Book learning - FamilyEducation

Book learning

February 01,2008

My husband and I were up late last night discussing Beverly Cleary's well-known children's book character Ramona Quimby and her family. I should clarify and say that we were up late last night discussing our family budget and, found ourselves instead dissecting the Quimby's household budget. We periodically have these late-night discussions; not the optimal time for discussing family finances, but it’s the only time we can have a conversation that’s not interrupted every five seconds by one or both of the kids.

I grew up reading about Ramona's escapades as a four-year old, then as an awkward and outspoken kindergartener, then as an impatient and misunderstood second-grader. When I grew older and out of Ramona and the Quimby's and into the likes of Judy Blume, and C.S. Lewis and Lloyd Alexander, I promptly forgot about Cleary and her books until a few months ago when we checked out some books on CD for the kids to listen to. In the latest installment, Ramona and Her Father, the Quimby household does some collective belt-tightening when downsizing costs Mr. Quimby his job and they are forced to make ends meet on Mrs. Quimby's salary alone and, well, times get tough for them, in honest and bittersweet ways.

As it turned out, my husband and I had both spent a huge chunk of this week listening to Ramona at different times in the car (my husband has the morning "shift" with T. while I teach my classes; then we switch off--at the parking lot where he teaches--and I take the afternoon with the kids) and finding ourselves drawn into the trials and tribulations of what it meant for a family in the 1970s to abruptly find themselves dealing with unemployment, and a tighter-than-usual budget. I remember identifying with Ramona when I was 7 or 8--she was, after all, my contemporary--and feeling at the time like Ramona and I had so much in common we were practically soulmates. Ramona was often misunderstood and had trouble with spelling and I was often misunderstood and had trouble with spelling; Ramona shared a room with her sister and I shared a room with my sister; her parents had one car, and my parents did too! Ramona had straight brown hair and envied the girls in her class with springy curls and I, too, had straight brown hair and I so very much coveted the bouncy blonde curls of Denise, the most popular girl in my second-grade class. I loved Ramona—she spoke to me, and it was so gratifying to discover that there was obviously one adult out there—Beverly Cleary—who truly understood the 7-year old angst I had to deal with on a daily basis.

It was odd and a tad sobering this week to find myself, some thirty years later, listening to Ramona and her Father on CD and identifying instead with Mr. and Mrs. Quimby and not with Ramona, or even her big sister Beezus.  I understood belt-tightening back when I was a child as an irritating inconvenience foisted upon us kids by our parents, who surely were being a little melodramatic at times about the amount of money they had in the bank.  But as a child I didn't feel the stress and anxiety of keeping a tight family budget in the ways which I'm sure weighed on my parents, just as the family finances weigh on us as we try and juggle the growing demands and needs of our kids.

Somewhere along the way I guess I really did grow up and out of Ramona and, while I'm no Mrs. Quimby, I guess it turns out I have more in common with her now than I once thought I did.