Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Remember Who You Were

When writing as an adult for kids, it's important to keep your emotions and reactions in touch with your character's age.  If you drop a worm on the head of a three year old picture book character, eleven year old middle grade character, and seventeen year old young adult character, you would have quite a range of reactions.  This mindfulness can be a challenge when the adult writer is so far removed from their character's age.  Fortunately, I have a 13 year old sister to keep my mind young.
A few weeks ago, I went to the Kentucky Horse Park with my mom and little sister.  We signed up for a trail ride at the end of the day where you actually got to ride horses instead of just look at them.  Everyone over 18 was not required to wear a helmet, but I opted to anyway 1) for safety's sake and 2) so sis didn't feel like a total loser.  She got antsy at the mere mention of "helmet," frantically scanning the group to make sure no cute boys were within a ten mile radius.  (Yeah, I'm not sure there were any boys ages 10-25 in the entire Horse Park...)  
We stood in line together waiting for our helmets.  When it was our turn, the worker held up a plain, black, normal helmet.  He sized us both up for a moment (note: there might be a millimeter difference in our height), and handed the helmet to my sister.  Then he turned around, plucked a star-spangled monstrosity from the stack, and plunked it on my head.  Truth be told, it was atrocious.  It was like somebody threw up the American flag and molded it into a helmet.  I laughed, tightened the chinstrap, and joined my sister waiting with the other already snickering riders.  The look of utter relief in my sister's eyes practically shouted, "I'm sooooooo glad that's on you and not me."   
I'm too sexy for this helmet.
At once, I saw myself in her sneakers twelve years ago.  7th Grade Kathryn would have been mortified to have that thing on her head.  She would have wanted to crawl into a hole and die.  She would have been paranoid that all the cool kids in school would suddenly appear behind her.  She would have been certain that satellite pictures taken from space were being posted all over the internet for the entire world to mock.  (Hey, I never said 7th Grade Kathryn was rational.)  My adult reaction was, "No biggie."  I cracked jokes with the other riders and wished I had my camera to document the moment.  But to 7th Grade Kathryn, wearing that helmet would have been the difference between having a fun day and having a miserable one.
Even without a patriotic helmet on her head or a single boy in sight, my sister was still anxious about what horse she would get.  I didn't care if they gave me a polka dot horse with a rainbow mane and tail; I was simply happy to be riding!  (As such, I got a lovely fellow named Nacho who was proudly pooping in the first picture the workers took of me during the ride.  I kind of wish we'd bought that picture now...)  My sister got her wish for a pretty horse and had a completely non-eventful, embarrassment-free ride--which resulted in a non-eventful, tear-free car ride home for the rest of us.
See?  I told you we're practically the same height!
It was rather enlightening to see this situation from my little sister's perspective.  Had I been writing a similar scene in a book, my adult emotions might have gotten everything wrong.  My little sister reminded me that the world is a much more embarrassing place to a middle schooler and that what I consider a molehill, she might see as Mt. Everest (and vice versa).  All in all, this was a mutually beneficial experience.  She taught me a lesson and I spared her from having to wear that stupid helmet.  Deep down, I'm soooooo glad they put it on me and not her, too. :)    
What's something that doesn't phase you now that would have absolutely mortified your 7th Grade Self?


  1. My parents. I can look back now at things that they have said that MORTIFIED me! I can remember one instance when my mom mentioned something about an anatomically correct vegetable, and 7th grade Lauren immediately ran upstairs to her room. Adult Lauren would have started cracking up. I think it is easier to let things roll off your back as you get older, you realize what really matters later in life.

  2. That is hilarious! What, may I ask, is an anatomically correct vegetable? It sounds both intriguing and frightening...