When I was 8, Ramona Quimby was my best friend. No matter what was happening at school, I knew I could count on her to keep me company so I wouldn’t be alone. Because we moved so much when I was growing up, I relied on Ramona to cheer me up, make me laugh, and be by my side as I faced yet another classroom with a sea of new faces. I imagined that her house on Klickitat Street was filled with worn, braided rugs, mismatched furniture, and for some reason, I was pretty sure it smelled faintly of chicken noodle soup. The Quimby household always welcomed me with open arms, and I felt honored to be their guest day after day.
I delighted in the stories of Ramona and her big sister, Beezus. Ramona was inquisitive and silly, often getting herself into pickles, not unlike my own childhood self. And because I grew up the oldest of two brothers, I liked being able to get a glimpse of what it would be like to be a kid sister with a pixie haircut. I grew to love the Quimbys, and I still smile fondly when I see Beverly Cleary’s books in the kids’ section of the bookstore. I’ll be forever grateful that Ms. Clearly gave me such a perfect, inviting world in which to lose myself.
When my daughter was born in September 2005, she filled a place in my heart that I didn’t know was missing. I know that mothers aren’t supposed to say that they hoped for a certain gender while pregnant, but I can say it now: When I heard the ultrasound technician tell us we would be having a little bundle of pink, my stomach did a flip. I was overjoyed. In the months that led up to her birth, I even bought a set of Ramona books to share with her when she was old enough to read.
As those books sat on the shelf year after year, I began to realize that I had been gifted with my very own Ramona. My daughter was tiny and petite, and when she was a toddler, we kept her hair in a chin-length pixie cut because her face would get lost with long hair. She had vociferous opinions from an early age and a strong sense of style: She wore rain boots with her dresses, necklaces with overalls, and sunglasses when it rained. More often than not, her face was smudged with dirt and her impractical party dress soiled after a hard day’s play in the yard.
She often mispronounced words, could argue the fuzz off a peach, and had an imagination that would put Walt Disney to shame. She created fantastical worlds with her stuffed animals and created “games” to play in the yard, much like Ramona and Howie’s “Brick Factory” game. She was an inherent worrier and often blew things out of proportion in her creative little head. Remember when Ramona was afraid of the hole in the wall of their house? Our daughter feared the basement and would invent reasons to avoid playing down there.
One afternoon when my daughter was 3 and supposed to be napping, I found her in the bathroom playing with a tube of toothpaste. She was so excited to show me the artwork she had created on the walls by squeezing the tube. I stifled a giggle when her heart-shaped, impertinent face explained that “the toothpaste made her do it.” I thought back to Mrs. Quimby finding Ramona and the empty tube of toothpaste in the bathroom and smiled. (Well, I smiled until I had to clean up the toothpaste mess. I, unfortunately, have not been gifted with Mrs. Quimby’s unending patience).
I was raising Ramona, and I loved every minute of it. I still do, in fact.
My daughter has treated me to such fun, delightful experiences, and I am so grateful that I get to see a real live Ramona make her way in life. She’s plucky and carefree, and I derive so much joy when I look out the window and see her charging across the lawn wearing sunglasses and a cape as she chases her big brother.
Now that she’s 10, I have the joy of sharing Ramona’s world with her, and I am secretly thrilled that she’s in love with Klickitat Street. She reads the books with as much wonder and excitement as I did. I had to laugh when she sternly reminded me to double check that I had turned the crockpot on before we left for school. She was worried her father and I would have “The Big Fight” like the Quimbys did when Mrs. Quimby forgot to turn the crockpot on and the family quarreled. I reminded her, though, that if I had forgotten, she’d have gotten a large juicy hamburger out of the deal, just like Ramona.
When you become a parent, you worry that you won’t be able to relate to your children, that you might not speak the language they understand. And, with girls, especially when they hit their tween years, it can be especially hard to forge a dialogue in which you feel you can truly relate to one another. Ramona and her world have become the bridge for my daughter and me, a place we can both explore and share. Often, when my daughter is upset or hurt, she’ll retreat to Ramona’s world for solace. Or she’ll gleefully say, “Ramona did that too!” when she has an experience she recognizes from the books. When our new puppy arrives this summer, our daughter has already decided on the perfect name: Picky Picky.
Ramona Quimby is helping me raise my little girl, chapter by chapter, and 30 years later, she is reminding me to embrace my inner spunkiness. And, as I watch Ramona become my daughter’s best friend, I’m excited and I’m happy to share.
Because that’s what best friends do.