Monday, October 31, 2011


When I was young, we lived in a big old house. Built in the late 1800s, it had history. There were rumors of the families that had lived there. Of tragedy and mystery. But we didn't know anything for sure and at that age, I didn't really think about those sorts of things.

My first floor bedroom was across from the door to the unfinished basement. More of a cellar, really, it had a dirt floor and crumbly brick walls. We almost never went down there. Only in tornadoes. And in Kansas, that was more often than I care to say. Even then, we were none too excited to open that door and descend those steps. None of us had ever had a bad experience down there, it was just a general unpleasant sense that everyone that went down there felt.

The first time something unusual happened to me, I was 8. I lay in my bed. The light in the bathroom across the hall was on and both my door and the bathroom door were open. I don't know what I was thinking, not sure how deep my thoughts were at that age, but I am certain that I was very awake. Quite suddenly, the blankets on my bed were roughly pulled off and under my bed. With the fearlessness of a child certain there are no monsters, I leaned over the edge. My head nearly touching the floor, I looked under my bed, fully expecting to see my sister playing a trick on me. But there was no one there.

After that, I would lay in bed at night staring at the partially cracked door to the basement. A door that wouldn't close all the way, no matter how hard you pushed on it. I stared and I waited. There were no repeats of the sheet snatching but few were the nights that didn't involve troubled dreams and I never truly felt comfortable in that house again. Mercifully, we moved a few years later.

Over the years, a number of other unexplained things have happened to and around me. Shifting shadows, noises, doors opening and closing, objects moving, voices. Some houses have a stronger presence than others. One apartment in a fairly new building I lived in when I first moved to Maryland was particularly active, while some older places have been entirely quiet.

The rational side of me says there are no ghosts, that bumps in the night are no more than settling or wind or little living creatures working their way through walls and floors or perhaps even an over active imagination. But the emotional side. The side that remembers my name clearly whispered into my ear when I sat alone on the sofa watching television. That side says there ARE things we can't explain. And that side will insist on a nightlight this all hallows eve.

As it does every night.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Little Ballerina

A few years ago, my sister came across this book in the storage room at my parent's house. I have the very fondest of memories of reading it when I was young and I know my sister did too. With the hope that she would enjoy it as much as we did, she set it out for Sophie. I've had it since then, but only recently introduced it into the reading rotation because I was worried that it would be too long or detailed for her. When I finally did bring it out, she absolutely fell in love with it. She asks me to read it every day before bedtime and naptime. She prances around the house doing the ballet moves described in the book.

Unfortunately, the book is more than 30 years old and has been much loved. The pages have fallen out and it is only my careful handling that keeps it together. I can't leave it in her room anymore because she doesn't have the most gentle hands and on more than one occasion I have come in to find its delicate pages strewn about her room.

So I got on Amazon to see if I could find a new one. I'm not sure if I expected it to still be in print, but the answer is that it is not. Which isn't surprising, it is a VERY dated book, a la Fun with Dick and Jane. Amazon does have some copies for sale, but they are in the same age range, or older, as my copy and are now considered historic pieces* and are quite expensive.

When I did a search for the book, I found another book of the same name by a different author. Based on the description, it looks to be similar to my book although not quite the same, but I thought "hey, maybe this one will do." So I scanned down to the reviews. The top review was from a woman who says that what she loves about this book is that the titular ballerina doesn't get the lead and dance in toe shoes, that books with that sort of stuff give kids unrealistic expectations.

The more I think about it, the more that bothers me, because I feel like that sort of attitude is an epidemic these days. Why is telling stories about children who do wonderful things setting them up with unrealistic expectations? True, not every child will be the lead in the recital, but does that mean it's wrong to teach them to dream for that? I just don't understand this attitude. Maybe it's Ayn Rand-y of me to say, but why is teaching excellence bad?

So while I can't quite talk myself into spending $50 for an authentic replacement of my book, I simply can not buy this book that tells my daughter that all she should hope for is mediocrity. Maybe that's good enough for some kids, but not mine. Nobody ever achieved big things by dreaming small. Whether she actually achieves them or not isn't really the issue for me. I just want my daughter to try.

* I also recently saw a toy that I LOVED as a kid in a museum. True story. My age is showing.