrettable sea of pizza and mustaches:

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*kisses fingertips* It’sa me, eetaliahn stereo-type!

But you guys, there’s so much more than pizza dough. You get cannoli and cassatini, you get calzones and chicken cacciatore. You don’t really understand why somebody would put butter on their pasta when olive oil clearly exists, and when you say you’re making cookies at Christmastime you MAKE SOME SERIOUS MOTHER-EFFEN COOKIES AT CHRISTMASTIME. Even though you don’t know the language, you know enough to curl your lip and yell, “Skeevatz!” when you bite into a lasagna and get a mouthful of hamburger meat. You get to drink wine at holidays when you’re a young teen, and you force it down even though it tastes gross because 1) heehee you’re drinking alcohol, and 2) your nonna will make fun of you otherwise.

In addition to skeevatz you know a confusing mishmash of words that are sometimes Italian and sometimes just slang from New York (and you’re never certain which are which), but in any case bruta and stunad regularly creep into family conversations, and when something is giving you agita you’re tempted to sigh, Ah Jesu.

Oh, and you’re not superstitious, but it doesn’t hurt to make the sign of the cross or the sign of the horns once in a while… just in case.

You know that what happens in the family stays in the family. You know that your siblings will always have your back and you’ll always have theirs, because you all have to be there for each other when your mother is dead. It is super confusing and sad to you when people genuinely don’t like their siblings, so you welcome them into the fold. Seriously, you barely know your friends’ families growing up, but they know every one of your relatives by name and might even hang out at your house without you.

You weren’t even raised Catholic but you somehow absorbed that Catholic guilt anyway. The vaguest promise is practically a blood oath, and once you have kids… hoo boy, you’re basically never going out again.

And finally, it takes a lot to get on your bad side, but once somebody is there… man, you can hold a grudge for life. You’re not proud of this. In fact, you could even say it fills you with guilt. But what are you supposed to do? THEY DISRESPECTED YOU!! Or worse… your mother. D:

80s/90s kids knew how to get done up

I was born in the mid-80s, which really makes me more of a 90s kids in terms of pop culture, industrial rock, and action figures based on R-rated movie franchises. It also means I grew up in a glorious stew of transitional 80s to 90s children’s clothing, hollaaa. I can only hope my own children’s baby pictures will be as fantastic in twenty years as my own. If they aren’t, then I haven’t done my job right.

I’ve got a mediocre scanner and a pile of old photos, LET’S DO THIS.

Let’s start real mild, with Sam’s first hints of cosplay. I should also make note that this is the most Italian I ever looked, and why did growing up lose me the ability to retain a minor tan?

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I really only included this because of the tan.

It was a time… of matching mottled hot pink dresses.

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Chub rub is real and it begins at an early age.

It was a time…of asymmetrical patterns, puffy sleeves, and the color turquoise.

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To be honest I still want everything in turquoise.

It was a time of random shapes! Track suits! Head bands!

[Shout out to my big sister, I left a message asking if I could put up pictures of you and you never answered, now it’s too late.]

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We’re smiling because we don’t know any better.

Birthday parties still meant dressing up, of course. But, what’s this? BIRTHDAY SWEATS? SUSPENDERS? SOME KIND OF FADED CAT DECAL? I kid you not, this is me dressed up to party when I turned 3.

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And I look really excited about it.

But hey, birthday meant My Little Pony cake, Barbie and Ken, Raggedy Ann and Andy, and whatever gizmo Fisher Price was pushing at the time!

[In fact…all of that is true again other than Raggedy Ann and Andy. So expect them to make a comeback at any moment.]

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Give it up for hot pink 80s dining room.

Easter is always a time for big floral dresses and white stockings, but back then it was really a time for BIG FLORAL DRESSES AND WHITE STOCKINGS.

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“I’m on to your bullshit, Mom. What is this.”

The 90s crept in with their shorter hair styles and smaller floral prints, but they didn’t get rid of puffy shoulders. Not yet.

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Did I mention the mary janes and white socks?

Picture day at school is a big deal. Like, you are going to be memorialized in this outfit for all time. I’m going to spare you the horror of my middle school years till another post, because the world isn’t ready to look back on that yet. Instead, enjoy more floral, chunky jewelry, and big bows.

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I know it’s plastic and I don’t care, I wish I still had this necklace, look at those gems.

You REALLY want to look good, though? Braid your hair the night before so it gets kinky except at the bottom where the braid tied! PUT THAT SHIT IN A SIDE PONYTAIL. PAINT YOUR NAILS, BUT DEF DO IT YOURSELF.

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You know what? I stole this necklace from my mom, and I *do* still have it, and it’s the BEST.

So, from the first 3 siblings in my 6-sibling family to yours, I say this:

Pull up those jeans. Higher. Turquoise and purple will always go together. Your floral prints can be large or small, but they must always be paired with a competing pattern. And if you don’t want to hold your sweater, just tie it around your waist. Yes, even if you’re wearing a dress.

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“what hapend march ninth!!”

Have I told you this story before? I probably have. Even if you’ve never met me, I probably found some way to bend time and space and relate this anecdote about how I wrote my first short story. Because everybody wants a cool origin story, and this one doesn’t involve dead parents or women in fridges.

In an infamous incident that my older sister (likely to her regret) will never be allowed to forget, a head injury was caused which would symbolically shape my life.

It was a fine March day when I was 7 years old. At the time there were only 3 children in what would become my brood of siblings, and all three of us were playing outside in a small kiddie pool full of water. Also it was Southern California, which means March is plenty warm enough to start playing in pools again (sorry, places who have “seasons”!).

Do you remember Squeeze-Its? I think they’re called Kool-Aid Bursts now, but I don’t know a single child who drinks them anymore. They were liquid sugar crack for kids, available in thin plastic bottles with small holes at the top. You know. So you could squeeze them when you drank.

Well, my brother and I were allegedly filling old Squeeze-It bottles with water and then squirting them at our older sister, and allegedly laughing and refusing to stop despite her repeated and increasingly angry demands that we desist. And then maybe, it’s possible, we took our torment too far and in a fit of pique she decided to scare us off by threatening to throw a rock. And then maybe we still wouldn’t stop, and she threw it, but she didn’t know her own strength and instead of landing menacingly at my feet the rock hit me in the head.

Blood! Everywhere! Mom running out to screams! Paramedics summoned! Horrified sister hiding in the house, fearing maternal murder! 4 year old brother washing blood off the bricks with a Squeeze-It bottle!

After being declared non-life-threatening by the paramedics, I was driven off to an emergency room to await stitches. I don’t know how long we actually waited, but in child time it was definitely months. Months of sitting in a hard chair with my mom pressing some cloth to my head. X-rays that had to be conducted twice because the first time I hwas wearing a hair tie with a metal piece and it looked like metal was embedded in my head. And then! I finally went in! And the doctor gave me six bright blue stitches along my hairline while I was staring right at him!

It was the most exciting and traumatizing adventure of my young life. On the one hand, it was the beginning of a lifelong fear of needles. And on the other hand, it was an Interesting Story. The average 7 year old has nothing interesting to say. Trust me, I’m a former babysitter! It’s not their fault. They’ve got no stories yet. But now I had an exciting tale to babble to anyone who would listen. And on top of that…I was a first grader! I knew how to write! I COULD PRESERVE IT FOR ALL TIME.

And thus I wrote my first autobiographical short. And it was so exhilarating, I wrote more stories. And more. I still have a stack of construction paper stories Written and Illustrated by Sammy that I will share with the blog some time because they are works of art. I’ll even heartily acknowledge: it’s possible this wasn’t the first story and childhood memory fails me. But it’s the first in my mind, and in my mind I was hit in the head with a rock and that knocked something creative loose, so I’m a writer because of a childhood head injury.

I didn’t even mention the final injustice. That rock was my special rock with one big flat side, upon which I had crappily painted a hideous landscape scene! AND MOM TOOK THE ROCK AWAY!

Without further ado, since this is the version I know you’d all really prefer to read, I present: WHAT HAPEND MARCH NINTH!!

Translation of first grade spelling errors posted below.

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I was playing in the pool, and when my sister came out I wetted her, and after I wetted her she got mad at me, and then threw a rock at me and then, I had a one and a half [inch] hole in my head, and I went to the Emergency Room and I had to wait a lot and then, they made sure that it was not too too bad, and it was not too too bad. I went to the place that I got the x-rays. I got two x-rays and then when they were ready to take the last one they noticed that I had something in my hair that had a metal piece on it so they had to do it all over again, and then I went back to the place where the bed was and then we had to wait some more then when the doctor was back I got six stitches. I went home and I got undressed then I watched Cheers and Married With Children!!!!!! I went to sleep! The End!

 

Truly, the beginning of a legend.

that f***ing rat!

When reading the same set of board books to my baby over and over (and over), I find myself making up new narration to entertain myself. I mean, hey, it’s not like he is anywhere close to learning to read yet! He doesn’t know what the book really says!

It reminds me of when my dad read to us when we were little. Because he was an ex-Navy man with the salty vocabulary to show for it, he entertained himself (and us!) by inserting curse words throughout. IT WAS THE HEIGHT OF COMEDY, YOU GUYS. Nothing is more thrilling to young children than the use of forbidden words. My particular favorite was some obnoxious little picture book about a bear that was afraid to go to sleep. A ‘sniveling shit,’ as I recall.

And THAT train of thought reminded me of the time I continued the grand tradition by sending my college-dwelling sister a modified children’s book for her twentieth birthday. This week, instead of anything funny or insightful, you get a picture book: the charmingly titled, That Fucking Rat!

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the creeping kid

Last week I wrote about parenthood, despite having only six months’ experience. This is one of my more tiresome qualities: being so sure of myself that I only need cursory exposure to a topic in order to start expounding on it.

I’m a hoot at parties!

A good dose of humility never hurts, so whenever I’m feeling a little too sure of things, a little too obnoxiously wise–you know the feeling: you read the news and exclaim, “If only everybody acted the common sense way like me, there would be no problems in the world!”–

Ahem. Whenever this happens, I remind myself of the following story.

——-

The irrational but unrelenting sense that I’m a psychological mastermind goes back to the days of my not-so-distant youth. I can’t give a precise date for this anecdote, but based on where we were living I was definitely below the age of 9. For the sake of my dignity, let’s hope it was several years below.

I was already a keen study of human nature by this time. One of my theories, based on hours of observational field research, was that adults loved television. Not only did they love television, they were so mesmerized by TV programming that when enraptured by a show they were incapable of noticing anything that happened in their peripheral vision. That’s right. Adults facing a television set were unable to look away, they were so engaged.

One evening I decided to put my genius theory to the test, and it was a pretty ballsy move. This was our home at the time, aka the playing field:

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This is perfectly to scale. My memory of my childhood home, like all of my memories, is flawless.

At the hallway opening I awaited my chance. Then, when the time was right, I crept into action. Oh so quietly, oh so agonizingly slowly, I crawled on hands and knees around the perimeter of the living room, pausing now and then to assess my foolish, distracted parents. Hah! Just as I expected, they were focused on their vapid program and nothing else. I darted into the kitchen, ninja-quick, and there I snuck something to drink.

Victory never tasted so sweet.

After waiting patiently just around the corner, peeking periodically to check my victims’ sight lines, I embarked on the return journey. My little heart was pitter-pattering with the possibility of exposure, but it went as seamlessly as you could imagine, and soon I was back in my bedroom. It had been a complete success!

I gloated internally for a long time about how savvy I was. For I, the child, had defeated them, the parents, with my superior wit and understanding of human nature. My stealth moves were unparalleled. My timing was that of a karate master. Could anything stop me? Only my inborn sense of restraint. Because I can’t remember the train of thought that kept me contained, but I don’t believe I ever attempted the kitchen stealth mission again.

It was enough to know that I could.

Yeahhh, so a good 15+ years later this lost incident sprang to mind and stopped me in my tracks. Because goddammit, there is no way my parents did not see my ass creeping across the living room and through the kitchen door, no matter HOW low to the ground I was, or HOW compelling that night’s episode of Seinfeld. Not only did they know I was there, they must have actively kept their faces averted to maintain my illusion! There I was, butt in the air, darting in and out of the kitchen on hands and knees, and my parents just kept on watching TV like nothing unusual was going on. I was thoroughly upstaged, and I didn’t even realize it.

Touché, Mom and Dad, touché. I look forward to the day when I can bolster my own idiot child’s sense of self-worth.

——

ETA: I talked to my mom this weekend. She totally knew. -_____-

speech therapy

Looking back, I was a very principled child, to the point of pointlessness. I still have a tendency to stubbornly stick to my guns and make unnecessary stands over minor matters, even if the effort is self-sabotaging. Why? Because, say it with me, “It Is The Principle Of The Matter!” As far as personality flaws go, I suppose ‘too principled’ isn’t a bad one. Unless your principle is, like, white separatism or something.

But I digress.

I had a lisp growing up. Nothing wild, I just jutted my tongue slightly between my teeth while pronouncing ‘s’ or ‘z’ resulting in a mild ‘th’ sound. Sitcom lisping. In fifth grade I was placed in a speech therapy class run at my school, which meant I was plucked out of my regular class every week by the resident speech therapist. She was a very nice lady, but her name began with an ‘s,’ so once I understood what I was being scrutinized for I was too self-conscious to ever call her by name. Mrs. S__ was toooo many ‘s’s. Even the word ‘lisp’ taunted me!

It turned out to be an easy fix. I’d had mild hearing problems throughout my youth, so our theory was that I had simply misheard the sound and formed an incorrect habit. There was nothing physically hindering my tongue, so once I knew what they wanted me to do it was just a matter of practicing until it became my new norm. The therapist was very happy with how quickly I improved, and my days in speech therapy were over.

And it should have ended there.

Except my little brain started going. I mulled over the concept of speech therapy and its implications, and this was my conclusion: I had been perfectly understandable before, but my manner of speaking was slightly different than the majority of the population, and therefore I had been placed in a class to force the differentness out of me?! Oh hell naw.

I remember having these self-righteous little rants in my head. Would a lisp prevent me from doing well in school? No! Would a lisp prevent me from excelling at my future career? No! So you’re saying a person with a lisp can never be President of the United States?

(I now realize that a person with a lisp can never be President of the United States. The voting public and our many diplomatic contacts around the world would never take such a person seriously. I’m sorry, young Sam, the world is a cruel and unprincipled place.)

And so I sabotaged myself. I purposefully began to lisp again. I took great satisfaction in jutting my tongue past my teeth, because who says I can’t be successful in this world with a minor speech impediment? TAKE THAT, SOCIAL EXPECTATIONS! Sorry Mrs. S, your intentions were noble but this student needs no assistance.

Nobody ever called me on it. And then I hit puberty, that wonderful era in which everything imaginable is hugely embarrassing. I heard myself on tape, was promptly mortified at how ridiculous and childish I sounded, and I retaught myself how to speak without a lisp. I’m not sure if I was wholly successful, as I still think I sound ridiculous on tape, but ah well. Part of me will always feel like a bit of a traitor for giving up that crusade, because when all was said and done, I finally succumbed to speech therapy.

childhood reading memories

From around age 8 through high school I read multiple books per week. Just DEVOURED them. In 3rd and 4th grade these were things like Goosebumps, The Baby-Sitters Club, Roald Dahl, and Bruce Coville. I was so enamored with Roald Dahl that I had planned to send him a letter asking for his autograph– and my 3rd grade teacher had to gently break the news to me that he was dead. DEAD!! I feel bad for her, I surely did not take it well.

It is not possible to pick a favorite. I was really excited to start buying these for my niece when she turned 7.

It is not possible to pick a favorite. I was really excited to start buying these for my niece when she turned 7.

By age 10 it was clear that kid’s books were not holding me anymore, and there were only so many installments of The Baby-Sitters Club to be found in local library used book sales, so the summer before fifth grade I skipped YA (did it even exist at the time?) and went straight to reading my mom’s books. So basically I have this 2-3 year period of formative childhood books.

Aside: There were 131 books in the main Baby-Sitters Club series, plus numerous spin-offs and special issues. Though now that I look it up on Wikipedia, Ann M. Martin only wrote the first 35 and the rest were ghost-written, mostly by some guy named Peter?? I FEEL SO BETRAYED. I also wrote for her autograph, which I received, but which in later years I realized was a mass-printed photo of her with signature included. A childhood of lies.

It must be noted that I was Team Claudia all the way. She was Japanese, and into art, and had fuuunky style, and ate tons of junk food. I even had this amazing Claudia doll with overalls, a puffy pirate shirt, and pink tights. Oh ho ho, that was so Claudia.

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Blow a whistle in the phone, Claudia! That’ll stop those dang heavy breathers.

Even though I transitioned to adult books when I was 10, I didn’t entirely cut off the great authors of my youth. You don’t just STOP reading new Bruce Coville books! Unlike Ann M. Martin he actually WROTE all of his books. Wikipedia tells me that his previous jobs included toymaking and gravedigging, and that is all I need or care to know about the man. My Teacher is an Alien, Jeremy Thatcher Dragon Hatcher, it was all gold.

So I had a few more years leading into junior high in which I was still reading R.L. Stine alongside Stephen King. Another series that has a fond place in my memory was the Animorphs by K.A. Applegate, which my brother first started reading and then got me into. In this series I was aaaalll about Tobias. That boy got his ass stuck as a bird like on DAY ONE of animorphing, and it was just so tragic.

bk3

Dude what did they JUST tell you, there is a TIME LIMIT OR YOU GET STUCK

Second-best to Tobias was CLEARLY Cassie, who worked at a wildlife rehab clinic with her parents, and was a total pacifist but still had to suck it up and do battle with aliens for the sake of all humanity.

Animorphs_14_The_Unknown

Cassie I have no criticism for you, you are a natural at this.

I was so into the Animorphs that I wrote my own rip-off book about kids fighting aliens– except mine was in SPACE, which is clearly superior, and I don’t even remember who they were fighting but it was probably better than brain slugs. My book was called Fateful Encounters, Book One of The Galaxy Chronicles. It was about 180 pages and it was so melodramatic and awful but I wrote it in six frenzied days during summer vacation, and that’s got to count for something.