You’re missing the real story , my husband tells me.
My husband is always telling me I’m missing the real story. What he usually means is, you’re writing about boring things . I don’t know why he doesn’t just say that. I’ve developed a pretty thick skin over the past year of writing The Bubble. “Boring” is, relatively speaking, a compliment.
But sometimes he’s right. He dropped the “real story” bombshell on me a few weeks ago as I was sitting bleary-eyed at my computer, where I’d spent far too much time over the previous few days, mostly because of my son’s “Flat Stanley” project.
Flat Stanley, for those of you who have just arrived from another dimension, is a children’s book character. He’s flat because he got squashed by a bulletin board, at least in the first book. In other books — Flat Stanley is the star of many books — he seems to go flat at random, which, frankly, is disturbing. But Stanley’s not one to whine and moan about his lot in life. He makes the most of it, slipping into places he otherwise couldn’t and traveling to exotic locales around the world, since he can conveniently be mailed.
When I was a kid, Flat Stanley was not much of a thing. But he’s now an educational superstar, at least in elementary school social studies and geography classes.
Kids make their own Flat Stanley cut-out figures and send them off to other states or overseas, where the recipients dutifully photograph them at various landmarks and then ship the photos and the Flat Stanleys back to their owners, along with information about the Flat One’s vacation destination — geographical features, economy, famous residents and so on. Then the kids make scrapbooks to share with their classmates.
When I first saw a collection of third-grade Flat Stanley projects displayed at school, I was charmed. How cute! I thought. A project that looks fun AND educational!
And then it came for me.
I’ll spare you the details, because you don’t care and because I don’t want to relive the hours spent huddled over a keyboard with my son, composing “Flat Stanley’s Ohio Adventures” digitally because that is the only medium that engages him in the least. I also don’t want to be reminded of the fact that I paid a hefty amount for fast shipping to ensure we’d have the book in hand before the deadline. And then the deadline was extended.
I had almost put the entire Flat Stanley trauma out of my mind when my husband pointed out a painful truth: No one ever sends Flat Stanleys to us.
Indeed, high on the list of sentences never spoken must be, “Pleeeease, Mom, can I send my Flat Stanley to Johnson County, Kansas? Please?”
To be fair, the bar for Flat Stanley destinations is pretty high. Before we started our scrapbook, I looked online for inspiration, at which point I realized that numerous garishly colored cardboard cutouts have seen more of the world than I ever will, even if my lottery dreams pan out. There were Flat Stanleys at the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China, Stonehenge, the Taj Mahal.
Even eliminating international destinations, I found that Flat Stanleys have access to way cooler places than me. Yes, they go to all the expected destinations, like the Hollywood sign and Disney World, but they also get to visit Barack Obama in the Oval Office. By comparison, our Stanley’s visit to the (apparently locked) door of the Ohio governor’s office — which we are just geeky enough to have been excited about — suddenly seemed rather, um, flat.
Still, how can it be that no one anywhere recognizes the value of sending Flat Stanley to suburban Kansas? For one thing, the area’s noted lack of tourist appeal would eliminate you from suspicion when rumors start flying that some parents are Photoshopping Flat Stanleys into existing vacation pictures. Not that you heard it from me.
Also, sending Flat Stanley to an unexpected destination would set your child apart from the pack. Who wants to see yet another scrapbook featuring the Gateway Arch or Niagara Falls or Mount Rushmore? Any child who sent a Flat Stanley to me could vicariously experience the joy that is the Three-In-One, also known as the KenTacoHut, at the corner of 119th Street and Metcalf Avenue. What third-grader worth his salt (and saturated fat) wouldn’t be impressed by that?
There’s also the Johnson County Museum and its 1950s All-Electric House, which last month featured an awesome aluminum Christmas tree, so the young scholars could learn what life was like back when being “all-electric” was something really special.
Stanley and I could really go places together. We’d teach children the concept of irony by visiting Town Center Plaza, which is neither a plaza nor at the center of any town, and by posing at any sign with the words “Blue Valley” as we search in vain for geographical features that bear even the slightest hint of blueness or valley-ness.
Just for fun, we’d swing by the arboretum, and I’d photograph Flat Stanley right next to the exposed breasts on that statue — the same statue that I recently swore to myself I’d never mention in this space again.
So if you happen to know anyone out of state with an elementary school child who dares to be different, just let me know. Tell that child not to let Flat Stanley fall into a tourist trap. He deserves better. He deserves a visit to suburban Middle America, which is not the homogenous lump of blandness it’s often portrayed as.
I’ll make sure he gets the real story.
Sarah Smith Nessel, a 913 freelance columnist, writes The Bubble each week.