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Storytime: School’s out; it’s time to let go

Sarah Earle

(Concord Monitor photo/Ken Williams)  July 29, 2009

Sarah Earle (Concord Monitor photo/Ken Williams) July 29, 2009

Some people are natural-born parents. They’re good with casseroles and first aid, schedules and meaningful scowls. They’ll drop everything for a game of hide-and-seek and somehow still remember to defrost the chicken and throw the gym clothes in the dryer. (These people also tend to excel at crafts and costumes, and I hate them for it. No, I mean it, I hate them.)

The rest of us are winging it. The rest of us are dreaming of the day we can successfully transfer all of the clothes from the washer to the dryer, and turn the dryer on, without becoming sidetracked and then sidetracked from our sidetrack and sidetracked from that sidetrack and so on until the clothes have hardened into smelly little clumps that the kids end up using as weapons in some late-night game of dodgeball that they swear we sanctioned last Tuesday when they finished their homework on time.

For those of us in the latter category who also have the exquisite privilege of being home for summer vacation, the prospect of eight or nine weeks (I don’t dare look at the calendar) with our kids is a little bit terrifying. And yet . . .
and yet, there’s a part of me that feels a tingle of excitement at cutting loose and being a little bit less Mom and a little bit more me.

Summer still tastes like freedom to me even after all these years of not being in school, and that means I’m cool with finding popsicle sticks on the dog’s hindquarters and may choose not to notice that my kids haven’t changed out of their swimsuits for 72 hours straight.

Summer also means I will not check To Kill a Mockingbird out of the library for the seventh time and strategically leave it where my older daughter might finally be compelled to crack open the cover: the back of the toilet, beside her pillow, on top of the TV remote, etc. Summer means I am A-Okay with Big Nate.

In fact, the latest Big Nate book is more than just junk food for the middle reader’s mind. There is at least a scrim of nutritional value in these pages. In his latest adventure, Big Nate Flips Out, Nate Wright has to face up to the fact that his slovenly habits can have serious consequences. When he and his best friend lose an expensive camera a strict teacher entrusted them with, he asks his friend’s eccentric uncle to hypnotize him into being neat.

Of course, no self-respecting cartoonist would be caught dead moralizing. So, without giving away the ending, I’ll warn you beleaguered parents not to hold out hope that your child will suddenly see the value of picking up his wet towels and leaving his shoes where he can find them. Quite the opposite, the real lesson of the book is to be true to your sloppy self because sloppiness is often the outward mark of a creative, fun-loving personality.

Nate is at first delighted with his new outlook and habits but eventually realizes that his penchant for neatness stifles his ability to do the things he loves, such as writing a comic strip.

Author Lincoln Peirce, who lives in Portland, Maine (presumably in a delightfully messy house), brings his usual madcap sense of humor to the book, along with a few fun additions such as secret messages kids can decode throughout the book.

As usual, and in keeping with the genre, it has an edgy tone and some irreverent observations that some adults will take exception to. Sloppiness may be a hidden virtue, but a fresh mouth is harder to defend.

Nevertheless, it’s summer. So I’m going to try to let it slide.

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