I wrote this post for the First Book Blogger Book Club. "First Book provides new books to children in need, addressing one of the most important factors affecting literacy – access to books. An innovative leader in social enterprise, First Book has distributed more than 80 million free and low-cost books in thousands of communities." (Taken from the First Book website.)
There's a story I love to tell that happened one evening while my friend Alison and I were studying in the library. It was during finals and the library was understandably crowded. Unfortunately, the only table that was available was one next to the copy machine. Apparently several students at Calvin that evening decided it would be a good idea to copy their entire textbook in order to study for finals. The sound of the copying was driving us crazy and we were getting nothing done.
"There should be a 'No Copying Hours' time around here." Alison said.
"Or an 'Out of Order' sign for it." I responded back.
Alison lifted her eyebrow slightly like I was on to something. Or perhaps I was daring her to do something a little wicked. During a lull in the copy marathon, Alison took out a piece of paper and wrote "Out of Order" in her gorgeous script, swiveled around in her chair, then slammed it on the copy machine.
She never made eye contact with me after that. Highlighter in one hand, and eyes on her book, if you hadn't been watching her the last 2 seconds, you never would've known what just happened.
But I saw her. And as much as I wanted to giggle I did my best to follow suit. I looked down at my notes and tried to concentrate (Alison had, after all, fixed our problem), but waited excitedly to see what would happen when someone went to use the copy machine.
It wasn't long before I had to leave the library because I couldn't control my laughing. Student after student walked up to the copy machine with their 450 lb textbook, paused to read the sign, then let out an overwhelmed gasp as if to say, What am I going to do NOW?!?!?!
Alison never laughed. She kept right on studying (which is probably why she's a doctor now). And this made it even more funny for me. The fact that she so quickly wrote the "Out of Order" sign, put it on the copy machine, then went back to work without so much as a "Hee! Hee!" was incredible to me.
Perhaps it's not the greatest anecdote, but to me and Alison, it's hilarious. When I remember that evening I get the giggles at how quickly she acted, and how stoic she was. I smile because we got away with it, and I laugh (even if it's a bit of a guilty laugh) at the students' faces when they learn they can't use the copier.
I thought about this incident several times while reading the book The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. The main character, Frankie, is a 16 year old girl who starts dating Matthew Livingston, a seemingly charming fellow who's in a secret all-male club.
I feel disresptectful to write that Frankie is desperate to be a part of this club. I worry it makes her sound as though she might be interested in it because of her boyfriend, or perhaps she doesn't have any friends of her own. While these statements might have some truth to them, I think what makes Frankie desperate to be in the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds is the need to want to be in on something.
I get that. Even if the bond is because of pranks that are being pulled, I understand the need to want to be in on the joke, and I wonder if that's how some of the great friendships start. What Frankie discovers through observation (a.k.a. spying) of the Bassets, as well as reading (after stealing) The Disreputable History of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds is this: "...the sense of togetherness. The king usually wrote most of the entries, but Bassets edited each other's writing, scribbled in comments, and took turns telling stories as well. They planned to know one another when they were ancient and gray....." While Alison and I and my other close friends in college liked a good laugh, we also were forming a bond. These girls who made me laugh uncontrollably were also the girls who saw me cry because I was homesick, or throw books at walls because I didn't understand that darn math assignment. They're the women today who understand my stuggles with motherhood, and through all of that, they can still make me laugh. I think that's what Frankie is looking for.
I feel for Frankie while at the same time admiring her. She becomes a criminal mastermind and it is such fun to watch her lead the Bassets around on a leash. Plus, I love that they have no clue it's her who's doing the leading. But I feel for her too because she's trying to prove to these guys that she can be one of them. The thing is, they aren't interested in this proof. This club is for boys. It reminds me of the story Best Friends for Frances by Russell Hoben that Hadley and I read together frequently. Hadley gets so angry when Albert tells Frances she can't play baseball with he and Harold, as does Frances. The boys' reason? "This is a no-girls game." And Hadley loves Frances even more when she creates a "Girls Only" day that Albert cannot be a part of.
I liked a lot of things about The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. I thought the dialogue was hysterical and spot on with how teenagers speak to each other. I enjoyed the parts where the narrator seemed to take a step away from the events of the story and reach out to the reader as if we were sharing some gossip over a mani/pedi. What I think I like the most, however, is that this story got me thinking about the great friendships in my life, and how they started. Pranks are bad. Breaking the rules is not something we want to encourage our kids. But laughter is so, so good. And while I want to be very careful in what I write here, I also want to express that it was in some of the not completely stand up things that I shared with my very good - best friends, I also found a part of myself. We shared many late nights of side splitting belly laughter, and because of that I am able to come to them with more serious things.
I hope Hadley and Harper read this book. I want them to enjoy it. I want them to root for Frankie, but I also want them to grow with her. I hope they see that one of the greatest things she did in the book was figure out who she was, and who she wasn't. "It is better to be alone, she figures, than to be with someone who can't see who you are. It is better to lead than to follow. It is better to speak up than stay silent. It is better to open doors than to shut them on people." I love that Frankie figured this out pulling some of the greatest pranks in Basset Hound history.
Figuring something out about yourself can by scary and overwhelming. Trying to see where you belong might be one of the hardest lessons to learn; and we have to learn that over and over in life. I hope my girls have the confidence to see what Frankie saw in herself. Maybe it'll be stories like this that make them see that. Or maybe it'll be meeting a few great friends that make them laugh so hard they can't breath. Or maybe it'll be a great prank that shows the Alberts and Matthew Livingston's of the world they can do anything boys can do.
Something tells me that if my girls meet Alison's daughters they'll come up with something way better than shutting down a copy machine for the night.