On quelling my daughter’s freak out (even if it costs me an hour and coffee) and Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

This is my 11 year old. She’s at THAT age (which is an age somewhere between 4-74 for women) and she was having one of THOSE mornings. angry libbyAnd I let her. And it cost me an hour, and a bit of my sanity, but it also saved us both something.

We (meaning me and my daughters, because the hubs doesn’t want to be part of the insane order of our mornings), got everything going just right this morning. Breakfast noshed, clothes on and straight, teeth and hair brushed, faces washed. And then “Mom, I can’t find my bookbag.”

We looked in all the usual places. Living room, kitchen, bedroom. Car, car trunk. Sister’s room. Basement. Under all tables. Under the couch.

No. Where. To. Be. Found.

Really.

So, we backtracked to last night. After school she had tryouts for her school play, and then she walked the six blocks to the dance studio where her sister takes dance (this needs discussing, and I will do that in a few paragraphs. This just added to my morning), and she had her bookbag there. Then, because she can’t just sit for the 45 to wait for her sister (to her credit, I don’t really want to sit there either. The waiting room is crowded and loud and small), so she walked the half a block to the library. And that’s where we picked her up after dance. “That’s where I left it!” She said, very confident and sure.

“Well, get on the bus and I’ll go get it and bring it to you,” I told her.

And that’s where the irrational fireworks began. “NO!” she screeched. “I WILL NOT BE THAT GIRL. THAT KID. THE ONE THAT COMES TO SCHOOL WITHOUT A BACKPACK!!!!”

Me: “Yes, you will, get your coat on.”

“NO!!!!! I WON’T BE THE GIRL WHO LOST HER BACKPACK.”

Yep, she said it. I laughed, which didn’t go over well. “You ARE the girl who lost her backpack!”

She laughed, but then started to cry. And that was when I remembered being 11. I remembered not being brave enough to tell my parents when I made a mistake (an issue I still have), unable to ask for help, unwilling to tell them I lost something. So, I took a deep breath. And I thanked God that I had a daughter that was willing to tell me that she didn’t feel comfortable going to school without her bookbag.

My Mom was a really good mom, and did everything she could to make us comfortable and happy. My Dad expected perfection, but wasn’t really around enough to show us what perfect looked like. He was an exploder when things weren’t right, but wasn’t willing to take the time to show us the right way. And now, looking back, he didn’t do things the right way. He was a cut-corners, I’m smarter than they are, I deserve the best but I’m not willing to work for it kind of guy. He was a con man without having the steel to just go out and be a con man. He was a bully to those smaller and weaker than him.

Everyday I say a little prayer to do things differently.

So I did things TOTALLY differently that my father (or my mother) would have done it. I let her not go to school, and we drove to the library to get her bookbag. School starts at 8:30, library opens at 9:00. So we ran an errand, and went to the library the minute it opened.

Guess what? It wasn’t there.

So we backtracked to the house. You guessed it, it was there. In the least likely room, the one that where we didn’t look.  She put it in the dining room; a room right now that is covered in Christmas. Boxes and boxes of decorations, all needing to either be put out or be put away, covering every square inch of that room, all except the square inch upon which she set her bookbag.

So, I took her back to school. She was an hour late. I lost an hour of my morning. But it was worth it. It was worth the the scorn I felt from a judgmental bus stop mom when I told her that Libby walked from school to the dance studio. A walk which occurred at 4:15 in the afternoon though our bucolic, smallish downtown. Six blocks, upon which every block hosts at least one person at work that knows her.

I think it was worth it. I think I showed her that she can trust me, that I will be there for her.

Or else I just taught her that freaking out will get you what you want.

Oh well. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t, and I won’t know if I was right until she’s about 25.

And now, onto Meg Wolitzer’s Belzhar.


Yesterday I reviewed a great book, Last Train to Babylon by Charlee Fam, and I told you I wasn’t the target audience for that book, but I loved it any way. The same can be said for Meg Wolitzer’s Belzhar, another book for a much younger audience, but one that I liked almost as well.

Belzhar is the story of Jam Gallahue, a girl having trouble coming to terms with the loss of her British exchange student boyfriend, Reeve. Her grief is so deep that her parents are worried enough to send her to The White Barn, a school in rural Vermont for bright, emotionally troubled teens.

Away from home, a suburban town in New Jersey, Jam is one of the few assigned to Special Topics in English, a supposedly life changing, extremely exclusive class. Jam isn’t sure why she is assigned to the class, and her new roommate is a bit put-off and jealous, but the rift is soon healed.

Once in Special Topics, Jam finds herself surrounded by four other students, handpicked by their teacher, Mrs. Quinnel. It is the only class she teaches, and she tells her students she is retiring after this semester is over. So, she’s pulling out the big guns; Sylvia Plath. She tells them they will be reading Plath’s works and studying her writing. And she gives them each a special journal in which to record their thoughts and feelings, on Plath and on their own lives.

It becomes clear that these five students have all faced some sort of heavy duty trauma before coming to The White Barn. Each student shares their life shattering trauma, each one more scarring than the last. A fire, a family suicide, a car accident caused by an inebriated parent, an abducted sibling. So when we don’t learn Jam’s trauma until nearly the very end, we know it must be something really bad, right?

Wolitzer takes us back to the heartbreak of the teen years, adding to it traumas that no person should face. And, just when you least expect it, we are pulled into a supernatural world, one that has the ability to heal.

!!!LITE SPOILER!!!

The whole story is beautifully written and heartbreaking, and all the characters are perfectly tragic. All except Jam. She’s tragic and sad, and the whole story insinuates a calamitous and cataclysmic end to her first love, Reeve.

But, when I learned about Jam’s emotional upheaval, I was embarrassed for her. I’m not going to totally spill it, but Jam’s issue wasn’t as bad as the others. Not even close. Yes, it hurt her and embarrassed her, but it wasn’t a serious trauma. I get it; we all have that one thing in our past that really hurt us, that we can look back to and say, ‘that moment changed me.’ As a teen it may hurt like we were stabbed for a few minutes, or hours, or even days. But most of those things aren’t going to get you to a special school. It was Jam’s deep, deep denial that got her there, I guess, but the acts that got her to that denial seemed unworthy.

My opinion. And the spoiler is now over.

The story is top-notch, and the characters are flawed but likeable. The touch of supernatural is brilliant. The climaxes are varied and interesting.

All-in-all, the biggest problem was Jam. And I liked her, I really did. I just don’t know if she should have been the main character.

Read Belzhar, let me know what you think. I definitely recommend this book. It’s perfectly tragic, but without a Plath ending. And that’s the beauty of the story. 

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