Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Sneak Peak

In August we began to really crack down on screen time for the kids, which of course led to the panicked question/plea, "But...WHAT could you ever possibly expect me to do NOW?!"

Well, since Maddie has demonstrated extreme talent in the telling of tall tales, I suggested she write a book. Surprisingly, she actually took me seriously. She developed a story idea, decided on a moral of the story, picked a genre (Middle Grade, which tend to be 30-45,000 words in length), did character development and wrote up an outline. She wanted to write out the chapters long-hand for me to type up. That didn't work, because A) I have a hard time reading her writing and B) between school, piano lessons and being on two gymnastics teams, she's under some pretty strict time constraints. Instead, she records herself on my phone, telling the story, one chapter at a time, then I play the role of living/breathing voice recognition software/editor.

It's actually coming along pretty well. We're nearly at the half-way point in our writing, with a goal of being done by the end of the year and published in the spring. The most pleasant surprise - aside from the simple fact that the project has actually gone anywhere, is how much it has brought us together. Car trips to the gym, piano lessons and the bus stop that in the past may have consisted of her playing on her iPod and me listening to the radio are now spent discussing the pros and cons of adding a male character, how a certain conversation between characters might go, tweaks to the outline, or cover design.

Of course, the conversations leave plenty of work for me in the role as editor. I posted on Facebook the other day a recent exchange.

Me: So they're in the garden. How do you want to describe the garden?

Maddie: It's the most beautifulest place LIT-ER-AL-LY! Like...Mother Nature, HERSELF...for REALZ!

Me: Okay...suuurrre...let me just smooth that out a bit for you...

There's a great side effect of the project, though. The story is about a sixth grade girl (write what you know, right?), so there's a wonderful blending between discussion of the book and discussion of what she's experiencing in her own life. For any parent looking for a fun, productive project with their kid, I highly recommend considering it!

So...with no further delay, here's a sneak peak of Maddie's work in progress (followed by a quick blurb):


Chapter I


“Ugh! Ah! …Ow!” D.J. rubbed her throbbing head.

“Great. A perfect beginning to this perfect day.”

D.J. sighed with frustration. This was the second time she had fallen out of this bed. It was smaller than her old bed. Just like this room was smaller than her old room and this house was smaller than her old house.

Somehow, she had felt smaller since the move, but she couldn't figure out how that could be when the new house and everything in it seemed to be a miniature version of her old home. Dad said she’d get used to all the changes soon, but D.J. wasn’t so sure. There was no time to worry about it now, though. A quick look at her clock told D.J. it was time to get up and face the day she had been dreading since she first learned they were moving.

Brushing her long, sandy-blonde hair out of her eyes, she took a determined breath and picked herself up off the floor. Rubbing her aching hip, she walked over to her dresser and debated on what to wear. She had set out her favorite blue dress with sunny-yellow tulips, but that was when she was feeling optimistic and outgoing. Now she longed to just blend into the background until the wretched day was done. She grabbed her most comfortable pair of jeans and a mud-brown t-shirt and hopped into a comfy pair of socks as she made her way to the kitchen.

“Morning, sunshine!” Dad greeted her from the kitchen table, where he was eating an English muffin.

“Hey, Dad,” D.J. responded with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. She wasn’t particularly hungry, but she knew she’d get an earful if she tried to skip breakfast, so she grabbed herself a bagel. Not wanting to take the time to prepare it the way she normally liked her bagels (toasted with cream cheese), she plopped herself down in a chair and ripped a bite off. Not a good plan; it was hard to chew and it sucked all the moisture out of her mouth. Setting the remainder of the offending food strategically behind the napkin holder, she hoped Dad wouldn’t notice if she just left it. She casually walked over to the refrigerator and got herself a glass of orange juice. She remained standing next to the counter, too nerved up to sit back down.

“Excited for the day?” Dad quizzed.

“Ummm…sure?” D.J. tried to sound positive, but before she could stop them, some of her honest feelings broke through. “I don’t know,” she sighed, more truthfully, “I’m worried that I just won’t fit in. How could I? Everything is different here. Besides, middle school is new to all sixth graders, but all of these kids have had months to get to know each other now. I’ll be the new, weird kid that everyone will point and laugh at.”

“Nonsense,” Dad assured. “Remember when Hannah Stephenson started at your old school? I know that was in the middle of the year because I had just come in from shoveling snow when you told me about her. Did kids point at her and think she was weird?”

“Of course not; Hannah is awesome!” D.J. was frustrated, not wanting to see the comparison her father was making. This felt like a completely different situation.

“Well, sweetheart, you are awesome, too,” Dad praised D.J. as he walked over to her and pulled her into a hug, “and something tells me that the kids here are smart enough that they’ll see that right away.”

D.J. felt like she was acting like a spoiled, bratty toddler to be so disagreeable about going to her new school. She knew she had to go, but everything in her wanted to just stay right where she was, in the safety and comfort of her dad’s strong arms. She didn’t want to argue, but she couldn’t help but make one last attempt to avoid the inevitable. “But why do I have to go today? It’s April Fool’s Day, Dad! Everyone will look at me like I’m a big joke and whisper about what a fool I am when I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing. Can’t I wait and start tomorrow…or next week?”

D.J. felt the rumble of Dad’s quiet chuckle against her cheek that rested against his chest. “Nice try, kiddo,” he teased, “You will be going to school today. I know you’re worried and nervous, but I also know how brave and strong you are. I have all the faith that you’re going to do fine. Before I know it, I’m sure I’ll have to start turning kids away from play dates and sleepovers because the line will be too long.”

D.J. rolled her eyes. Her dad’s confidence felt good, but she seriously doubted he had any idea what he was talking about. Dad offered a final squeeze of support, and turned to put his breakfast plate in the sink on his way to finish getting ready for work. He stopped and turned at the doorway of the kitchen. “Go ahead and finish getting ready, but don’t think I missed your little disappearing bagel trick. If you don’t want to eat that, fine, but I want you to get something for breakfast.”

“Fine,” D.J. responded on a defeated sigh, “I’ll try a little yogurt or something.”

“That’s my girl!” Dad cheered over his shoulder on the way to his bedroom.

After choking down a small bowl of yogurt, D.J. made her way to the bathroom to brush her teeth and run a comb through her hair. Studying her reflection in the mirror, she realized that she would have no chance at all of making new friends if she didn’t find a way to wipe the surly, sourpuss look off her face. She knew just who could help her with that. This was a job for Fern.

She quickly made her way back to her room and threw herself heavily into the bean bag chair by her window. “Well, Fern, this is it. It is time for me to face my DOOM! I know, I know… Drama queen much? It’s just…I just don’t know how to do this! I’ve never been “the new girl” before. …But I get why we needed to move here. It’s easier for Dad; he doesn’t have to drive nearly as far to work here. He’s always been there for me, so I suppose the least I can do is try this for him. Okay…I’m gonna do it. Wish me luck. And have a good day…at least that way one of us will!”

D.J. flashed a quick smirk at her favorite houseplant as she got up and crossed the room to gather her backpack, grab a sweater, and throw her shoes on. Fern had been there for her for as long as she could remember, and had helped her through a lot of tough days – especially when her mom was sick. She always listened patiently and never judged, so D.J. felt completely comfortable being honest when she talked to her, which always seemed to lighten the weight that sat on her shoulders.

“Okay, Dad, I’m headed out,” D.J. yelled from the front door.

“Hold up! You’re not getting away without a last hug goodbye, young lady!” Dad scolded playfully, as he approached her down the hall. “Are you sure you don’t want me to walk you to the bus stop?”

“Thanks, Dad, but I think I’ve got this.” D.J. shuddered as she imagined how it would look to have her dad standing at the bus stop with her when the bus rolled up. She pictured him doing something utterly embarrassing, like kissing and hugging her goodbye and yelling, “Have a good day, honey!” as the bus pulled away. It was a horrifying scenario.

“Alright,” Dad conceded as he pulled her into a side hug and kissed the top of her head. 

“Smile when you can today and just be yourself. I know you don’t think I know what I’m talking about here, but trust me, sweetheart, everything will work out fine. Maybe we can even celebrate your success tonight with a nice dinner out.”

“What? We hardly ever eat out!”

“Ah; that’s a benefit of living in town now, kiddo,” Dad reminded her as he opened the door. 

“There are lots of restaurants close by. Some of them even deliver, so we could order out if you don’t feel like a night on the town.”

“Thanks, Dad; that sounds fun! Have a good day and I’ll see you this afternoon.” D.J. smiled, truly feeling excited for the first time all morning. She took a deep breath and took her first step out the door.

D.J. traversed the short path of stones that led to the sidewalk, then turned to her left as she surveyed her new neighborhood. She quickly passed the walkway to the house that made the other half of their duplex. Their old house had stood by itself and the closest neighbor had been about a half mile away, so it seemed strange to D.J. that they were now sharing a house with a whole other family. She didn’t mind, really; it was just another new and different thing to get used to.

She continued toward the corner where the bus was due to stop in a few minutes. She liked her street. There was a low hum of background noise that was new to her, like occasional jets passing overhead and cars working their way through busier areas of town. There was closer background noises, too. She heard a garbage truck that was probably a few streets down and a dog barking from a few doors down. But there were sounds she was familiar with, that helped to make her feel more at home – birds chirping their welcome to the spring weather and a light breeze whispering through the branches of the trees lining the street.

The trees were one of her favorite features of her new neighborhood. There were two long, magnificent rows of maple trees running the entire length of her street. They were big enough that she imagined their grand canopies might nearly touch in the middle of the road when they reached their full bloom of summer. For now, their leaves were just beginning to peek out after a long winter’s rest, showing off their fresh, bright and brilliantly green beauty. She spied what looked like small bird nests in two of the trees. She made a mental note to remember where they were so she might catch sight of the hatchlings later in the spring when the more mature leaves would better camouflage their locations.

Movement at the end of the street brought her attention back to her destination. There were four or five kids gathering at the bus stop. Adrenaline rushed through her veins at the sight of them, and for a split second she contemplated running back home. She pushed herself forward, though, focusing on putting one foot in front of another, until she was standing near the other kids. She avoided eye contact, feigning interest in anything that would keep her gaze elsewhere – the cracks in the sidewalk, the daffodils in the flower bed on the corner lot, the window boxes on the house closest to the stop and the scuff on the toe of her right shoe. The bus couldn’t get there fast enough; she didn’t know how much longer she could elude the eyes of the other students without seeming rude.

There were two boys in the group. They looked older; D.J. assumed they were seventh or eighth graders. They were laughing and roughhousing with one another, and didn’t appear to notice D.J. at all. Of the three girls waiting for the bus, two stood together, whispering back and forth. Out of the corner of her eye D.J. caught them skeptically assessing her up and down. Soon she heard them giggling and she suddenly regretted her wardrobe choice and wished she had tried harder to convince her dad that today wasn’t a good day to start school. She wanted to crawl under a rock and hide.

The third girl stood quietly to her side, and finally curiosity had D.J. sneaking a quick peek at her. She had long, shiny, black hair and a cute colorful outfit. She was slightly shorter than D.J., which was saying something, because D.J. was far from tall. The girl was lovely, but what made her beautiful was the warm smile she offered D.J. when she caught D.J.’s eye.

Just then the bus came to a stop in front of them and everyone began climbing on. D.J. started to make her way toward the back of the bus out of habit. She found it was generally warmer in the back than it was in the front, although she guessed that wouldn’t be as important here, where it didn’t tend to get so cold in the winter as it did back in her old town. Black-haired girl slid on her seat toward the window, subtly patted the seat next to her and flashed D.J. another winning smile. D.J. smiled back and sat down next to her.

“Hi. I’m May Chan,” black-haired girl introduced herself, “You must be new to our school?”

“Hi. Yeah. I’m D.J. Daniels. Nice to meet you, and thanks for sharing your seat with me,” D.J. returned with a shy half grin.

“Nice to meet you, too! What grade are you in? Where are you from? Where do you live now?” May began shooting out rapid-fire questions.

“Uh…I’m in sixth grade, I’m from North Bend, and we’re in the sixth house down on the left side of Grant Street…on the left side of the house? It’s a duplex.” D.J. wondered if that was how people usually described their address when they shared a house with another family.

“Oh, so you’re really close, then; I’m right around the corner on Fir Street! Well, howdy, neighbor!” May laughed. D.J. couldn’t help but smile along with her, and the tension she didn’t realize she held in her shoulders started to melt away.

“I’m a little nervous, because my old school was a lot smaller than yours,” D.J. confessed. I’m worried I’m going to be lost all day…probably all week.”

“Nah. My first day was a little confusing, but I got the hang of it pretty fast. You’re gonna love Kirkland Heights Middle School; I just know it,” May assured her with confidence.
May’s attention shot to the front of the bus and she excitedly grabbed D.J.’s arm. “Oh! Here’s Payton’s stop,” she announced with a little bounce in the seat, “I can’t wait for you to meet her!”

D.J. followed May’s line of sight as new kids began filing onto the bus. One tall, thin girl with auburn hair in a sporty bob cut made immediate eye contact with May. D.J. assumed it was Payton, and guessing from the way Payton knew right where to find May, D.J. figured this was their usual seat. She wondered, nervously, if she had taken the spot Payton usually did and if that would make Payton mad.

Payton calmly got in the seat in front of May and D.J., pulled her backpack off and turned toward them. “Hey,” she greeted, looking at D.J. with a blank expression, “Who are you?”
Once again D.J. found herself longing for a rock to hide under, interpreting Payton’s dry tone as irritated or displeased. May either didn’t notice it or didn’t care. She dove into introductions with enthusiasm and glee, “Payton Parker, this is D.J. Daniels, my new neighbor, D.J., this is Payton, one of my best friends! And don’t let her scare you away, D.J.; she’s a sweetheart who just doesn’t always think about how things will sound she shoots them out of her mouth.”

“Hey! What are you talking about? All I did was ask who she was!” Payton defended herself. 

“So, you’re new, huh?” she directed her attention back to D.J., “Sixth grade?”

D.J. nodded, signaling Payton had guessed correctly.

“Do you know your class schedule yet?” Payton quizzed further.

“No, not yet,” D.J. admitted. This was one of the things she was nervous about. It was bad enough not knowing where all the classes were; she didn’t even know what classes she’d be looking for!

“No worries,” Payton comforted her, “We’ll get you to the office and get you pointed in the right direction.”

D.J. breathed a sigh of relief. It soothed her to feel like she was going into this nightmare of a day with a few allies. That warm feeling was nearly washed away and replaced with a wave of panic, however, when she looked out the window to find they were pulling up to the school. It was a monstrosity of a structure that intimidated D.J. by itself, but when she imagined the number of people that building housed, she suddenly regretted eating yogurt for breakfast. She wasn’t so sure she wasn’t going to see it traveling in the opposite direction soon. But May flashed her excited and supportive smile and grabbed her hand as they got up to leave the bus, so D.J. was able to find her calm center again.


D.J. is concerned about starting at a new school in the middle of the school year. She's sure she won't have anything in common with her classmates. She makes three friends right away, but her concerns are validated. Her friends are all serious gamers and she's...a gardener. She fears if she asks them to spend time with her - technology free - that they'll refuse and she'll no longer be part of the group. D.J. gets some great advice from a very unlikely source. She decides to take a chance and stand up for herself. Will her new friendships blossom or will screen time lure away her best buds?