But August is supposed to be hot. Just like fall should be cool, and spring should be warm, and winter should be cold and snowy. And that's what we teach when we teach our kids about the seasons: There are four, and you can tell them by the weather.
There have been plenty of times, though, when I've asked kids during calendar time to tell me about the seasons, and they've handed me a giant cardboard snowflake to stick in the pocket marked "Winter," even while the bright December sun shone down on sixty-five-degree weather outside the window.
What amazes me -- and worries me -- is how quickly kids learn to discern the intent of our questions. Do we want them to tell us what the weather is really like in winter? We must not, or we would offer giant cardboard question marks and a whole lot more than just four choices. So they surmise that we must be asking for rote answers. The word winter is supposed to be paired with the giant cardboard snowflake, and that is what they give us.
It makes me want to ask kids better questions.
It also makes me careful of how I handle things in my novels. For example, most of my characters live in small, secluded towns. And as we all know, small towns are full of gossipy ladies and everybody knows everybody else's business and nobody ever locks their doors. That's what everybody knows about small towns, and so that's what I catch myself writing. And when I read over it, I feel like I got it right, because it's familiar. Yeah, I know that town. Yeah, that's what small towns are like ...
... in books.
Many of the small towns I've lived in don't fit the pattern. People keep to themselves, so you don't know everybody. The true town gossip is never who you think. You don't dare leave your door unlocked. Yet I catch myself writing stereotypes instead of writing what I know. I write giant snowflakes next to winter, even when the window beside my writing desk tells a story that is altogether different.
So my vow for this cool, breezy August Saturday is this: Today, wrapped in my sweater and sipping hot coffee, I will look past all cardboard cut-outs. I will stick the snowflake in the wrong pocket. I will write what's out the window.