Today I am melancholy.
Perhaps it is just the sky, grey and heavy. But more likely I think it is something the Boy Child – only six-and-a-half – said to me at breakfast:
“Life goes really fast.”
I had to turn away when he said that – I surprised myself by beginning to cry. Not in a pretty, soft sort of way but in a faucet-hit-with-a-sledgehammer rush of tears. I cried not because he’s right, and not because he’s so damned insightful for a child, but because it’s a truth I don’t want him to know at such a young age. I wish those terrible realizations would save themselves for those of us who are already world-worn and jaded.
The Boy Child has worried about these things for years. He has questions about life and about death that I do my best to answer. It keeps him awake some nights, crying and needing to talk. So we do talk about it, about death. I do my best to keep us on that very narrow bridge that prevents me from scaring him but also from lying to him. He’s smart, and I respect him too much to attempt to lie away his legitimate worries and fears.
It is a trait I passed on to him – a preoccupation with death. An unfortunate part of the legacy I leave my son. And we all leave legacies – histories – be they small or grand. Writers hope their words are included in their own personal histories, that like our children they outlive us. I am no different. So I write stories that I hope will be enjoyed, but I also write down those things that matter in a different sort of way.
The following is a list of things I hope for my children, things I am doing my best to instill in them. These are lessons I hope will outlive me:
Perfectly ordinary people do extraordinary things all the time. Those people are even more amazing than extraordinary people who do extraordinary things. They are everywhere if you watch for them.
Sometimes life works out just as you want it to. Sometimes it doesn’t. Reflect on what you had control over, don’t dwell on the rest, and move on to your next adventure.
It is wonderful to be strong or smart or talented. Never use your gifts to hurt people, that is not why they were given to you. It is always the right thing to use your strength, your intelligence and your power to help and protect people.
Be kind. Be kind to people and to animals, especially to those who are not as big and strong as you.
Don’t be afraid or ashamed to admit when little things make you happy. Enjoy them, remember them and tuck them away for safekeeping. You may need to pull them out and look at them now and then.
Try new things, discover what you love, and practice until you’re good at them. You will never be sorry you are good at something you enjoy.
You won’t be good at everything, and that’s okay. If you try something and it turns out you’re not so good at it, but you still love it, it is just fine to keep practicing and do it anyway.
Words mean something. They are powerful. Make sure that you really intend something before you say it, especially if you say it in anger or pain.
Read. Read for information and for fun. Read cereal boxes and shampoo bottles. Read because you want to know how to do things or because you want to understand things. Read because Captain Underpants is really funny or because Ramona Quimby has great adventures. When you are too little or too tired to read, I will read to you.
You never know who might be watching you and looking up to you. Always try to behave in a way you will be proud of.
Have gratitude. So many things we have in life come from hard work, but sometimes that hard work is someone else’s.
Remember you are loved, and remind others they are loved as well.
Someday I will share this list – ink on paper – with my children. They are not yet ready for that and, frankly, neither am I. I expect the list will evolve over time and, when we are all ready to share it, I hope it will have the right words. In the meantime, I look for little opportunities to share these things with them. I don’t want them to someday see this and be surprised – instead, I want them to read the list and reply, unimpressed, “Yes, Mom. We know.”
If that was depressing, I didn’t intend it to be. Like I said, I’m melancholy today. But as a mother I find hope and light in my children, and as a writer I find hope and light in words – my words and the words of others.
I write dark stories for young readers, because so many children (like my own children) like to spend time in the dark – they are curious about it, and are far less afraid of it than most adults. But I never write dark stories without a silver thread of hope woven in, because while children may be interested in the dark, they also need that lifeline of hope to cling to lest they become lost in it.
I write for scared children who are also brave, ordinary children who are also extraordinary. Those are the children I understand, so they are the souls I create stories for.
I wonder sometimes if there is a place on the shelves for my stories, if they truly fit anywhere at all, or if I am forcing them into a niche that doesn’t really exist.
But there are books in the world that tell me there is a place, that have created a place, for my stories. And to the authors of those books I am grateful. They give me hope despite my own fears and doubts.
I’ll leave you with a short selection of books that give me faith someday my own weird, dark, hopeful stories might find readers of their own.
If you are melancholy today, I hope it is just a grey and heavy sky because that will pass soon enough. If you are lost in the dark today, let someone know and they will throw you a silver line of hope so you can find your way back out.
As always, I’d love your book recommendations. And, the ones you think are a little too weird or dark and have that bit of shining thread in them? Yeah, those are the books I want to read.
More even than books, I want to know about the legacy you’re working toward and the lessons you want to teach.
I hope you are safe and well.