Monday, September 26, 2016

Mourning the Middle Grade Years by Donna Galanti

Just recently, it struck me that I couldn’t remember the last time I read a goodnight book to my 13-year-old son. I asked him if he knew. He couldn’t remember either.
“There was probably a night where you couldn’t read to me, Mom, because you were busy. And then the next night we forgot about it. And the next.”
“So it just faded away?”
*Mom choke-up*
Since then I’ve been bothered by the fact that:
1. I desperately want to remember when and what that last goodnight book was.
2. If I’d known it was the last time, I would have cherished it.
3. Bedtime reading to my son is forever gone – and why am I just realizing the significance of this now?
I mourn something long disappeared that I had not known was even gone.

Along with the bedtime reading, has gone the picture books and middle grade books. Some I received as a little girl 40+ years ago. My mother lovingly wrote my name in mine, the year I received it, and who gave me the book. The Tooth Fairy brought me books from the entire Beatrix Potter series to all of Roald Dahl’s books.
The picture books have since been packed away in my office and the middle grade books collect dust on my son’s shelves.
“Mom, can we pack these books up now too?”
“Never!” I protest and gently dust them off and take them to my room where middle grade will never die. 
Books like Wonder, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, Warriors, Flat Stanley, Goosebumps, Genius Files, Joshua Dread, Captain Underpants (the lunch signs are the BEST!), Charlie Bone (Mom, this is THE best series EVER! You have to read it). Oh, and how amazingly cool for my son that the Charlie Bone series author, Jenny Nimmo, blurbed my first middle grade book.
My son, pushing 14, has now moved on to sucking up darker novels like Marie Lu’s YA fantasy series Legend, Prodigy, and Champion.
And I realized, sadly, he’s also moved on from all of our middle grade shows: iCarly, Good Luck Charlie, Pair of Kings, Drake and Josh, Sponge Bob Square PantsMy middle grade shows growing up included Little House on the Prairie, The Love Boat, Magnum P.I., Benson, Greatest American Hero, and re-runs of The Carol Burnett Show and Leave it to Beaver.
At nearly-14, my son's tv shows now consist of Arrow, About a Boy, Limitless, Dr. Who (okay that’s forever cool), and How I Met Your Mother (soooo not middle grade!). 
I nostalgically bring up our shared favorite episodes to him of middle grade shows buried in tv-land dust.
“Can’t we just watch a Sponge Bob episode tonight? How about the "Frankendoodle" one or "Pizza Delivery" or "Best Day Ever"?” I ask.
“No, Mom. That’s kid stuff.” *Josh sigh*
“What about iCarly where Spencer pranks everyone and does the prank song?” I start bopping around.
“No, Mom.” *eye roll*
“Okay.” *Mom sigh*

I’ve grown with my son as he’s grown, true, but in doing so I’ve also relived many of my own childhood paths – and I don’t want them to end. I’ve returned home to a place where I will always be young, laughing myself silly, whizzing through an adventure, and experiencing so many wondrous ‘firsts’.
As a kid growing up in the 1970s and 1980s there weren’t books categorized “middle grade” and so I downed Sidney Sheldon, Stephen King, Jack London, Paul Zindel, and V.C. Andrews (all soooo not middle grade). I still re-read many today. They were my middle grade. Now I have my son’s too. And someday I hope he’ll come back around to them, like I did. Maybe with his own child. He doesn’t need to relive his childhood now. He’s living it.
He also doesn’t need me to be home anymore after school. He has a job folding pizza boxes and can ride his bike to a friend’s house. He doesn’t need me to read him bedtime stories or cut up his meat. He doesn’t need me to do his laundry. He can do that just fine (good!).
Don’t misunderstand me; I am enjoying the new phase of things. Watching him work, open a bank account, clean his room because he wants to (faint!), be reasonable when things don’t go his way, and calm his frazzled mom down when deadlines loom. “It’ll be okay Mom. You’ll get it done. You always do.” *Josh hug*
He helped me years ago in writing my first middle grade book when I got stuck on plot and character. And soon, I’ll give him to read the YA fantasy I’m writing before I share it with my agent. Although, I still get thrills when he tells his friends that his mom’s new (middle grade) book out is the best book ever. *mom beam*
He may have said goodbye to middle grade for now, but I do love sharing in the new wonders with him. I just won’t ever stop loving middle grade, not since I fell in love with it through my son. I’ll wait for the day he comes back to it. *fingers crossed*
There is one thing that still remains: Mad Libs. Where middle grade toilet humor abounds because exploding butt nuggets, scrubby cow plops, booger blub, and crusty toe nail clippings make everything funny. Thank goodness for that!

Have you ever mourned moving on from a phase in your child's middle grade life? 


  1. Thank you for reminding me to enjoy the time I've got right now. My 8-year-old and I are reading through "Harry Potter" together, and for he and I, bedtime story time has always been magical.

  2. oh Kelly, I love hearing this! It IS magical. I know so many parents who read (and still read) Harry Potter to their kids as night. I remember that cry from my own 8 year old son of "Just one more book!" and me groaning inside because I didnt want to read just one more book ... but did anyway. I wish I could hear that cry now!

  3. I have a 14-year-old son, too, and I completely share your feelings. I've been through it once already with my oldest (who is now a sophomore in college!), and it was more difficult with him. I guess first--or only--times are always hardest. My daughter is 12, and she left MG a few years ago. She's always been older than her age. :)
    I still read the MGs, and I continue to pester them to read them as well. Old habits die hard.

    1. Thanks for empathizing Shannon! My son is an only (like me) so probably why my mourning is additionally hard as I know the time won't come around again. Funny how we don't often see a passage leaving us behind until it's far gone.

  4. Love that your tooth fairy was a bookworm!

    Thankfully, I still have a kid who loves to be read to (my just-turned-10-year-old.) The older brothers won't let me near them with a book but, like you, I'm hoping they will one day come around!

    1. Yes! I always loved to read and my mom the "Tooth Fairy" knew that well. A book and a quarter - then it eventually grew to a whole dollar! Treasure those 10-year-old moments, Michael :) .

  5. Ah, you brought back so many memories for me with my kids. But now, from a different perspective, I'm reliving some of the fun through grandkids. I guess the important thing overall is that the children are learning to love books, and reading. And that will always go with them!

    1. Agreed! and what you've so wonderfully spoken to here, Kenda, is that this is a cycle that can be passed on over and over and what's even more wonderful is that we can experience it at different stages in our lives with multi-generations.

  6. I can totally relate to your feelings about mourning the loss of reading MG books together, I'm going through the same thing with my kiddo. Oh, the memories. Now there's been a shift toward reading more YA, dystopian/scifi. At least most of the books are still in the fantasy genre, and even if we aren't reading them together anymore, we can each read and still talk about books. I get some of the best recommendations this way. Plus, I'm just happy to see that there is an enjoyment in reading. Feels like I did something right.

    1. Brenda, I feel we are on the same path with the YA dystopian/sci fi with our kids. But YES, ultimately if they like to read we did something right! Instilling a love for reading is so wonderful - and their tastes will change over time. I know mine have just since my 20s and 30s.

  7. I'm halfway through the Legend series on recommendation from my 13-year-old son! <3

  8. That's awesome! Yes, my son just sucked it up! Hope you enjoy :)

  9. Yes! And although I miss who my now 15yo was before, I treasure the moments we share now, like getting the new Leigh Bardugo book and fighting over who gets to read it first: he, because I'm deadlining. And it's so funny that you mention reading Sidney Sheldon and Stephen King in your middle grade years... pst, so did I!

    1. Yamile, I LOVE that you fight over who gets to read a book first! Looking back, I can't believe I was reading Sidney Sheldon at 11. That would never have happened today. LOL!


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!