I write for kids despite not having any children of my own.
I sometimes wonder if this puts me at a disadvantage. While I may have more time to write than I would have if I was a parent, I am not spending time with a kid 24/7. So all those story ideas and insight into a child's mind a view of things that parents see in their own kids I don't really get the opportunity to see.
I do teach swimming lessons, babysit for friends, and cherish any time I spend with my niece, nephew, or any other child in life.
So when my dad called and asked if my 12 year old stepsister could come and visit for a week this summer I said yes.
Our week was full of fun things including a day at the Mall of America, seeing a play at the Guthrie Theater, a trip to the zoo, daily visits to Mercado Central for tacos, tamales, and dulces- all things my stepsister misses from her life in Mexico, and a day at Valleyfair.
The zoo was such a great experience because she has only been to one other zoo, three years ago when she was 9 she went to the San Diego zoo. Seeing her excitement over seeing these animals in the zoo, taking videos, and instagramming every animal was a lot of fun.
I thought that having a fame obsessed 12 year old staying with me for a week would be wonderful for my MG project in which one of the characters hopes to go viral. Although my step sister knows she wants to be famous she would not divulge her reasons to me. But observing how she gets energy and feeds on the approval of social media as she goes about her activities was interesting to see.
The week had our ups and downs as I think she was homesick, missing her friends, and involved in some Facebook drama which led me to try to limit the time she spent online.
I realize that when people see me with my stepsister they probably make assumptions about us and our relationship to each other. I am, after all, the age of a parent in relation to her. I'm sure people have lots of questions about our family but I just try to go through the day confidently and being a good sister to her.
If I thought she'd be interested in reading something I've written I was wrong. She is obsessed with horror. Scary movies, scary stories, and has no time for anything outside of this genre. "I wish you wrote scary stories so I could read them," she told me.
If my 12 year old sister was quiet and reserved, trying to hide any evidence that she was having a good time by quickly hiding any smile and complaining. My seven year old niece who came to visit the opposite week was the opposite. Seeing these complex emotions will definitely give me some perspective as I work on my MG novel.
My niece loves her aunt Carrie and seeing her pure joy as she experienced The Little Mermaid at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, art at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, dinosaurs at the Science Museum, and animals at the Minnesota Zoo was amazing. She charmed every person she met on the bus and train as we travelled around the city.
My niece is so honest with her emotions. She was so excited about some jellyfish that swam near us during The Little Mermaid that she spilled her diet coke on me while waving her arms around in excitement.
Seeing her fall in love with a spider at the Big Bugs exhibit at the Minnesota Zoo has sparked the seed to this month's 12x12 picture book manuscript.
I head back to work today feeling blessed and lucky to have the chance to spend time with such wonderful kids.