Dawns book, p.1
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DAWN READ SCHAFER: BICOASTAL GIRL: WEST COAST BEGINNINGS
THE NEW GIRL ON THE BLOCK
THE GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY
A NEW LIFE ON THE EAST COAST
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I woke up wondering, Where am I? I opened my eyes and looked around my sunny California bedroom and remembered that I’m back on the West Coast. And this time it’s for good.
Not long ago I moved here from Connecticut (on the East Coast) where I lived with my mother; her second husband, Richard; and his daughter, Mary Anne. (Mary Anne also happens to be one of my best friends.) Now I’m going to live with my father; his new wife, Carol; and my ten-year-old brother, Jeff. Pretty confusing, huh?
“Dawn, honey, time to get up.” The cheerful voice coming from the hallway was my dad’s. He’s really happy that I decided to move back home with him and Jeff. I was born in California and lived here (mostly in this house) until my parents split up. That’s when my mother, Jeff, and I moved to Stoneybrook, Connecticut. My mother grew up in Stoneybrook and her parents still live there. With all the divorce troubles my mother felt she’d be happier in the town she grew up in. Which is the decision I just made — to come home to the town I grew up in.
I can understand why my mother loves Stoneybrook. I loved a lot of things about living there, too. It was great to be near my grandparents, Granny and Pop-Pop. And I made friends with a fabulous group of girls right away. They even invited me to join their baby-sitting club. The members of the Baby-sitters Club are definitely the best friends a person could want. And the kids we baby-sat for were terrific, too.
“Knock, knock.” That was Jeff knocking on my bedroom door and calling out the first line of one of his dumb jokes. Instead of saying, “Who’s there?” I replied, “Knock, knock.”
Jeff was on the ball this morning and called back, “Banana,” skipping the “Who’s there?” part entirely.
I completed the joke. “Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?” I said, opening the door.
Frankenstein was standing in front of me! I screamed before I realized that it was only Jeff in a rubber Halloween mask.
Jeff was thrilled.
Jeff is also happy that we’re living together full-time now. He missed me a lot. Especially when my dad became serious about one of the women he was dating and decided to marry her. My new stepmother is younger than my dad. I had trouble with Carol at first, but I like her a lot better now that she’s not trying so hard to make me like her.
I dressed and went to the kitchen for breakfast. Carol was already dressed for work and eating granola and yogurt. We said good morning to one another, but Carol seemed distracted. As I fed oranges into the juicer she asked, “Have you seen my Rollerblades, Dawn?” (I told you she was younger than my dad.)
“Uh-uh,” I answered. “Where did you take them off last?”
“Maybe it was in the car,” she said. “Or was it at work?”
Hearing Carol talk like this made me miss my mother. Mom is the queen of absentmindedness and is probably the least-organized person I know. Fortunately her second husband, my friend Mary Anne Spier’s father, is extremely organized. He and Mom seem to balance one another without driving each other crazy.
Don’t get the idea that because I don’t live with my mother I don’t get along with her. My mom’s great. We’re going to miss one another tons. It was hard to leave her and my friends in Stoneybrook. But now that I’m back in California I know I made the right decision. Someplace deep inside me I feel happy. When I was in Stoneybrook I kept getting the nagging feeling that I wasn’t in the right place. The right place for me is California.
My dad walked into the kitchen. “You making some orange juice, Sunshine?” he asked me. I put a glass of fresh juice at his place and he put a manila folder at mine.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“A few things that I saved over the years,” he said. “I thought you might be able to use them.”
The tab on the folder read Sunshine. You’ve probably figured out that Sunshine is my dad’s nickname for me. I opened the folder. It was chock-full of announcements, newspaper clippings, old report cards, and class photos.
I jumped up and gave my dad a kiss. “Thanks. This is exactly what I needed for my autobiography.”
Yes, I’ve been writing my autobiography. It was the first homework assignment I got on my first day back at my old school, Vista. I have to write the story of my life so far. All my old friends in Stoneybrook have been given the same assignment. Here’s what’s really funny. At my going-away party they teased me about moving to California just so I wouldn’t have to do that assignment. I’m beginning to think there is a national law that says “All eighth-grade students shall write their autobiographies.”
I finished breakfast and told Carol that if she couldn’t find her Rollerblades she could borrow mine. Then I kissed my dad good-bye and headed over to Sunny Winslow’s house. Sunny, my best California friend, lives only two doors away from us. I always stop by her place on the way to school and we walk together. I’ve gone through the Winslows’ kitchen door thousands of times in my life.
Today Mrs. Winslow was sitting at the kitchen table drinking tea. Mrs. Winslow is one of my favorite people in the whole world. And she has cancer. No one can say for sure if she’ll get better. She had an operation and now she has chemotherapy appointments at the hospital every week. One of the reasons I wanted to move back to California was to be near Sunny and her parents.
I knocked lightly on the screen door and walked inside. Mrs. Winslow looked up and smiled. “It’s so wonderful to have you back here,” she said in a weak but cheery voice. It’s only eight o’clock in the morning and for about the twentieth time since I woke up I’m reminded that moving back to California was the right decision.
Sunny came bouncing into the room. “Dawn,” she said, “I can’t believe we’re walking to school together again.”
“Me, too,” I said.
“Me, three,” said Mrs. Winslow with a wink.
* * *
The school day went great. I love Vista. Except for the time I lived in Stoneybrook, I’ve been at Vista since first grade. I have lots of good friends here, but my best friends are Sunny, Jill Henderson, and Maggie Blume.
Maggie Blume has a very cool look. She wears her hair spikey in front. In the back she has a long thin tail which she streaks in black or a bright color like green or purple. Maggie doesn’t act like a rich kid, but she is one. You’d know it if you saw her house. It has dozens of rooms, including a gym and a screening room. Maggie’s dad is in the movie business and famous people hang out at her place all the time. But Maggie doesn’t care about that and hangs out with us “ordinary” folks.
Jill Henderson has dark blonde hair and eyes that are deep chocolate brown. Her parents are divorced and she lives with her mom and her older sister. My friends and I love to surf, but Jill’s really good at it. She’s the most serious of my California friends, and the quietest. In that way she reminds me of my stepsister Mary Anne.
Sunny Winslow is my very best California friend. Her personality is just like her name — sunny. She’s outgoing, independent, and fun-loving. But I know she can’
Here’s a bit about me. I have long blonde hair and am physically fit. I love to surf and eat healthy foods. I’m one of those people who thinks that tofu and raw veggies are treats and hates sweets and fatty foods. I have a laid back attitude toward life, which means I take things as they come.
After school Maggie, Jill, Sunny, and I walked out of the building together. We were going to Sunny’s house for our weekly We ♥ Kids Club meeting.
I better explain. I already mentioned that in Stoneybrook I was a member (and an officer) of the Baby-sitters Club. Well, Sunny started a baby-sitting club in California. It’s called We ♥ Kids. The club in Stoneybrook is extremely well-organized. The members hold three regular meetings a week, and have lots of rules, officers, and a notebook that everyone has to write in and read every week. The BSC works really well. So does W♥KC. But there’re a lot of differences in the way the two clubs are run. W♥KC is not very organized. We don’t have officers and rules. We don’t even mind if someone is a little late for a meeting. (The BSC founder and president, Kristy Thomas, has a fit if anyone is late for a meeting.)
“Is it all right that we’re meeting at your house with your mom sick and everything?” I asked Sunny. “Maybe we should meet at my house.”
“Mom said she likes having us around,” Sunny said.
“Let’s stop and get her some flowers,” I suggested.
Mrs. Winslow loved the pink roses that we brought her. “Why, thank you,” she said with a big smile. I could see that Sunny was right about her mother liking that we were there. Even though Mrs. Winslow felt sick, she prepared us a great snack — a big platter of snow peas and cherry tomatoes from her garden with a dip made of homemade yogurt and fresh herbs. “This is the first time I’ve gone out to the garden since I got home from the hospital,” she told us. “Being there reminded me that my garden is a healing place.”
I gave her a hug. “I’m so glad you’ve come home,” she whispered to me.
“Me, too,” I whispered back.
We held the meeting in the living room so we could spread out. The first call was from Mrs. Austin, asking me to sit for her daughters, Clover and Daffodil, on Saturday night. My very first sitting job ever was for Clover and Daffodil. I love these kids, so I said I would take the job. Sunny entered that in our record book while I braided Maggie’s green tail. When the phone rang a second time, Jill answered. “Hi,” she said. (If this were a BSC meeting in Stoneybrook she’d answer, “Hello, Baby-sitters Club.”)
Jill asked us if anyone was free to sit for the Waldens on Friday after school. “I can,” Maggie said.
Sunny checked the book and confirmed that Maggie was free. Jill told Mrs. Walden that Maggie would be there. It was as simple as that.
We got a couple more calls during the meeting, but basically we had a gab session and ate veggies and dip.
After the meeting I went home and worked on my autobiography. I reread what I’d done so far and began to fit in the things Dad had given me that morning.
I worked on the project until dinnertime. After dinner I worked on it some more. I didn’t mind. I thought my life so far was pretty interesting.
The beach was crowded with swimmers and surfers that day. My mother says she felt pretty silly walking around with a belly as big as a beachball. But she was convinced that the sound of the sea and the pull of the tides would do the trick.
For hours she and my dad walked and rested on the beach. About the time the sun went down and the tide went out, she told my dad it was time to go to the hospital. And that’s where I was born at dawn the next morning.
My mother thinks that my love for the sea started because she spent the afternoon and evening before I was born at the beach. She might be right. Anyway, to this day I am drawn to the ocean. I love everything about it. Put me on a sandy beach where I can hear the pounding surf, smell the salt water, and look out at blue water meeting blue sky, and I am in heaven.
My parents took me to the beach a lot during the first year of my life. They’d put me on a blanket under the beach umbrella. If I got fussy all they had to do was dip me in the ocean. In an instant my mood would change from mad or sad to glad.
Here’s the story my dad tells about when I took my first step.
By the time I was a year old I’d figured out how to stand and walk while holding onto things. So Dad decided it was time for me to walk on my own. One day when he returned from work he stood me at the coffee table. Then he backed away from me, squatted, and held out his arms. “Come on, Sunshine,” he cooed. “Come to Daddy.”
I smiled, gave him a little goo-goo ga-ga, but didn’t let go of the table. Every night that week my father would stand me at the coffee table and encourage me to walk to him. Every night I’d make my safe way around the table.
That Sunday we went to the beach. While my parents were lounging on our beach blanket reading the Sunday papers, I pulled myself upright by holding onto our picnic cooler. My parents complimented me on my feat and returned to their papers. A minute later my dad looked up to check on me, but I wasn’t there. After briefly thinking I’d been stolen, he saw me taking wobbly steps on the beach. He got my mother’s attention and they quietly walked behind me to see how far I would go on my first upright journey.
I took a few more steps to where the sand met the sea and plopped myself down. My parents say I splashed the water with my hands and laughed.
According to my baby book my first words were:
Don’t think I was some bizarre kid you could make a weird movie about called Baby from the Sea or something. I loved all sorts of regular toddler stuff. The playground, for example. I liked to go back and forth on the swings or swish down the slide. But my favorite playground activity was seesawing with my mother and me on one end, and my dad balancing us on the other end. Now that I think about it, the feeling you get on a seesaw is a little like riding waves. And Mom says that whenever I got near the sandbox I’d cry for the “be-ee” and the “wa-wa.” Am I sounding weird again?
Well, I wasn’t. I was a normal kid with a roomful of normal kid toys. I especially liked to build things with Legos and to make things out of Play-Doh. I thought Play-Doh was the neatest stuff. I’d wander around the house putting it in all sorts of places, which meant my mother would find it in all sorts of places.
One day she went to the fridge to get out a dish of vegetarian chili we were going to have for dinner. A big clump of white stuff was floating in it. By the time she’d put the dish on the table she’d guessed that the white stuff was Play-Doh. She led me from the living room where I was building a Lego lifeguard stand to the table. She fished out the Play-Doh with a wooden spoon and put it on a paper towel. “Dawn, what’s this?” she asked sternly.
“Sou cre,” I answered (translation: sour cream). Before she knew what was happening I picked up the messy clump and put it back where it belonged — in the chili. I smiled, repeated “sou cre,” and returned to my construction project in the living room. My mother says she couldn’t scold me because if she’d opened her mouth she would have started laughing.
Raising me gave my mom some scary moments, too. One afternoon I was playing alone in my room. When Mom came in with some clean laundry she saw bright red coming out of my ears. “Dawn,” she said in as clam a tone as she could manage, “let Mommy look in your ears.”
“Huh?” I asked. Mom forgot calm and ran to me. Her precious girl couldn’t hear! Fortunately she took a closer look before she dialed 911. My ears were stuffed with red Play-Doh. I tried to pull her hand away from my ear. “MY ear-tings,” I cried. “Mine.”
As she pulled out the Play-Doh, she realized that “ear-tings” were “earrings.” And that when I couldn’t get my “earrings” to stay on my earlobes, I’d pushed them into my ears.
She took me to the pediatrician to be s
When I was three years old I got the biggest surprise of my life. It started when my parents weren’t there to put me to bed at night. They still weren’t there when I woke up in the morning. That day Granny and Pop-Pop flew all the way across the country to stay with us. Still no Mommy or Daddy. When my parents finally came home they were not alone. Mom was carrying a bundle that moved and cried and that everyone called “the baby.” I was confused. I thought I was the baby! Well, it didn’t take me long to figure out that I wasn’t the center of everyone’s attention anymore. My whole world had changed. Even my dad’s pet name for me changed. Instead of calling me “Sunshine,” he called me “Dawn don’t.”
“Dawn don’t get too close to the baby.”
“Dawn don’t put Play-Doh on the baby’s face.”
“Dawn don’t throw toys in the baby’s crib.”
“Dawn don’t feed the baby your ice cream.”
For awhile there didn’t seem to be any sunshine in my life. My sun had set. And a new sun had risen for my parents — a son.
My parents insist that they didn’t ignore me when Jeff was a baby. They say they were just so busy with a newborn that they couldn’t give me the kind of attention I’d come to expect. Now that I’ve baby-sat for families in which one of the children is an infant, I know they’re right. I also realize that my brother is a kid who knows how to get attention. He probably developed that talent at an early age.
Things picked up considerably for me when I started nursery school. I loved the different activities there. My favorites were the make-believe trunk and the blocks corner. (My least favorite place in the nursery school was the baby doll corner.) For awhile my first choice activity was building with blocks. The block corner was well-stocked with wooden blocks in different sizes, colors, and shapes.
My partner in block building was Ruthie Robillard. Now that I’m remembering Ruthie, I realize that she was like Mary Anne, very organized and quiet. I had a lot of fun with Ruthie. Especially in that building-block corner.