whose sixth birthday was worse? mine or claudia’s?

i have been in the process of learning how to drive for the last month or so. at first, this took the form of driving while jared & i ran errands, like getting groceries, going to the laundromat, or seeing a movie. then we realized that if we just counted on those driving excursions for me to learn, i would never learn, because we only drive like three times a month. so now we are purposefully going on random drives all over the place so i can get in more practice. we just got home from a 45 minute drive out to the country. the road very suddenly turned into gravel & i could feel the car slipping & sliding all over the place. so i pulled into the parking lot of an abandoned BYOB juice bar (what the fuck?), turned around, & navigated back to civilization. then i took a random left turn & wound up on the entrance ramp to K-10. i am not really at the point where i feel comfortable driving on highways, so that was scary. i had to drive on the highway for a little while to escape, & it worked out fine. then i wound up a brick road in east lawrence behind a car going literally seven miles an hour. i don’t know if the driver was also new at driving or just really high or what. we cruised by our new house & it is still cute. now i’m back home & feeling all tense & worn out from driving. i will add that it also took me literally about ten minutes to pull out of the garage. i kept telling myself, “to go left, turn the wheel to the right,” but i couldn’t get enough space to clear the passenger side mirror.

because of all this, i am going to let my review/recap of claudia’s book, a special life story edition babysitters club book, fill in for a regular blog post. there is stuff about me in it. read on to learn how my sixth birthday compared with claudia’s sixth birthday…

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this is claudia’s version of the lengthy autobiography that each stoneybrook middle school eighth grader has to write. she subtitles it “an artist’s life”. it opens with some pretty dull recollections from janine about the day claudia was brought home from the hospital after being born. janine was three & a half then & was eating alphabet soup for lunch. mimi was trying to each her how to spell “claudia” with her alphabet noodles. then mr. & mrs. kishi arrived home with baby claudia & janine said hello & then she finished her soup. FASCINATING. claudia includes a copy of her birth announcement, from the now-defunct “stoneybrook gazette”. claudia & i have the same birthday: july 11. & the same middle name by birth: lynn. i have since legally changed my middle name to miaow.

one of claudia’s earliest memories involves her sixth birthday. her parents let her throw a birthday party with a complicated circus theme. it involved a game of pin-the-nose-on-the-clown, a circus-themed ice cream cake with a little figurine of claudia dressed in a ringmaster outfit on top, & cute invitations that looked like tickets to the circus. because claudia was born in the middle of summer, she took her invitations to school on the last day of kindergarten to hand out to her classmates. but the last day of school is so busy with all the celebrating & cleaning out of cubbies & such forth that claudia doesn’t get around to passing out invitations until the end of the day. children are encouraged to RSVP by having their parents call the kishis, but as summertime marches on, the kishis receive no RSVPs. mrs. kishi frets that maybe claudia didn’t hand out the invitations. claudia is unconcerned. she knows she handed out the invitations & can’t imagine why no one would want to come to her birthday party.

well, of course no one comes because they completely forgot about it in the excitement of the last day of school & the intervening six weeks that passed before claudia’s party. like i said, claudia & i have the same birthday & i can totally vouch for the fact that having a mid-summer birthday SUCKS as a child because it’s pretty much impossible to have birthday parties. i did have a birthday party when i turned six–somehow my parents managed to invite maybe ten girls from the kindergarten class. my family lived in a big park at the time–we were supposed to take care of the grounds, plant grass, maintain the playground equipment, direct traffic to the pool on busy days, scare off wolves, etc. so it was an ideal setting for a child’s birthday party. (except for the wolf part, i guess.) unfortunately, i came down with chicken pox a few days before my birthday & had to sit inside, covered in calamine lotion, while my friends sat outside at picnic tables, eating cake & ice cream & playing games. i think it was probably my worst birthday ever.

claudia thinks hers is the worst birthday ever because no one comes to the party except for kristy & mary anne. claudia runs away & cries. finally mimi coaxes claudia out of her room & across the street, where the kishis have teamed up with the thomases & the spiers for a smaller but still elaborate circus-themed party. they replaced the melted ice cream cake with a fresh one & the older thomas kids have wrapped up some of their old toys as gifts for claudia. she ends up having a great time after all.

in the second grade, claudia develops a fear of the tooth fairy. she thinks the tooth fairy is basically a big monster that steals teeth right out of children’s heads. she is very reluctant to lose a tooth. then she falls on the playground & knocks one of her teeth loose. for some bizarre reason, her parents don’t just let nature take its course. they instead take her to the dentist, who pulls the loose tooth. what the fuck? the dentist gives claudia the tooth & reminds her to stash it under her pillow for the tooth fairy. instead, claudia makes herself a little nest in her closet & sets a bunch of traps so that she will wake up & be ready to fight back when the tooth fairy shows up. she is almost dozing off in the closet when a figure creeps into her room & whispers her name. the figure then reaches under claudia’s pillow & sneaks away. claudia realizes that it was her mother, swapping out the tooth for a silver dollar. she puts it all together amazingly quickly, considering that we’re talking about claudia: there is no tooth fairy, it’s her parents, there is also no easter bunny or santa claus. she feels very grown up.

in the fourth grade, claudia is really struggling to keep up with her schoolwork. her teacher requests a conference with mr. & mrs. kishi & suggest that claudia be transferred to the stamford alternative academy, which can provide her with more individual attention & may have teaching strategies that will help claudia learn in her own way. claudia freaks. she’s not doing well at stoneybrook elementary as far as academics, but she is loath to switch schools & leave her friends before. she decides she will bomb the entrace exams for the academic academy, which she figures won’t be hard to do since she is so bad at tests anyway.

of course, the tests aren’t really tests. they’re just examinations designed to show in which areas claudia needs more help. she is admitted to the alternative academy & is really bummed about it. she starts classes there & finds that she does have an easier time learning with all the individual attention she gets. whenever she doesn’t understand a topic through one way of teaching, her instructors try something else until they hit on a method that helps her learn. but even as her schoolwork improves, claudia is getting depressed. she doesn’t try to make friends at her new school & is convinced that her old friends at stoneybrook elementary have forgotten about her because they don’t go to school together anymore. gradually, she stops talking to anyone, stops eating, starts sleeping all the time.

finally her parents recognize that claudia is profoundly depressed & they allow her to go back to school at stoneybrook elementary. they say that improved scholastic achievement isn’t worth paying the price in claudia’s happiness. claudia returns to stoneybrook elementary & again starts slipping academically, but is too happy to be back with her friends to care.

i have really mixed feelings about this story. i went through some bouts of profound depression when i was a child–at an age far earlier than most adults start worrying about children exhibiting depression symptoms. so i appreciated this take on childhood depression. but it bummed me out that the story seemed to be a choice between claudia being able to keep up academically & prepare for a successful future, versus claudia maintaining her mental health & social life, which are also important for a healthy & productive adulthood. i really wanted the kishis to try to find some kind of middle ground, where claudia can be happy but also get the special academic attention that she obviously needs. obviously regular classroom settings are failing her. i don’t know. it bummed me out.

the last story is about claudia going on a beach weekend trip with the thomas family when she is like ten years old. she & kristy are looking after david michael & he gets permission from them to go on his own to get a hot dog. kristy says he has to be back in ten minutes. but he just doesn’t come back. kristy & claudia are in a panic looking for him, wondering if maybe he was hit by a car or kidnapped or wandered into the ocean alone & drowned. they finally find him an hour later playing with some other kids in the sand. he is four years old & had no idea what ten minutes really was or how to tell time. he didn’t even realize that he was missing. david michael, kristy, & claudia agree to keep the event from mrs. thomas because she’ll just get mad at all of them if she knows, & it all worked out in the end, so…no harm, no foul. but claudia realizes that kristy doesn’t have it easy, taking on as much responsibility as she has had to do since her dad walked out.

claudia gets an A for presentation & a B- for organization, spelling, & grammar.

2 thoughts on “whose sixth birthday was worse? mine or claudia’s?”

  1. Hi,
    I’m a longtime lurker who is delurking to tell you that I, too, learned how to drive after the age of 15 or 16 or 25. It took me forever to learn how to back up straight and I still park in places where no one is likely to park near me if I can help it. But like everyone else is (probably) telling you – the more you do it, the easier it gets.
    I really like your Babysitter’s Club book reviews. I never read them as a child – I was much more into Sweet Valley Twins, but it’s nice to catch up on what I missed.

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