Through a children's book, a Peoria woman hopes to help other families who fight the clock each morning.
Ask Billy Young why she wrote and self-published a book about a somewhat extraordinary, though sleepy-headed, boy who can’t drag himself out of bed in the morning and she has a simple, two-word answer:
From there, she’s off on a riff familiar to generations of parents.
You’ve got to get to work; the kids have to get to school. You’re already running late and now you’ve got a kid moving at snail’s pace. He didn’t set his clothes out the night before, he doesn’t know where he left his book bag, all of which is making you — and him — later.
"I’m already challenged, now I’ve got a double-challenge," she says. "The two of us bumping heads was the bulk of the morning."
As Young recalls, her son, Michael, wasn’t chronically tardy to school, nor did he have problems at school. But nagging was part of their morning routine, and she didn’t like starting the day nagging him any more than he liked being nagged. She believed she had to address the problem before it became a lifelong habit. So she sat down and wrote Michael a long letter.
"I know I have been a very poor example in regards to punctuality and promptness. I grew up with this shortcoming. You don’t have to. . ."
She wrote to him about pursuing dreams, such as her recent enrollment in a writing class. She told him he was pleasant, well-mannered, fun-loving and compassionate, but he could also be somewhat lazy, somewhat irresponsible, somewhat hard-headed.
Young went off to her writing class and "The Somewhat Extraordinary Child" was born.
That was 10 years ago.
Michael, 27, is the youngest of a blended family of 11 children. He’s married, with three children of his own, including a sleepy-headed 6-year-old who likes to make a U-turn back to bed in the morning. He doesn’t remember the letter, nor was he impressed when his mother tried to get him to read it again all these many years later. He has, by his account, conquered any problems he may have had with punctuality.
"My wife might say otherwise," he jokes.
But the nagging mornings, her efforts to resolve them, and the children’s book that came out of it continued to nag at Young. She kept on writing, mainly poetry, and she dabbled in other dreams: sewing, making dolls, catering weddings, all while working at a credit union. She frustrated herself because she did a lot of things. She did them well, not as well as she would have liked.
That’s part of the reason, she says, for her own time-management challenges.
"I try to be an over-achiever on both ends. I’m always trying to do too much within the amount of time I have. One thing throws off another thing, throws off another thing, throws off another and it cascades down through the day."
Young realized she was going to have to focus on one project. Publishing the book became, to paraphrase Barack Obama, the fierce urgency of her now. She found an illustrator in James Taylor, a fellow church member and self-taught artist who knew as much about creating art for a children’s book as she knew about publishing one. She sought advice from others who had self-published and she found the money to do it, though she’s coy about how much she spent or how many copies she had produced.
"I put a lot into it."
But it was the message, as much as the story or the obsession to publish it, that carried Young through the starts and stops of turning a story into a book.
The story is not biographical, though it is somewhat based on her and her son’s morning tussles. The letter that became the book was written to a teenager. However, she knew she should gear the book to younger children, just as she should have started guiding Michael down the path of punctuality when he was much younger.
Her first draft had the mother coming up with the solution. But she realized her role wasn’t to tell him what to do but to help him find his own solutions. In the book, the protagonist comes up with his own plan to put away his toys and lay out his clothes the night before.
"That was very deliberate, I want children to think they have the wherewithal to do it themselves."
Dealing with her son and writing the story reinforced what she already knew but didn’t necessarily always practice: The more reliable she was as a parent, the more reliable he was as a child. Putting it into book form was therapeutic for her, and she hopes it can be a tool for other parents to make getting ready the night before part of the family ritual.
Though she wrote the story a decade ago, Young says the topic is timeless. It’s also timely, as she writes in the forward, "for every parent who has faced a disgruntled child in the morning."
Pam Adams can be reached at (309) 686-3245 or firstname.lastname@example.org.