Yesterday Kate and I finished the last of the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary. And today I am despondent.
I mean, it’s not like I couldn’t get out of bed this morning or anything. But I am feeling sad about going cold turkey on my escape into the wonderfully sweet, simple, pre-cell-phone world of the Quimby family.
Sure there were eight books in all, and it’s not like there aren’t a zillion other Beverly Cleary classics that we could move on to. But is it so wrong to want one more? Ms. Cleary IS still alive you know. Kate and I learned this from our obsessive fan-girl Googling of her. She’s 96 years young. Writing another Ramona book seems like the purrrrrfect little project for her twilight years, dontcha think? After I post this I plan to write her a large-print letter entreating her to bang out one–or two, if possible–additional Ramona reads. Even if it is from her oxygen tent.
Anyway, this thing with me and kid lit isn’t new. I’ve wanted to crawl inside the pages of other books I read to the girls too. Like, I can’t lay eyes on an Angelina Ballerina book without yearning to live in one of the cute-as-a-button cottages in the darling British village Angelina calls home. Who knew mice had such a knack for interior decor?
I want to hang out with Lyle the Crocodile‘s human mother, drinking tea in their Tiffany-lamp-filled New York brownstone. Or maybe I want to be in her book club… Okay, both. I mean, at first blush she seems a bit, well… prim, but I can sense a mother who likes to let her hair down from a mile off. My guess is Mrs. Primm can PAR-tay.
Despite my obvious tendency toward literary daydreaming, the Ramona books gripped me in an especially acute way. First off, they’re incredibly realistic—parents fight, kids squirt the entire tube of toothpaste into the sink, pets die at inopportune times, money is tight. Nearly all these things have happened to me. Or, at least, they should have. Or will. Though in no way do I mean that to be a death wish on Karen, our beloved pet fish. (We luv you, Karen!!! Don’t you go belly up any time soon, ya hear?)
The Ramona series also harkens back to a time that’s immensely appealing in its simplicity. At least for this over-scheduled, gadget-laden, private-school-tuition-payin’ urban mama. No fussing with car seats. Hell—no seat belts even! No driving kids to school. Kids walked there, alone–even kindergartners! Even on the first day!
These days if you don’t take a film crew to the smallest school event the other parents consider calling you into CPS for neglect.
In Ramona-ville there’s no hiring a babysitter when you can just drop the kids at the park while you run errands. (Brilliant!) And dinners out—those rare special occasions—don’t present the family with the challenging decision about Indian versus Thai, or the new macrobiotic raw food cafe that everyone’s talking about. Dinners out are at the Whopper Burger. Nearly always it seems. And ordering a pizza is an indulgence—not something the mom does whenever she’s exhausted, has no food in the house, or got a little liquored up with another mother at a playdate then suddenly realized it was dinner time. (Not that any of those things have ever happened to me.)
While I’m at it, has anyone else wondered whether Ramona’s big sis Beezus was, um, un-planned? Not that I CARE, but as I understood it the dad never finished college because Beezus came along. Hence, being relegated to a purgatory-like career working at a grocery store (and if THAT’S not the most valuable lesson in the whole series, I don’t know what is. Finish college kids or be banished to a lifetime of complaining about people who sneak extra items into the express check-out lane. It’s no way to live.).
Also, as far as I could tell, Ramona’s parents were about half my age. I mean, I think when I was their age I was still ordering shots of Jagermeister at bars and trying to get cops to let me wear their hats so I could win bets with my friends. (Oh, don’t judge me, people.) Anyway, at that same age Mr. and Mrs. Quimby were making costumes for their TWO kids for a church Christmas pageant. It’s like they totally missed the whole Sex in the City era of their lives. I don’t think they even HAD that step in the adult maturation process back in those days. It’s sad, really. But also, kind of quaint.
Anyway, I’m just not ready for the story to be over. Is it so wrong for me to want to watch Ramona navigate the complex social waters of running for freshman class president? To want to know the exact series of mishaps that led to her waking up late on the morning of her SATs? To be a fly on the wall when she makes out with a girl in college in for the first time?
Beverly Cleary, are you listening??
A couple years ago one of our excellent neighbors (who was not a father at the time), told me (admiringly, I think) that Kate reminded him of Ramona Quimby. I had to confess that I didn’t get the reference. I may well have read the Ramona books when I was a kid, but one of the upsides of my terrible memory is that books and movies seem totally new the second time around. I’m the one on the couch with my husband watching The Godfather and shushing him if he opens his mouth, “Don’t spill the beans!”
Anyway, I don’t remember if I had to look up who Ramona was or if my neighbor ended up telling me. (SEE how bad my memory is? I was not at all lying about it.) But now, at long last, I understand what he was saying.
Some parents might not see the comparison between their daughter and Ramona Quimby as a compliment. Ramona wasn’t always—how to say it?—focused on the kinds of things most other kids were. But me? I’m flattered. I love it. I embrace the association wholeheartedly.
But if the same neighbor starts referring to Paige as “The Beaver,” that’s where I’m going to draw the line.