I wrote a children's book: here's why
I’ve been a communications professional my entire career but just because I’ve been a wordsmith-for-hire for 40+ years, doesn’t mean I always dreamed of writing a book. Nor does it mean I’d be any good at it.
I’m in awe of astonishing writing – and devour everything from magazine articles to poetry to novels of many genres – but I never thought smugly to myself, “Hey, that looks easy: I could do that, too.” I scrawl blogs pretty regularly, so I’m keenly aware from the experience of churning out 1,000 words on any of the myriad of topics that catch my fancy, that good writing’s damn hard. A clear sentence is rarely an accident. A perfect turn of phrase or metaphor or bon mot rarely happens but when it does, it smudges the page, dampened by the sweat it took to create it. Nathaniel Hawthorne famously quipped, “Easy reading is hard writing.”
And I’m ever-cognizant that my desire to share an anecdote or opinion requires a relationship with the reader – who’s usually got one finger on the delete key or one foot out the door. Readers are both fabulous and fickle: they can make you feel like dancing or they can crush your insignificant bug-like soul with the heel of their shoe.
Eight pounds of inspiration
So, even with this hard-won knowledge and bias, I’ve gone ahead and written a children’s book. I felt I had stories to tell in a way that hadn’t been shared widely before. But let’s rewind the tape to March 2, 2015: the day the inspiration for the book arrived with a rebel yell in a hospital in Charleston, South Carolina. My little grandson with a big name arrived and changed the lives of everyone in his constellation forever. My son, Craig, and his husband, Matthew, were finally a Papa and Daddy to Fitzgerald Timothy Hinton-Parkes.
As a same-sex couple, the improbable, elusive dream of being parents had been made possible by the selfless gift offered by Matt’s sister, Laura. Already mother to three young children, she generously offered to be a gestational surrogate for the men. For those who missed the surrogacy stories or would like to re-read them, you can find them here, here, and here.
I hardly need to tell you the immeasurable joy Fitz has brought to his extended family over the past four and a half years. He’s personality-overload: willful, articulate, observant, caring, curious, smart and funny (or in his words, “I’m funny enough!”). Steve and I have the huge benefit of living close by, so our observations and interactions with him have been frequent and regular. Lucky us!
The weekly ritual
We started looking after Fitz every Friday when he was nine months old. In anticipation of their return to work full time, his dads asked us if we’d consider babysitting one day a week; they had childcare arrangements for the other days. While it was a way to help out Craig and Matt with the high cost of childcare, we also knew this would be a special way we could play an ongoing role in Fitz’s life. At the time, Steve had recently retired and I was working as a home-based consultant with somewhat flexible hours. We talked it over and agreed that every Friday with Fitz was an amazing opportunity to create lifelong memories for our grandson. A gift, really.
Steve and I live in a townhouse, and while it’s not cramped for the two of us, the walls close in quickly with an active toddler around. So, we started taking him on adventures around the city and this became our routine. We’d pick something to do and off we’d go: pools, parks, playgrounds, the Aquarium, forests, riding the bus, and more.
I quickly realized that our playdates with Fitz mirrored the experiences of so many friends and friends-of-friends who were now grandparents. This generation of grandparents differs from previous generations in some key ways: we are a tribe of vibrant, active and energetic people, up for all kinds of adventure and play. We’ve stepped up in larger numbers than ever to help, not just as weekend caretakers or for occasional sleepovers, but as highly involved members of the extended childcare team – in part due to the expense or lack of available childcare for working couples. We are more than babysitters.
And because we are not the parents – with limited time and many responsibilities – we have more freedom to be available to the child in a free, fun way.
Hey, we don’t look like that!
As I see more and more evidence of my peer group’s active involvement in the lives of their grandchildren, this reality is in stark contrast to how we’re depicted in most children’s picture books: elderly, grey, sedentary, plump-ish, and bifocaled. For sure, Grandma and Grandpa are generally portrayed as kind and good people to visit. But the imagery and the types of activities they engage in do not represent the majority of grandparents these days. As I’ve paged through picture books with Fitz, I cringe at the unflattering and inaccurate images of my generation.
This bothers me a lot, and although I can’t recall the “aha moment” when I decided someone needed to crush the stereotype, the idea for a series of picture books based on our adventures with Fitz every Friday started to take shape. I wanted to highlight the special bond between today’s grandparents and grandchildren with stories that celebrate the significance of that relationship.
I also wanted to share stories about a little boy who just happens to have a Papa and a Daddy. This is Fitz’s reality and thankfully, with more and more same sex couples having children, society is shifting in terms of its understanding and acceptance of what it means to be a “normal” family. I intentionally steered away from any moralizing or proselytizing: the stories are squarely about Fitz and his adventures with his grandparents. His Papa drops him off in the morning at our house; at the end of the day, he shares tales of his day with his two dads.
So, I started writing “Fridays with Fitz.” My big, hairy, audacious goal (a girl’s gotta dream, right?) is to produce a series of stories, with each featuring a different adventure we’ve had together. The stories are told through the eyes of a curious and energetic toddler, where even ordinary adventures – like riding the bus, going to the pool, collecting shells at the beach and foraging for fungus in the forest – can be magical for everyone.
The first one is called “Fitz Goes to the Pool.” Fitz loves the water: swimming lessons and splashing in lakes, oceans and pools. The playfully renamed “Gollywobble Pool” in the book has been a favourite destination each summer. With his big imagination, little wonder he thinks he sees an octopus in the pool.
Painting the picture
To bring the stories to life, I snagged a wonderful young illustrator named Rose Mason. She had recently graduated from the Ontario College of Art & Design and was eager to be involved in a creative project like illustrating a children’s book. Rose was captivated by the stories and her enthusiasm vibrates in illustrations in the book. Her watercolours are fresh, minimalist, engaging.
A story about family
I’m so stoked to share my first children’s book with you! My hope is that it will kindle conversations: about what defines a family, the importance of intergenerational relationships, and how – no matter what our circumstance – each of us is inextricably connected. I look forward to your feedback!