Last night, the kids crawled up on the couch with me to listen to the reading of a brand new book. All three attempted to climb into my lap at once which commenced a short brawl, but it was quickly solved with an awkward arm reach that pulled each of them close and made them all feel like my favorite. I was one page into the book when Lainey interrupted.
“Wait–does it have a bad middle?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You know, in the middle of a story when something bad happens.”
I smiled. Ah yes, second grade writing curriculum. My girl’s learning about narrative writing and the arc of a good story–a problematic middle that gets worked out in the end.
“Oh, I get it,” I answered. “Well, I think the little girl in this story gets lost. Do you want me to read it to see if the problem gets fixed?”
She nestled in a little closer. “Okay.”
We finished the book with Story Arc Detector oh high alert for problem and solution: Girl gets lost. Girl finds her way home.
Though we might not learn the most important life lessons at school (–except the quadratic equation. Thank God for the quadratic equation because I use it every day.), I decided this one’s a pretty good one to remember, and I’m tucking it away to remind my kids later when their hearts feel a little broken: Good stories have bad middles. When life hands over some terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, you have to remember it’s just a middle. And you’re writing a good story. And when it’s your story that has a bad middle, you get to be a part of writing the ending. Of making sure that the bad middle has a purpose and a resolution and a character that finds her way home.
The idea of a life full of bad middles for my kids makes my insides twist, but when I think about it as a life full of good endings, that’s not so bad. They’ll be the authors of so many good stories. As a writer, that makes me proud. As a mother, that makes me happy.
I’m prepared for the next heartbreak, my parenting talk cued and ready: “Baby, this is just a bad middle in your big story. We’ll help you fix it and you’ll write a good ending.”