I think everyone has had at least one time in their life where they would like to have a wish granted. When I turned 40, I wanted a chance to stop “adulting” for a day. So that’s what we did. My (at the time) soon-to-be husband and I hopped on a train and headed into NYC. Our first stop was the NY Public Library’s main branch on Fifth Avenue—the branch with those iconic lions out front. Walking through the front doors always causes me to stop and take pause. It’s a building full of possibility. On this day, I had to pause and figure out how to get to the children’s room. Yep, I was taking this non-adulting thing seriously. Actually, I was on my way to see the original Winnie the Pooh (and the gang). We spent some time there looking at that “silly old bear;” I recounted my favorite Pooh tales and explained how one plays Pooh Sticks, and then we headed off down Fifth Avenue.
Our next stop was the American Girl store. As a kid, I loved dolls. I loved books about dolls. However, American Girl started way too late for me to take advantage of it. Once at the store, our first stop was downstairs to pickout a doll that looked like me—glasses and all. We wandered around the store, which was insanely crowded, and I wanted all the things. I was as bad as an eight year old. Then we went to the bistro for lunch. It was a lovely lunch. My doll stayed in the bag and did not join us at the table.
I’m sure we headed to FAO Schwartz after that or wandered around the park. Ultimately, we decided to adult again and met up with my cousins for drinks. If I could have wished for the best birthday ever, this might have been it.
I thought about that birthday yesterday when I was in the American Girl store in Tyson’s Corner, VA, just outside DC. We were there for the launch of Nanea Mitchell. My husband was hired to perform, and I tagged along even though it meant leaving home at 6 AM to get there. We arrived before the store opened to set up. After the manager let us in and went through the logistics, he let us wander around the store. I was like a child again. I got to be in the store before it opened and look at all the dolls. Since you’re probably wondering, yes, my two existing dolls (mini-me and Kit) got new outfits, and I picked out things for my new doll, Nanea Mitchell—including the book that doesn’t come with the doll.
As the store opened and my husband and the hula dancer began to perform, the little girls stood in awe! I was able to experience the day through their eyes. I thought I was going to head into the mall, shop a little, read a little, and just generally wander. However, the wonder the little girls had was contagious, and I hung around. Poor Malia, the dancer, spent more time taking pictures with the girls than she spent dancing. She was more popular than any Disney Princess could have been. However, one little girl caught my eye. She might have been pre-k or just going into kindergarten. Her grandmother sat her and her younger sister on the floor to listen to my husband play guitar. The little one got squirmy and wouldn’t sit on Grandma’s lap, so she eventually go up and walked her around the area. The older one, in her purple tutu and sparkly shirt sat there cross-legged on the floor, mouth agape, absolutely mesmerized at the guitar playing. It was some fine slack key, in my opinion. I could see the rest of the store and the hustle and bustle fall away, and it was just her and the music. Her family headed into the bistro for lunch—almost without her. After they got her attention she went willingly with a few backwards glances to the guitar. I wonder if that experience will cause her to wish for a guitar or music lessons.
While American Girl can be controversial, I do think it sends an important message to young girls: they can be anything they want to be. They don’t have to wish for it. Instead they can blow out the candles on their cake in the bistro and wish for more dolls or a trip to Disney or whatever it is that eight-year-old girls wish for. American Girl is the Free to Be You and Me for Millennials and the new generation. And this post is really not about American Girl. It’s about wishes—in case you haven’t noticed.
What would you do if you were given one wish?
This is Eldon’s problem in Chelsea Sedoti’s novel As You Wish. He has one wish. He doesn’t know how to use it. He can’t wish for more wishes. And anything he wishes for cannot impact life outside of his town of Madison. As he continues to think about his wish, he talks to those who have already wished. He starts to realize that their wishes ended up ruining their lives. For example, his mother wished that his father would love only her. She never counted on her infatuation with Harmon Wilkes fading away. His father wished to be a great football player, but he didn’t count on getting hurt. And the town is full of these stories.
I enjoyed this novel, primarily because of Eldon’s strong voice. I also liked that Sedoti provided a lot of internal monologue, so when Eldon interacts with others, there is a disconnect for the reader. It provided a nice tension in the book. It also made me think a lot about words. Not just the words we use, but how we string them together. The wishing cave is literal. It will grant the wish based on the exact words the person used, not what the person meant. Not the spirit of the wish. Not the body language of the wisher. Not sarcasm. Not irony. Not humor. Those exact words are granted.
As Eldon learns more about people’s wishes, he realizes how much words matter. He realizes how much experience matters.
These are both incredibly important points. I can’t even say how many times I tell students to use their words, so they can advocate for themselves. I want them to know the power of words. I can’t say how many times I’ve asked a student “Is that what you really meant to say?” After I hear a comment such as “That’s so gay.” Or “This is retarded.” In writing lessons, I talk about using precise nouns and verbs so the reader truly knows what they mean. As a class, we look at text, infer meaning and author’s purpose, and then students begin to understand how words do matter. And hopefully, these experiences help them as they navigate their way to adulthood.
Contemplating Eldon’s predicament—what to wish for—I kept making predictions and changing them. I was definitely an engaged reader. In the long run, it made me wonder what I would have wished when I was 18. It even makes me wonder what I would wish now at 46. However, I do know one thing—when I want to stop adulting for a while, I can always just wander around American Girl. I don’t need a wish to do that.