If I were a character in fiction, who would I be? I threw this question to my two daughters last night and unsurprisingly got "Cruella Devil" straight back from the adolescent, while the 7-year-old said thoughtfully, "One of the really nice moms, like the one in Kate Kazoo Switcheroo ."
In my younger and more vulnerable years, I would strengthen my backbone by announcing to the world that I was Lois Lane. Today? I seem to have more in common with the heroine of Still Alice . That early passage where she can’t find her BlackBerry-oh, dear.
Hildie Block sees herself as a version of Mrs. Weasley as she describes in the piece below, "Life vs. Fiction," that she sent in this week. Who do you identify with? You can either post your character-or characters-in the comments section or send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
"Life vs. Fiction"
My friend Sarah looked at me like I was off my rocker when we were talking about child spacing. She actually put down her coffee cup and stared at me in disbelief. "You know they are made-up characters, right?"
We had agreed that having children two years apart was insane. Or at least she didn’t comment when I said that. Too crazy to be pregnant and have a 1-year old. Too hard to have an infant and a "terrible two." She remarked that having her son be 3 ? when her daughter was born was easier, because at least he could get into his seat on his own and buckle. Sometimes. Sorta. And I said, "Well, Arthur and DW get along and they are four years apart. I think four years is good."
This is when she stared at me like I was a dog wearing a tutu. At the time, I found her surprise amusing. Yes, they are made-up. Of course. Marc Brown made up Arthur more than 30 years ago, before he became a noseless aardvark forever in 4th grade on PBS. But still, I thought their dynamic seemed to resonate for me, someone without cousins or siblings. It seemed authentic, even if it was cartooned.
Image of Lois Lane © DC Comics.
These things are based in real life, I reasoned. Marc Brown had to base the Arthur character on relationships he knew or it wouldn’t be classic; we wouldn’t love it. Then the conversation ended abruptly when a toddler squabble broke out. I breathed a sigh of relief. 'Cause maybe I was crazy.
This was a long time ago. My daughters are 5 and 10 now (they are four years and four months apart, ahem ). And just last week, I sat in a Starbucks with my friend Lara who has three young children of her own (11, 7, and 4) and who spends part of her week working on character education in schools. We were lamenting the fifth Harry Potter as torturous to read aloud-we hate the tragedy at the end, we hate that horrid, saccharine Umbridge who is an unskilled teacher and an abuser of power.
And I took a deep breath and said, "OK, so why aren’t there 10 articles a month on cheating in Harry Potter?" She looked at me, waiting for the other shoe. "Seriously, they cheat constantly. Hermoine is seen as being hateful when she doesn’t agree to do Ron and Harry’s homework. There are never any consequences for them." She said, "I know. I’ve wondered the same thing." We pondered this. We debated whether Hermoine was really cheating or just helping (well, both, and all of the time), whether the British system had different definitions of cheating. Oh, but clearly Ron begs to copy homework all the time. They are never caught. There’s never that sad "You never studied" line like Egon Spengler delivers to Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters . So what of this?
We agreed that we were onto something. We could base a lesson on these scenes in HP and have open discussion in small groups about which incidences of cheating are OK, and which aren’t.
"But," says Lara, "you know studies show that they all cheat here, too." I went off on some tangent about how I'd dealt with this when I taught college freshmen and then she had to run off and pick up the youngest.
A few nights later I stared at my oldest’s poster for science. The flotsam and jetsam was spread all over the living room floor; there were piles of notes by the laptop in the dining room. Was I cheating by setting out tape, glue, markers, and scissors before she began? What about when I told her about the day of the Super Tornado Outbreak, April 3-4, 1974 when 148 tornadoes struck in 16 hours? By telling her she could find the definitions of Tornado Warning and Alerts on weather.com or NOAA’s National Weather Service site, was I being Hermione? Was I letting her copy my parchment? And was it OK?
I realized after reading an article in the New York Times on yelling that I’ve recently forgiven myself for yelling. Yes, yelling is lame. It’s not empowered. It scares kids and it also lets them know that you "got nothing." When you resort to yelling, you have no quiet reserve of control or power-no true authority over the kids and the situation. To put it simply, you aren’t being the adult. To say a consequence calmly-now that gets a reaction. Yelling doesn’t work. We may as well be yelling "I DON"T KNOW WHAT TO DO AND I’M MAD!!!!" like a 2-year-old in the sugar cereal aisle.
And yet, recently, I’ve decided I don’t care. You know why? Harry Potter’s Mrs. Weasley yells. The kids fear it. She sends "Howlers"-letters that yell and they conflagrate-and those Weasley kids, they react to it. But most importantly in the Potter books, she’s loved. She’s held up as the model mother-quite simply the best one in the books. She’s messy, round, and warm and shows her love and fear of loss through yelling, and everyone "gets" it. It’s not like spanking a kid. It’s like being in someone’s inner circle and seeing them warts and all-like when they are emotional and not in control. For heaven's sake, the kids live in the house with me! To think I can be calm and rational and in control all the time? What am I? A Stepford Wife? And, I know, I’m not psychiatrist. But maybe in the end, yelling’s not that bad. Maybe I could do worse than to be Mrs. Weasley, round, warm, loving and sometimes, just sometimes, yelling my head off.
Last year, for the first meeting of the mother-daughter book club, we read Charlotte’s Web . As an activity, the mothers and daughters drew a web with a word on it to describe and "save" their mother/daughters as if they were, like Wilbur, pigs at the County Fair. In the book, Charlotte wrote "Radiant." I wrote in the web for my daughter "True." She’s ridiculously honest and concerned with fairness and kindness, I explained. She quite simply "is what she is." That’s a rare thing. She drew in mine, "Wonderful." I’ve framed them together.
Life and fiction meet in that frame.
Hildie Block lives in Arlington, Va., with her family who thinks she's crazy, but in a good way. She's the co-author of Not What I Expected: The Unpredictable Journey from Womanhood to Motherhood .