When I say Highlights magazine, do you flash back to pediatric office waiting rooms? I remember anxiously fretting over some pending unpleasantness, like a shot or a check-up or a filling, and finding blessed distraction in the striking behavioral contrasts of Goofus and Gallant. Gallant was the guy I wanted to be like. Goofus was always such a jerk. It was a no-brainer.
And then there were the Timbertoes – the wooden family whose lives were storyboarded in neat little rows of squares, and whose problems were unfailingly solved by time you reached the bottom of the page. The “find the hidden objects” page was another delight, unless some Goofus who had been there before me had already circled everything in ink, ruining it for everyone else.
Highlights was always there for me in my waiting-room time of need.
I didn’t know, until my own children started coming up through the ranks, that Highlights for Children was still going strong. But it is. And it has, ever since 1946. In fact, in 2006 it celebrated its billionth issue. Today, it has a circulation of over 2 million subscribers.
A year or so ago, my mom and dad gave subscriptions to my children - Highlights for my now 8-year-old daughter, and High Five, the preschool version, for my 5-year-old son. Every month, the magazines arrive on the same day (hooray for equity in magazine delivery times!), and both children eagerly devour them, searching first for their favorite features.
My daughter’s fixation, without question, is the “Your Own Pages” spread – the section where artwork and poems submitted by regular kids are published in the magazine. Months ago, she got it into her head that she wanted her own artwork published there. I had to explain to her that the magazine receives many, many submissions, and they can’t publish all of them, and please don’t be too disappointed if yours isn’t picked.
OK, mommy. Just please put a stamp on this and send it in for me? It was a drawing of a mountain climber trying to reach the peak. How appropriate.
Weeks pass. We forget about it.
A letter from Highlights addressed to her arrives in the mail! Gasp! Open it! Open it!
“Dear L ---, thank you so much for your submission. We want you to know that we have received it and will consider it, but please know that Highlights receives an extremely large volume of submissions, and blah blah blah….”
She is crestfallen. And then she goes back to the drawing board, pounding out another creation.
Mommy, I’ve done another one! Send it in, please?
It has Barbie all over it, in word and in illustration. Aware that there would probably be copyright issues, I send it in for her nevertheless.
Weeks pass. An identical letter arrives. In the meantime, more Highlights magazines are arriving every month. I watch as she flips to “Your Own Pages” to scour it for her work, and I see the disappointment on her face.
Mommy, I’ve done another picture for Highlights! Can you mail it?
I am beginning to wonder how far we are going to go with this. The magazine receives 3,000 letters per month. The odds of success are quite slim. But this picture she is handing to me is really cute. It has her school on it, the mall, a swingset, a picnic blanket, and some buildings and cars. It’s a town I’d actually like to live in, if I lived in child art. So I know the drill. I send it in. And that was about 6 months ago.
Today, the February issue of Highlights arrived in our mailbox. The kids are looking through them while I am upstairs, and I hear this piercing little voice shriek, “I’M IN HERE!!!”
Groaning inwardly, I assume that little brother is trying to encroach upon her while she’s in the bathroom, and she is having to defend her territory. We are no strangers to such scuffles.
But then I hear my husband say, “Oh, WOW!” And it is then that I know that something much more wonderful than bathroom wars is happening downstairs. I rush to see my little girl, jumping up and down and proudly waving her published work in the air. The scene culminates in jubilant jig-dancing and wild, celebratory screaming. By all of us.
I am proud of her artwork that was selected. But more than that, I’m proud that she didn’t give up. She fixed her eyes on the goal and pursued it, even when receiving rejection letters at age 7. What I saw in her was the absence of self-doubt, over-analysis, apathy, discouragement, and a whole host of other cloudy emotions that plague those of us who live in the adult world. In the kid world, you just go for it. Period.
She may want to be like me.
But I want to be like her.