Drive or fly? Although there never seems to be a right answer when planning a trip from southern to northern California, the answer after the trip is always quite clear. The answer is fly. We drove.
Thanksgiving is the best holiday ever in our family. And this year it got even better. Two words: NAPA and chef. A chance to spend time with my siblings, their children, and my mother might be one of my biggest pleasures in life. The planning began early. And in an effort to save money on plane tickets and hassle of flying, the following ridiculous plan was birthed: A drive (in the Honda Odyssey minivan with cloth seats) from Los Angeles to Napa, with a stop to pick up my overworked and less than fully organized husband from his Sacramento office, seemed reasonable in September, and even in October. But November came around, and I began to recognize the error of my ways. In an effort to mitigate this mistake, I announced to my mother (she is sane and voluntarily took part in this plan under no duress) and children that we would listen to audiobooks on the trip. I pushed so hard for Harry Potter. Amidst pushback from all 3 children, I persevered and downloaded the first of the Harry Potter series. But somehow I was convinced by Lila to add the Ramona and Beezus collection to the audio library, as a backup plan.
We started off strong. Healthy snacks. No one was carsick. We even encountered some snowflakes when we stopped for gas just past the grapepevine. Harry Potter was well loved by my mother, Lila, Ryan and me. But Colette became obnoxious. And it became clear that she was scared. She was scared of the bad guys and the good guys. And the dead unicorn sent her over the edge. So we had to revert the backup plan of Ramona and Beezus.
The superficial similarities between my daughters and Beverly Cleary’s characters from the book written in 1955 are astounding. This of course speaks to the brilliance of an author who painted a timeless picture of humor in these endearing sisters. And the narration by Stockard Channing for the audiobook should not go unpraised.
I will start with the basics of the ages. When we meet Beezus, she is 9 years old, as is my Lila. Beezus (Beatrice) is reliable, smart, and kind. She is a pleaser, and she is an ambassador to the world with regard to her ludicrous 4 year old sister, Ramona. My Colette is 5.
It deserves mention that there is no counterpart to my 4 year old Ryan in Beverly Cleary’s fictional family. Ryan has not commented on this omission to date.
Ramona is far less subtle than my Colette. As the first chapter unfolded, as we sat in traffic on the 5, I had a great view of Colette in my rearview mirror. Colette is currently obsessed with her study of the character of Annie/Frannie (amalgamated into 1 character for the purposes of the production of Mary Poppins as put on by the Youth Academy of the Dramatic Arts, at the pre-primary level for ages 5-6.) Colette has been seen practicing crying with real tears in her bathroom mirror, for instance. Her solo for this show is “Anything Can Happen.” This is on the heels of her showstopping performance in the summercamp version of “Fiddler on the Roof”, in which Colette was cast as Schprintze, the 2nd to youngest sister. As she sang a few lines alone in “Matchmaker” her mother became a tearful mess. “Matchmaker, matchmaker you know that I’m still very young, please take your time. Up to this minute I misunderstood that I could get stuck for good.” Her other solo singing line in “Anatevya” went as follows, “Soon I’ll be a stranger in a strange new land, looking for an old familiar face.” How was there a dry eye in the house as my babooshka wearing little girl belted these words out? But I digress…
As I watched Colette listening to the initial description of Ramona (written from the perspective of her older sister, Beezus), I saw her eyeing Lila. As Beezus described the exasperation of Ramona crashing her community art class, Colette smirked, as if she were Ramona’s accomplice reaching into the pages of a 60 year old fictional book across lines of space and time. As Beverly Cleary masterfully unfolds her description of an impromptu rainy day party orchestrated by Ramona without the knowledge of her mother and sister, Colette’s eyes sparkled. The unbelievable thing is that the personalities and humor are so big in this story, that in the year 2015, my kids did not stop to ask about the historical details. These children were allowed to walk (and bike) around town by themselves. Dresses were sewn by hand from patterns. Halloween costumes were also sewn, but masks were purchased. No face paint. No glitter. No fairy princess sparkling 5 piece packages from Party City or Target (or Amazon). And shopping was done by driving to an actual store in person by the mother in the story. There is no nanny. Shows were watched on a television.
Sometime in book 2 Ramona’s mother went from staying at home full time to accepting a job part time in a pediatrician’s office. The affects of this transition on Ramona and Beezus were met with nods by my girls. I could almost hear Lila and Colette giving words of advice to Ramona and Beezus on the pros and cons of growing up with a working mother. And here’s where I was caught off guard. I listened to Stockard Channing’s portrayal of Mrs. Quimby (I do not think Ramona and Beezus’ mother’s first name is divulged) and in the calm, cool portrayal of this voice I found mothering advice. This mother from 1955 seemed to have taken in the parenting books from 2015. This mother enjoyed her daughters. When Ramona ripped up her nemesis’ owl before “Back to School Night,” Mrs. Quimby did not punish or react in a kneejerk way to this bad behavior. She stopped, and mindfully gathered the information from Ramona, carefully asking “why.” She did not squelch the spirit and creativity of this hilarious soul. She also did not allow her older daughter, more of a straight and narrow, mild mannered girl, to be overshadowed in their home. Not only was Lila identifying with Beezus, and Colette with Ramona, I now found myself aligning (wishful thinking, perhaps) with the great Mrs. Quimby.
Later that week, Colette and I worked to fill out her November reading list. Ryan was wearing his reversible superhero mask, debating whether to have the blue or red portion showing. And Colette was dressed in her devil costume. I struggled as to whether it was kosher to include audio books. I succumbed. To be fair, we had read over 20 books aloud that month. Page 2 included a sheet to describe Colette’s favorite book of the month. Without hesitation, she chose Ramona and Beezus. There is a line to describe why. Colette of course wrote “I really like Ramona. She is messy and mean like me. I am mean to Lila sometimes and I make big messes. Part of the assignment was a picture, and she drew a picture of a little girl, which she said could be either Ramona or Colette.
My husband is concerned about this identification of a hero in Ramona. He has suggested that we ban the series, and has shared his threat with Colette. She seems undaunted. Mid drama queen incident at dinner a few nights ago, Jay threatened to cancel her plans to try out for an upcoming production of “Annie.” Colette held his gaze. She has begun to listen to Ramona the Brave, and she will remain in character, inspired by her hero.
Addendum: Colette and FDR
Have I mentioned Coco’s bright red curly hair? This, in combination with her theatrics, makes Annie a perfect fit for her. Her first solo dance this year is to “Tomorrow”. Her faces and enthusiasm are captivating and over the top. When the opportunity arose to participate in the play, “Annie”, she had high hopes of landing the lead. She did not. Instead she was awarded 2 roles. 1 is the police officer that returns Annie to Mrs. Hannagan after an attempted escape from the orphanage. The other is FDR. She was actually quite happy with her roles, and was rehearsing with gusto. She was pleased about the little girl who plays her wife, Eleanor. She was practicing her line about the New Deal and singing from the heart about NYC. 3 weeks into rehearsal she came home with a shocking report… FDR is NOT a girl.
I took this shock as a compliment. It did not occur to my 6 year old daughter that a president of the United States would be a boy, then, now, or in the future. Her love for Barack O’Bama aside (her twin cousins actually had a Barack O’Bama birthday theme the year they turned 9), Coco has begun her conscious years believing in gender and sex equality. So my husband and I are high 5ing at this juncture.