September 03

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How Parental Guilt Syndrome Led to The Adventures of Caveboy by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

I know that I’m often a disappointment to my family. They’ll tell you something different – they’re good people who love me and don’t want me to feel badly. But I know in my heart that I fail them from time to time. Sometimes, when I’ve had to work, I didn’t make it to every recital and game. Sometimes, when I’ve had to travel, I’ve missed field trips and award ceremonies.
On my first wedding anniversary, I was traveling to a conference to give a keynote instead of being home with my husband (and don’t think I’ve heard the end of that one).

Like many other working parents, I have to find a way to balance home and career. That means making choices, and when I’ve had to choose work, I’ve missed important things that were happening at home. So basically, I have Parental Guilt Syndrome (PGS).

Luckily, I know a very effective treatment – and it has made me a better writer. PGS is directly responsible for The Adventures of Caveboy.

Parental Guilt Syndrome gives you a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when you miss soccer games. It keeps you up the night before the field trip you’re missing. It makes you lose your appetite after missing a recital. In short, it feels awful.

The treatment I’ve found, the one that works best for me, is very simple. To prevent a future attack of PGS, all you have to do is, when you are with your family, be present and pay attention.

When I’m working, I’m working. But when I’m home, I’m 100% here. And I do my best to memorize every moment. My children’s smiles when they are happy, so I can exactly imagine their faces holding those awards. How they look when they are nervous, so I can clearly see them in my head during those recitals. What my husband looks like panicked so I can envision and enjoy the scene unfolding when he realizes that he drove the soccer kid to the field trip and
the awards kid to soccer.

I try to capture all those moments to combat PGS – and then I write about them. That’s how most of my characters and stories began. My memories of chaotic bedtimes became Chicks Run Wild and, later, Brobot Bedtime. Memories of playing dress up became Pirate Princess and the
(unfortunate) memories of a snoring spouse became Snoring Beauty. Many moments in my son’s life inspired The Adventures of Caveboy.

Sawyer was around 6 years old when I wrote the first draft of a story about a Caveboy who wants to play. His sister keeps offering – but Caveboy doesn’t believe sisters make good playmates. He is so convinced sisters can’t play that he tries playing with rocks, trees, and even
sabertooth tigers! Though he seems willing to play with anyone or anything other than his sister, he eventually realizes that, sometimes, a sister is the best for playing.

There were so many times during Sawyer’s childhood when he threw a tantrum and nothing I did would soothe him. One or both of his sisters would try to get through to him – offering a cookie, or a book, or a game of hide and seek. At first, that wouldn’t work either. But neither of my girls was ever willing to give up. Eventually, they would find exactly what he wanted – and
then, like magic, the tantrum was gone. Eventually, he realized that his sister was what he needed to feel better.

Those moments I’d memorized became part of Caveboy’s story. I also built so much of Sawyer’s personality and so many of his interests into the foundation for Caveboy’s character. Sawyer played little league baseball and loves the Yankees, so Caveboy plays baseskull and dreams of being the best baseskull payer in the world. Like Sawyer, Caveboy is hypercompetitive, is willing
to bend the rules, and has a keen sense of what he wants. Both boys are kind, loyal, and generous. They both have sisters they love (despite how much the girls irritate them!) and they both love thumping things. As for eyebrows, there’s a small difference – Caveboy only has one, but Sawyer is quite clear that he does NOT have a unibrow!

Some people make scrapbooks of their children’s lives. I wrote Sawyer’s stories instead.

I feel a little less guilty already.

Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen has written many books for children including the picture books Duck, Duck, Moose!, a CBC Children’s Choice nominee; Snoring Beauty; and Tyrannosaurus Wrecks. She lives with her family in New Jersey.