Monday, July 22, 2013

I Scream for Ice Cream, or Why I Write for Children by Laurie Calkhoven

I had a lot of trouble trying to make a connection between ice cream and writing. I had a few ideas, but nothing was coming together in an interesting way. So I decided to go to the source. After dinner with a friend in the Flatiron district a few days ago, I suggested we try the gelato at Eataly. Unfortunately, on that brutally hot day, half of New York City had the same idea. So we crossed the street to check out the Shake Shack in Madison Square where the line for cold items is usually much shorter than that for hamburgers and fries. That’s where the other half of New York City had gathered. We abandoned our efforts and boarded our respective subway trains. But I had one more option before I cried uncle—my subway stop happens to be right in front of Dylan’s Candy Bar, a mecca of sweet treats. Once again, my desire for ice cream and inspiration was thwarted. This time by a busload of tourists. The universe, perhaps in collaboration with my bathroom scale, was sending a message—no ice cream for you tonight.

Walking home, I remembered another time my quest for ice cream was unfulfilled. I was around six or seven, and with twenty-five cents in my pocket I walked to the Dairy Freeze with my older sister and her friend Dinah after dinner one summer night. This was exciting because we were kids out without an adult in the nighttime (although not yet dark) and because our journey involved the crossing of a street (although not a busy one) and the Dairy Freeze was a place where teenagers gathered in all their thrilling and slightly frightening grownupness.

I stood on line to get my cone—waffle, not sugar—filled with a beautiful swirl of vanilla and chocolate, and I had enough money to get chocolate sprinkles, too. Heaven. Sneaking peeks at the teenagers, I waited for the others to get their ice cream. I took a couple of careful licks, wanting to make sure my cone lasted for the entire walk home.
Dinah was riding her brother’s much-too-big bicycle, so she wolfed down her ice cream and tried to climb on the bike. Instead, she and the bike fell into me, knocking me down and sending my ice cream—splat!—onto the sidewalk.

Teenagers laughed, Dinah yelled at me for being in her way, and my sister gobbled up her ice cream so that she wouldn’t have to share.
I can still remember the swirl of feelings—sad about the loss of my ice cream and almost two weeks’ allowance, outrage at being blamed for what was clearly Dinah’s mistake, humiliation at being knocked over and yelled at in front of teenagers, and hurt that instead of defending and/or helping me, my sister ate her ice cream and sided with her friend.

I held in the tears until I got home and shared my outrage with my parents. I don’t know what I expected. That they’d take me right back to the ice cream store and buy me a cone? That they call Dinah’s mother and insist she refund my quarter? That they punish my sister (who was now laughing at me) for being such a brat?

None of that happened. To them, the loss of my ice cream cone wasn’t a big deal. My disappointment would be fleeting. There would be plenty of cones in my future. They were tired and impatient and told me to stop crying and get ready for bed. And that dismissal stung as much as the rest of it. But the thing is, like many adults, they didn’t remember what it felt like to be a kid or how important ice cream cones could be, especially when purchased with your own money.

My disappointment was fleeting as was my anger, but I still remember. I remember the acuteness of my disappointment, the passion of my outrage, the intensity of my hurt in that moment.

Even many ice cream cones and bigger disappointments later, I can still draw on those feelings. I don’t ever want to dismiss my characters’ feelings (or those of real-life children) because they are childish, because they are something my characters will get over. My being an adult hasn’t gotten in the way of that. I take their hurt and outrage and sadness seriously, and I think that’s why I write for children.


  1. Beautiful post, Laurie! It made me remember a hot afternoon in Syracuse, NY, when my lemon chiffon scoop tumbled to the ground without even the first taste!

  2. Don't you hate that? It's heartbreaking!