The Bobbsey Twins vs. The Ranger’s Apprentice: My How Times Have (Not) Changed!

A couple of months ago at a school book sale, I picked up a copy of “The Bobbsey Twins on Blueberry Island” for a whopping 50 cents. The familiar purple spine with the drawing of 6-year-old Bobbsey twins, Freddie and Flossie, along with their trusty companion, the shaggy white pup Snap, brought back a wave of nostalgia so strong that I would have been willing to pay at least double that!

When I was a kid, I adored the Bobbsey Twins. I wanted to be the spunky Nan Bobbsey, one half of the 12-year-old twins Nan and Bert, older brother and sister to Freddie and Flossie. (I was perfect for the part, I reasoned, with my dark hair and dark eyes.)

Every chance I got, I picked up another Bobbsey Twins adventure, sometimes, if I was lucky, at the bookstore (keep in mind this was decades before the Chapters mega stores and, more often than not at garage sales in the neighbourhood. I was determind to own every book in Laura Lee Hope’s series, and while I did end up with an entire shelf dedicated to the twins, I don’t think I ever owned more than half of the original 72 books that were penned.

Sadly, at some point along the way, I got rid of all of them (probably at a garage sale of my own). So  it was fun to purchase and reread one for old time’s sake.

Fun, and surprising in some ways too. Published in 1959, “The Bobbsey Twins on Blueberry Island” was dated even when I was first read it in the 1970s. And while I distincly remember the Bobbsey’s “help” (Dinah, “the plump colored woman who helped Mrs. Bobbsey with the housework,” and Sam, “a colored man who drove a truck for Mr. Bobbsey’s lumberyard”), I never questioned this as a child. Nor did I question the fact that every single time they were mentioned, so was the colour of their skin, as if it were somehow of great importance to continually differentiate them from the other (all white) characters, while as an adult, I couldn’t help but notice.

I also saw the Bobbsey parents in a completely different light, now that I’m a parent myself. Mrs. Bobbsey is an uninvolved, laissez-faire mother, who is forever chuckling in the background as her four children run off on yet another adventure with criminals, bears and whatnot. And Mr. Bobbsey has only a slightly more involved role, offering the odd bit of fatherly advice and watching from the sidelines as his son Bert beats up the school bully (“Mr. Bobbsey glanced after them, chuckling. ‘I think Danny has had a mighty uncomfortable evening,’ he remarked”). (Yes, both Bobbsey parents are chucklers.) By today’s standards, the neglectful Mrs. Bobbsey would have her children taken away from her, and Mr. Bobbsey would be charged with aiding and abetting his son in committing assault.

But I can still see why these books appealed to me as a child: The camaraderie among siblings and friends. The freedom of being left to their own devices with no adult supervision. The adventures. The mysteries. The Scooby-Doo moment of “We would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids” at the end of every tale. Reading was an escape, and the Bobbsey Twins’ stories were some of the best.

Not unlike what my 12-year-old son is reading these days.

Everything he picks up is a new adventure, and more often than not part of a series. He’s travelled through time in the eight-book “Infinity Ring” series. Saved the world in the six “I Am Number Four” stories. Journeyed on an epic quest through 12 “Amos Daragon” books. Devoured pretty much every book in every series written by Rick Riordan.

Now he’s embarking on another adventure with John Flanagan’s “Ranger’s Apprentice” books, and I’m along for the ride.

In January, a friend linked to this 2016 reading challenge on her Facebook page. I printed off copies for each member of the family and all four got on board. One of the items in the challenge is “a book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF” and The Boy chose Book 1, “The Ruins of Gorlan” for me. I grudgingly agreed, since adventure stories haven’t really been my thing since I was his age.

Well, I hate to admit it, but I’m hooked on the series with its exciting plot, well-drawn characters and really good writing. And although “The Ranger’s Apprentice” series and other children’s adventure books these days address much more mature topics (with more harshness, violence and grit than the innocent books I enjoyed “in the good old days”), they all boast the same themes (the camaraderie, the freedom of being left to their own devices–happily all of the main characters in this one are orphans–the adventures and the mysteries) that drew me in as a child and are drawing me in again as an adult. And, man is Flanagan ever good at cliffhangers! I’m already on Book 4, one ahead of my son, and can’t put it down!

Reading has always been an escape for me. Now, as an adult, I’m enjoying a whole new reading adventure I never would have embarked on if it weren’t for my son. And who knows? Maybe one day he’ll give the Bobbsey Twins a read just for fun. I’d be curious to see what his 12-year-old self gets out of it.



Control Freak, Yes…But a Puppet Master?

If you asked me who knows me best in the world, I’d have to say Luc.

This year, we’ll be celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary. That same month (October) will mark 22 years that we’ve been together.

Luc knows my routines, my moods and my quirks. He understands my hopes, my dreams and my fears. He loves me. He accepts me for who I am.

He’d also be the first to tell you that I’m a total control freak.

Cases in point:

  • I keep lists of everything: grocery lists, to-do lists, rainy day project lists.
  • I keep an overall budget spreadsheet, I save all of our receipts until the Visa bill comes in, and I enter every last little cash purchase, right down to a pack of gum, into an app.
  • I meticulously keep track of every dentist, doctor and specialist appointment for the four of us, including results and follow-ups.
  • Everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) goes on the family calendar. (My mantra: If it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t exist.)
  • I colour code the file folders in the filing cabinet. I colour code the labels on the colour-coded file folders. I colour code the writing on the colour-coded labels on the colour-coded file folders…
  • And although my spices may not be alphabetized, they are grouped by which ones are most likely to be used together in a recipe (MUCH more efficient!)

Yes, I need to plan ahead. Yes, I need details. Yes, I have trouble delegating. No, I’m not very good at spontaneity.

Luc knows all of this.

But a couple of weeks ago, I learned that even he doesn’t know every little thing about me.

I was reading an article in The Ottawa Citizen about an upcoming production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The elaborate set was designed by an Alberta-based puppet company and the show incorporates other elements of puppetry.

“That reminds me of the Shakespearean puppet show I was in in university,” I commented to Luc, pointing to the article.

He blinked.

“A puppet show?” he said. “You were in a Shakespearean puppet show?”

Now, I realize that “Shakespeare” and “puppets” don’t often come up in everyday conversation (let alone in the same sentence). So my chances over the past 22 years of ever having used that as a segue to telling him about my briefest of stage careers as the courtesan (and other bit speaking roles) in the 1989 Brescia College production of The Comedy of Errors were pretty slim. But still. If anyone were to know that tiny little tidbit of personal information about me, it would be Luc.

It just goes to show that no matter how well you know someone (and their control freak–dare I say “puppet master”–tendencies) there’s always more to learn.


Koala Bears and Biopsies

Two summers ago at the San Diego Zoo, as we left the Elephant Odyssey and headed for the Outback, my cell phone rang.

It was my doctor’s office, and a chipper Nurse Erin asked, “Hi Jennifer, I was just wondering if you’ve had a chance to book your biopsy yet?”

Um, excuse me? What biopsy?

A concerned Luc dragged the puzzled kids off to see the koalas while I spent a frantic half hour making long distance phone calls back to Ottawa (never mind the data to look up phone numbers online, never mind the time difference, never mind the roaming charges) to find out what the hell was going on.

It’s amazing how an entire zoo can disappear in a second as your entire being tries to focus on what a succession of people on the other end of the line thousands of miles away are telling you. Suspicious spot. Biopsy ASAP. We’ll get you in two days after you get back. Enjoy the rest of your holiday and try not to worry.

Seems my annual breast MRI, which I’d had done the week before we left for California, showed a suspicious spot on my right breast that needed further investigation. And since I’m in the High-Risk Program, “further investigation” doesn’t mean further imaging, like say an ultrasound, as it would for most women, but an automatic MRI-guided biopsy. And soon.

Unfortunately the hospital had left the message on our home machine while I was off on our two-week family vacation to the Golden State. My doctor’s office got concerned when they didn’t receive notification of the biopsy date and decided to give me a shout on my cell, not realizing I had no idea I even needed one.

Hence the crisis by the koalas.

So what did I do, after I scribbled down the details, hung up the phone, dried my eyes, and joined Luc and the kids on the other side of the Outback?

I enjoyed the rest of my holiday and tried not to worry.

Being considered “high-risk” for developing breast cancer leads to some pretty contradictory thought processes:

  • I’m thankful that I’m screened regularly enough (annual mammograms since I was 30, annual MRIs for the past 10 years) that nothing cancerous should ever be in my breasts for very long without getting noticed. But I also hate annual mammograms and MRIs with a passion.
  • I’m relieved every time my tests come back clear. But then I wonder whether they might have missed something.
  • I’m devastated every time another family member is diagnosed (my mom, her sisters, my cousins…). But then again, considering the family history, it’s not really a surprise.

And when you’re called back for a suspicious spot, well, you gear yourself up as much as you possibly can for bad news, while every fibre of your body hopes for good.

Until bad news ends up being no news.

For at my MRI-guided biopsy two days after arrving home from California, the suspicious spot was nowhere to be found.

Which, I guess, is good news.

A huge relief, yes. But it’s also, in a weirdly contradictory way, a let-down. Obviously not in the sense that I wanted them to find something. But part of me also wanted to scream, “Why the f— do you put me through all of these tests, and all of this stress, and all of this waiting, and all of this worrying (because, let’s face it, I may have looked like I was enjoying my holiday and not worrying, but on the inside I had myself sliced up, chemoed and dead), just to tell me it’s nothing!?!”

I know why, of course. Because some day it might really be something.

But still.

I’ve got this on my mind because this morning was my annual MRI. And now I wait (in town, of course) for 5 or 6 days for the results. Hoping there’s nothing, preparing myself for something, and praying that if there is something, it ends up being nothing.

I wish I didn’t have to do this.

And I really would have liked to have seen the koalas.