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Friday, October 31, 2014

Teen Halloween

The first Halloween I had as a mom, Z was a few weeks old. I could barely dress myself, never mind him, at that point. We stayed home and handed out candy dressed as exhausted people in pajamas.

The second year, he was walking and delightful and I was PSYCHED. He loved Sesame Street already so I bought my tiny little man a Big Bird costume. This baby who almost never fussed at all smiled when I showed him the costume, saying "Big Bird!" But the smile turned to panic as I tried to put the thing on him. He was screaming, wailing, sweating like a construction worker in August as I attempted to shove his unwilling little legs into the stripey bottoms. When I had to stifle a curse, I stopped and took a breath. And thought, insanely, WTF is WRONG with YOU, baby?

He lay there on the changing table, looking sad and scared. Was he imagining that Big Bird was suddenly eating him up? Or that he would actually become Big Bird? Or... or, who cares? He didn't want to wear the thing.

So what the heck was I doing? And WHY?

Well, because, he was so cute. And I knew he'd LOVE trick-or-treating. And I also knew I couldn't take him without a costume. Because, rules. Society. What kind of mother was I?

I put him in his yellow feety pajamas, cut a red sweatshirt, and wrote POOH on it. He didn't know he was in costume and it was one of the happiest, best nights of his whole life up to that point.

Fast forward a bunch of years. Now there are two kids, and they are both taller than I am. They still like to dress up...
Z, their buddy J, and my baby L

And they still like to go out:

Though this year Z is in college and L is going out with friends and it will be the first time in so many years that I won't be on 69th street with my friend Lauren, dressed up and trying to find our boys.

But I can't even think about that or I'll cry.

And anyway what I am really thinking about right now is remembering and still coping with the way we've had to navigate the unique and poignant stress that is Halloween for teens.

I no longer attempt to shove their unwilling legs into anything. That would just be weird.

But it's a tough one to manage, Halloween as a teen. Are you too old to trick-or-treat? Dress up? Have your mom or dad plan the evening? Are you also too young to not do those things, or care?

When I was in elementary school and, okay, maybe a bit beyond, I always wore elaborate costumes I had to explain at every door, when a well-intentioned adult would look at my friends and me and say: Oh! A football player, a witch, a ballerina, two apples, a pumpkin, and... hmmm... what are you this year, Rachel?

I would show my multiple props and explain what seemed obvious to me: I'm Mozart! (violin, sheet music) I'm Thomas Jefferson! (same white wig, but now the Declaration of Independence and a quill pen)...

On and on. I think maybe if Halloween had happened more frequently I'd have remembered the excruciating horror of humiliation I'd set myself up for the last time and choose to be something normal, obvious this time. But it took me years

The ski jacket over my costume might have also hindered the recognition of various 18th Century heroes. (Okay maybe it was ONE of the problems though.) My mom was afraid I'd be cold. She should have known the flop-sweat and burning embarrassment would keep me nice and toasty.

Eventually I just went as a skier, with my jacket zipped and goggles on. Fine, the first year or two I might have brought ski poles. 

(Is it any wonder I write about the humiliations of being an adolescent? I prepared SO WELL.)

All to say, it's hard to navigate this holiday of childhood imagination and adult campiness for those who are smack in between. 

So my question to you -- how do you manage, yourself or with your tweens and teens?

And: what was your most embarrassing costume ever?

The adorable little ones are easy to be sweet to. Please remember the big galoots need some sweets and some sweetness too, if only this one last time, these precious last grasps of being a kid...

Take their picture, too...

Mine already don't look like this anymore, either...

Happy Halloween!

Rachel Vail

Monday, October 13, 2014

Next weekend -- and a review!

It's Monday -- time to start thinking about next weekend! Will you come hang with me, hear me read from my new book UNFRIENDED*, and I could sign a copy for you? Here's where I'll be, when:

Saturday Oct 18 4 PM The Hickory Stick Bookstore in Washington, CT

Sunday Oct 19 2:30 PM Bank Street Bookstore NYC (112th and Bway)

Lemme know if you can come!

* UNFRIENDED just got a STARRED review from Bulletin! Here it is:
R* Gr. 5-8
After two years of rejection, Truly is finally summoned by her ex-best friend Natasha to the eighth-grade Popular Table in the lunchroom, little knowing the disaster dominoes that will consequently topple. In changing groups, Truly leaves behind smart, arrogant, and determinedly offbeat Hazel, who’s none too thrilled at being jettisoned in favor of girls she considers beneath her; additionally, angry, insecure Natasha grows convinced that Truly is conspiring to nudge Natasha out of the group, and the actions of Hazel and Natasha result in a growing anti-Truly storm that rages over social media and text messages. Those are only a few of the strands of this fascinatingly intricate, poignantly authentic look at middle-school dynam- ics and their amplification through technology. Narration alternates between six eighth-graders: Truly, Hazel, and Natasha, plus the popular group’s low-key leader, Brooke; Brooke’s long-term friend who’s starting to become a romantic possibility, Clay; and the boy who likes Truly, Jack. The result hearkens back to Vail’s wonderful The Friendship Ring series in its opportunity to see how various characters delight, suffer, and rationalize, complicating the portrayals: sweet Truly really does dump Hazel without a backward glance; Hazel repents her pot-stirring account hacking and finds herself liking Brooke; Natasha is so influenced by her bitter and puni- tive mother that it’s a miracle she manages to be functional. The author rises to the difficult technical challenge of keeping all these chaotic plot elements in clear and compelling play, and she not only plausibly pulls her characters out of their combined downward spiral but manages to give everybody some grace and hope. This will be an irresistible starter to a discussion of ethics and values, and readers will appreciate both the cautionary tale and the message of survival’s possibility. DS

Friday, October 10, 2014

New piece (by me!) in The Washington Post

My piece on The Top 5 Things Adults Get Wrong About Teens just went live on the Washington Post's website!

I love the photo they chose to illustrate it:

So now -- what else do YOU think adults get wrong (or RIGHT!) about teens?