Sparring with a champion

For the year, I’ve taken Tae Kwon Do at the dojang where my kids take lessons. It’s been an awesome experience, for me, who has always been unathletic and uncoordinated. I’m now a black and white belt and will be testing for black belt sometime before October. That’s right, people. I’m going to be a black belt!!!

Yeah, I’m super excited, but I am also aware that I would never have made it there on my own. I was lucky that started taking classes at the same time as some wonderful other women. We encourage one another and carry one another when we need to. And we lucked into a class with some other great women (all black belts), who are fun and patient with us. One of them is a 68 year old fourth degree black belt! I totally want to be here when I grow up!

And, then there’s our instructor, Master Um, who won the world championship in sparring. Watching him is amazing. Just the way he moves. Lightening fast. It’s like watching a movie. You know those fight scenes in movies where the ninja moves so fast you’re sure it’s a special effect? It’s not. He moves like that.

He doesn’t spar with us often, but every single time he does, I take a moment to pause. To just watch the way he does things. Not only to marvel, but also to learn. Every day I go to the dojang, I learn so much from the people I work with. I learn about my limits, my capablities. I learn when to be humble and when to proud. When to work harder.

I have felt that way about this blog. Every time I come to this blog I learn more about what it means to be a mother. What it means to raise children and grow them into people I want to share the world with. Just being part of this blog has made me raise my game. Just like when I’m in Tae Kwon Do, sometimes I come to this blog and I just stop and marvel. With these women–the ones who visit the blog and the ones who write on it with me–with these women, who are smart and strong and dedicated, with these women raising the next generation, how can we go wrong?

Thank you for sharing your lives, your creativity and your children with me.

The micro story

This commerical is the best thing I’ve seen on TV all week.

First off, let’s face it. It’s hysterical. We’ve all been there, right? We’ve all had those days when the narrative in our heads does not match the day we’re having. In fact, sometimes, it feels like that’s every day. (Particularly any day that involves vacuuming.)

But the other thing I love about this commericisl is it’s such a perfect micro-story. It’s reminder to me–as a writer–that stories are everywhere. That telling a story is not enjoyable, it’s a window into someone else’s life. It’s a way to instantly create a connection between two people.

That commericial is also a reminder for me about the power of vulernability. We see this woman on an off day. We see her at her most vulnerable. We love her for her human frailty, not her perfection. Sometimes I feel like social media forces us to perform ever more daring feats of perfection. We are constantly trying to present the best, most perfect version of ourselves for the world. We’re showing off the cutest pirate outfit we made for our child’s Talk Like a Pirate Day or the darlingest Penguin Cupcakes we made for the school bake sale. (As if it’s not enough that we made cupcakes, they have to be tiny works of art as well.) Sometimes, it starts to feel like everything is a competition and we forget that the easiest way to create a bond with someone is not through perfection, but through humanity.

And it’s also just a really funny commerical.


My kids love to listen to books. They love it when I read aloud (which is still a major part of our bedtime routine, even though they are now nearly seven and nine). They also love recorded books from Audible. Even though books from Audible are pricey, we have a membership and helps keep the price down. But even if it wasn’t possible to get them at a reasonsable price, I would still think they were a bargain. We’ve listened to many wonderful books while driving in the car. And since we live “out in the boondocks” as I like to say, we spend a lot of time in the car.

The books my kids love are ones they will listen to over and over and over again. Since we’ve gotten such joy from recorded books, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite titles with you. If you can’t afford a aubscription from Audible, check out your local library. They will have a selection you can borrow.



Written by Sarah Pennypacker

Narrated by Jessica Almasy

This series–about a percoious red headed 3rd grader–is a hit with both my own percoious red-head and with her younger brother. And with me as well! The characters are warm and delightful, the conflict and themes are both age appropriate and heart-felt. The fantastic narration highlights the books’ humor as well as their more emotional moments.


Artemis Fowl

Written by Eoin Colfer

Narrated by Nathaniel Parker

An action/adventure series about a boy criminal-mastermind–the titular Artemis Fowl–who gets more than he bargained for when he decides to capture and hold for ransom one of the fairy folk. Fast-paced, smart and an all-around hoot-n-half, the plot and characters of Artemis Fowl will entertain and delight even the most curmudgeonly listener. Frankly, I don’t know why no ones making movies of these! (Or writing books for adults this good, for that matter.)



Written by Roald Dahl

Narrated by Kate Winslet

I think anything writtne by Dahl sells itself. (And–holy guacamole!–narrated by Kate Winslet? How did I not notice that before now? Probably because the story is so engaging.) But if you need more proof, we’ve listened to this one approximately nineteen times. And I may be low-balling that number. The kids simply love it. ‘Nough said.


The Water Horse

Written by Dick King-Smith

Narrated by Nathanial Parker

This is one those rare books that is slow-paced, charming and engaging. It will interest readers, without ever overwhelming them. My kids sometimes get to wrapped up in stories, but this one keeps them listening without every being too scary or overstimulating. It’s just a delightful, lovely tale.


When You Reach Me

Written by Rebecca Stead

Narrated by Cynthia Holloway

Just a friggin’ fantastic book. It’s for a slightly older audience than the others (though mostly in plot complexity, not content). The year I first listened to it, I decided it was the book I’d read that year. It’s mysterious and atmospheric and complex and thought-provoking. I dare you not to love this book. I dare you. In fact, if you listen to it and *don’t* love it, I’ll refund your fifteen bucks. Oh, and it’s a Newberry award winner. Those people know what they’re talking about.



By Louis Sachar

Narrated by Kerry Beyer

Thematically probably more complex than a lot of the others, this book deals with faith, friendship, race relations, and smelly shoes. It’s brilliant. Funny. Tragic. Romantic. Everything you could possibly want. And it’s another Newberry winner. I told you they know what they’re doing over there.


In case you’re wondering, we’ve listened to every one of these books at least three times. We’ve listened to The Water Horse so often I once lied to my kids and told them it had vanished off my iPhone just so I could take a break.

So, yeah, recorded books seem expensive. But if I can get  four or five listenings out of it, it’s worth it. That’s roughly $2.50 for four or more hours of entertainment for the whole family.

Do you like recorded books? If you haven’t tried them, try one of the titles on my list. You won’t be disappointed.


Emily McKay lives and writing in the Texas Hill Country with her kids, hubby, and her chickens.



What I’d tell my 15 year old self….

Guess what? Turns out, I’m an athlete!

That’s what I would tell the teenage version of myself. Chances are, she’d laugh her ass off. But only if she could do it without putting down her book. The teenage me would never imagine she could be good at exercise

Musician Willie Nelson Gets Promoted To 5th Degree Black Belt Gong Kwon Yu SulBut, hang on a minute, because there’s someone else I’d like to say that too also. I’d say it to the nine year old me also. Because that’s when I got that idea. The idea that I wasn’t an athlete.

I remember the moment clearly. I was about nine, in maybe the third grade. We were playing something in P.E. Softball, I think, but it might have been kickball. It was one of those bases-loaded moments. I was in the hot seat. I buggered it. I humiliated myself (in my own eyes) and the team lost. I went home in tears. And that’s when it happened. My mom, trying to comfort me, said, “It’s okay, honey, Beierles just aren’t good at sports. We just aren’t very coordinated.” (Beierle is my maiden name.)

I internalized that phrase, “Beierles aren’t good at sports.” it became part of my identity. Not good at sports. Not an athlete. Not coordinated.

It was okay. I was smart. I loved reading. (And that’s a subject of another post, probably one I already wrote.) I didn’t mind not being good at sports. I mean, I minded every day in P.E. when I was picked last. When I always fumbled the ball. When I stood in the wrong spot on the volleyball court and got hit in the face with the ball. I totally cried that time, because, damn, that hurt. But I was okay with my identity of not being an athlete.

For most of my life–as that teenagers and as an adult–I really struggled with exercise. I know I need exercise to be healthy. I wanted to find something I could force myself to do, but I just never found it.

Until yoga. Which I love. But the Iyengar yoga I do is slow and methodical. I’m good at it, but it’s yoga. It’s not exactly the stuff of athletes.

And then, a year ago, my son said he wanted to take Tae Kwon Do. So I found a place to take him. And then my daughter started going. And I did.

It made sense. I write action, so it’s technically research. I could get help choreographing fight scenes. Plus, it turns out, it’s just fun. No. Really.

Yeah. That’s me saying that. It’s exercise and it’s fun. I look forward to it. And now here’s the really weird thing: I’m good at it. There are two other women in my class who are at the same level as me. I don’t carry them, but they don’t carry me either. We are equals. One of them jogs every morning. One of them was a star basketball player in high school. And I’m their equal.

That’s amazing to me!

And here’s the thing that I never understood about what it means to be athletic: I didn’t know that even lazy, uncoordinated people could be athletes.

Oh, any number of P.E. teachers and coaches said, “Well, you just need to practice. You’ll get better at softball/kickball/tennis/basketball/volleyball/etc.”

I had absolutely no faith that I would get better. I was a naturally uncoordinated person. How could practice help that? I couldn’t imagine that any amount of practice would make me not a clumsy lunk. I never understood that practice would build muscles. That having muscles would mean I’d have better control over my limbs. That using my muscles regularly would help me develop muscle memory. That I would totally feel like an athlete!

Yeah, I’m still uncoordinated. Yeah, I still cringe at the thought of playing a team sport. Yeah, I’d still probably be the last one picked to play kickball. And, yeah, I’d probably still get the volley ball to the face. But guess what? Now, I could totally drop kick the guy who did it. (Not that I would do that. That would be rude.)

(By the way, I had all kinds of cool pictures of my getting my red belt, but now I can’t find them. I don’t think I understand how my phone works with the new update. So instead, I included pictures of Master Um, my instructor, with his far more impressive student, WIllie Nelson!)

Books to Read Aloud with Your Child

While cleaning out my email tonight, I found this list that my daughter’s kindergarten teacher of books to read aloud to your kids. It’s such a great list, I thought I’d share it here. I believe she got it from Pizza Hut Book It! Program. They have some great resources there, so be sure to check it out!

20th Century Children's bookI was very impressed by this list. We have definitely read all of the Infant to Preschool books. We haven’t read all of the “All Ages” books, because I can’t read The Giving Tree (aka, Call Your Mother) without bursting into tears. And, Little Women as all ages? Um. No. But, we’ve read all of the Infant to Preschool books (thanks in part to The 20th Century Children’s Book Treasury–which is a book I can’t recomend highly enough). We’ve read almost all of the 4-8 Year old books, but I’m excited to try the ones I hadn’t even heard of. Yeah. There were some I hadn’t even heard of. How is that even possible?

As for the 9-12 year old books, we’re just getting to those and I can’t wait to dive in.

How about you? Have you read all of these to your kids? Are there any favorites? Are there any you think were left out?

All ages:

  • The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
  • Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  • The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  • Heidi by Johanna Spyri

Infant to Preschool

  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr.
  • The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
  • Corduroy by Don Freeman
  • The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
  • The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
  • Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney

4-8 years old

  • The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  • Love You Forever by Robert N. Munsch
  • The Mitten by Jan Brett
  • Stellaluna by Janell Cannon
  • Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss
  • Strega Nona by Tomie De Paola
  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
  • The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
  • The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka
  • Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by John Archambault
  • The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne
  • If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff
  • The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
  • Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
  • Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
  • Math Curse by Jon Scieszka
  • Are You My Mother by Phillip D. Eastman
  • Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
  • One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss
  • The Napping House by Audrey Wood
  • Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
  • Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss
  • Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus
  • The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
  • Curious George by Hans Augusto Rey
  • Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox
  • Arthur series by Marc Brown
  • Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
  • The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton
  • Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
  • The Art Lesson by Tomie De Paola
  • Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
  • Clifford, the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell
  • Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss
  • The Paper Bag Princess by Robert N. Munsch
  • The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
  • Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

9-12 years old

  • Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
  • Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L ‘Engle
  • Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
  • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
  • Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
  • Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
  • Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
  • The BFG by Roald Dahl
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  • Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
  • Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner
  • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats fo Nimh by Robert C. O’Brien
  • The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
  • Matilda by Roald Dahl
  • Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
  • Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
  • The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
  • Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
  • Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  • The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
  • Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Lois Sachar
  • Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
  • A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
  • Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard Atwater
  • My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
  • Stuart Little by E. B. White
  • Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 by Chirstopher Paul Curtis

Young Adult

  • Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls
  • The Cay by Theodore Taylor
  • The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

From Zero to Panicked in 60 seconds flat

Two years ago I had this conversation with the mother of one of my daughter’s classmates:

Her: We’re thinking about moving to another school district.

Me: Why? Did you or your husband get a new job?

Her:  No. We’re worried about Jennifer’s class rank.

Me: Um … okay.

Her: This school district is so competitive. It’s almost impossible to make into the top ten percent. And you, if you’re not in the top ten percent, you don’t automatically get into UT, A&M or Texas Tech. And if you can’t get in there…

Me: Um ….

Her: What do you think?

Me: Don’t colleges know how competitive our school district is? Shouldn’t that matter?

Her: <Looking at me like I’m a naive idiot> Um ….


At the time, our kids were in the second grade. I thought she was crazy. Like, bat-shit crazy. Why would you move (actually sell your house and move) so your kid could go to an inferior school district in the fear that ten years from now his or her GPA might not be competitive?

Flash forward to Monday morning. Someone forwarded The Geek an article from Money Magazine ranking colleges. He’s rattling off interesting facts:

Him: Did you know most of the really good colleges are upwards of $150,000?

Me: <choking on coffee>

Him: Did you know Stanford only accepts 8% of its applicants?

Me: Uh???

Him: Oh, look, Harvard only accepts 6%.

Me: <gasping for breath>

five minutes later

Me: How do we feel about moving to a shitty school district?


Okay. So we’re not moving. Yet. But I am officially freaked out. My daughter is in the forth grade. Middle school is right around the corner. Those days when I have to think about class ranking and dream colleges is right around the corner. Like so many times in my past as a mother, parts of me are at war. On one hand, I don’t want to be the crazy mom who moves the whole family to engineer a better class rank for my kid. On the other, I want her to have options. I want her to get into any school she wants to go to. I want her to enjoy her childhood. I worry that we’re not doing enough. I remind myself that I got into Texas A&M (and so did her father) and that was good enough for both of us. I don’t want to push too hard, but I’ve always felt my parents didn’t push enough.

What if she wants to go to Harvard and doesn’t get in. What if she does get in and we have to pay for it? What if pay for it and then … and then … my baby is going to live in Boston!!!!

What if she never moves back? I’m going to have to move there too! I’m going to have to learn to drive in the snow! 

Thank goodness for The Geek. While I was hyperventilating, he pointed out several wise things: we still have time, we have savings, our kids are bright, we didn’t go to Harvard and we’re okay. Remembering all of that helped. 

But here’s the bottom line: I’m going to panic. Every time I think I’ve got this parenting thing under wraps, there’s going to be something to freak me out. I can go from zero to panicked in sixty seconds flat. Okay, in this case it was more like fifteen minutes. Still, you see what I mean right?

Here’s one of those things I never knew about parenting: I would be afraid all the time. I would be afraid of crazy crap that I would totally make fun of under other circumstances. And I would always be trying to hide how afraid I am. Because here’s the deal: I’m okay telling The Geek when I’m afraid. I’m okay telling you guys. I’m not okay with the kids knowing it. They don’t need my crazy in their heads. My girl will have her own fears about college and they will come soon enough.

So, what about you? Are you thinking about college yet? What makes you panic?



Emily McKay lives in Central Texas with her family and her chickens where she writes YA horror and eats lots of cookies.

An open letter to the family who donated my mother’s kidney,

First, please let me begin by thanking you for your generosity at a time that must have been unimaginably difficult. My mother received a kidney transplant in late July and I will never be able to express how thankful we all are. Instead I would like to tell you what your gift means to my family and to me.

DSC_0085_NEFMy mother has been suffering from renal failure for nearly twenty years. At first, it was manageable with diet, but eventually—nearly ten years ago—she had to go on dialysis. She has been on the kidney transplant list for the past six and half years.

I have young children, ages nine and six. This means their grandmother has been on dialysis for all their lives. The grandmother they have known has always been weak and fragile. She has been unable to babysit them, or get down on the floor and play with them. Due to her dialysis schedule, she often hasn’t been able to attend school events. Holidays have been cut short. Multi-generation family vacations have been impossible. I know how much she loves them and how hard it has been on her to not be a “normal” grandmother to them.

For me, the hardest part has been knowing that even the limited part she has played in their lives couldn’t last. Dialysis is hard on a person’s body and I have watched as it shaved years off my mother’s life, knowing that the inevitably result of my mother’s kidney failure would be that she would not live to see my children grow into adults. They would never know her as teenagers. They would not be able to turn to her for guidance in those tough years. They would never see her through the eyes of an adult.

My mother is my children’s only grandmother. We lost my mother-in-law to pancreatic cancer three years ago. It breaks my heart, but they have already begun to forget her and how much she loved them. Knowing they would lose their other grandmother too, that they would forget her, that they would enter adulthood with no grandmother … that has been heart wrenching for me.

That is what this gift you’ve given us means to me. Not only does it mean more years with my mother for me, but it means more years with her for my children. It means she will live long enough to see them graduate high school and probably college. It means they will have the chance to know her. My mother is one of brightest, most cheerful, most optimistic people I have ever known. She has faced true hardship in her life, and she has always done it with a smile. Her optimism and joy infect everyone around her. At my darkest moments, I’ve been able to think, “What would my mother do?” And the answer is almost always, “She would find the positive. She would find a way to smile through it.” Sometimes, just having that example is enough. Because of your family’s generosity, my children will have that example, too.

Thank you. Thank you a thousand times, in a thousand tiny ways.


Emily McKay lives and writes in the Texas Hill Country where she bakes and collects eggs from her yard chickens.

Five tips for raising adventurous eaters

I know this is a hot button issue for some people–much like attachment parenting is for some people and cry-it-out method is for others. So let me start by saying I have no intention of food shaming anyone. I’m not going to tell you you’re doing it wrong. As long as your kids aren’t starving to death, you’re doing just fine.

However, having said that, I happen to have been blessed with very adventurous eaters. I use the term “blessed” because I’m well aware that some of it is pure luck. My husband and I are adventurous eaters, so you could make the argument that we must have genes for very forgiving taste buds and we passed those genes on to our kids and were therefore blessed with adventurous eaters. This is at least partly true. (Did you know there’s a specific gene for super bitter tasters? So some people don’t like broccoli because it actually tastes different to them.) But, baring any weird gene or sensory issues, your kid may have it in them to be an adventurous eater too and you just don’t know it yet. Because The Geek and I do work at getting our kids to eat well. Sometimes we work very hard at it. The reward is kids who can eat almost anything and almost anywhere, kids who eat lots of veggies and love them, kids who make good eating choices more often than not.  Personally, I think all the hard work is worth it. (Plus, I’m too damn lazy to cook multiple meals. I’m not a short order cook, people!)

So here are my five tips for raising adventurous eaters:

1. They have to try at least one bite of everything on their plate, even if they tried it two days ago and hated it then.  Kids taste buds change all the time. Ours do too! And if a kid doesn’t like something on Tuesday night, that doesn’t mean that they won’t grow to enjoy it by the following Monday.

2. They can’t complain about the food someone else has prepared for them. This one is huge for me, probably because I am almost always the “someone else.” I’ve told my kids over and over that they don’t get to complain about my cooking until they’re food critiques for the Times.

3. They don’t have to finish everything on their plate, but if they don’t, they don’t get to eat again until breakfast. Trust me, nothing puts food in a kid’s mouth faster than the threat of watching the whole family eat ice cream without them.

4. You can’t flinch. That’s right, if you want your kids to try everything, then you have to be willing to do it too! I don’t like sushi, but when my kids want to try, I paste on a smile and pretend it’s great. Just tonight we ate at a traditional ramen noodle place and there was this weird egg looking thing in my bowl. I dug right in, ignoring the weird texture. I had to eat it with a smile because my daughter was giving hers the stink eye. Just remember they will model your behavior!

5. And, finally, if all else fails, google the nutritional info about the food. Any time the kids do start looking sideways at a particular dish, I pop open the computer. Many a kale salad has been eaten in my house because I regaled my kids with assurances that Kale has oodles of vitamin K, which will make their bones strong, and tons of vitamin A, which will protect their eyes. Knowing why it’s a good idea to eat something is a big step to enjoying it. Plus, it’s important that kids know that food isn’t just about the pleasure of eating. It’s about feeding our bodies.

So those are my tips for getting kids to eat almost anything. Now what are yours?



8 Reasons Lilo and Stitch Rocks!

Aloha from Oahu!

200px-23920e88bff9fd7588af92a10ab9129df13005d1Yep, the McKay’s are wrapping up our first vacation in Hawaii. And in honor of our amazing trip, I’ve written a tribute to one of my favorite Disney movies–one that I think is  very underrated. Plus, Lilo and Stitch is set in Hawaii! So here are just a few of the reason’s I love Lilo and Stitch.

  1. The women have real curves. Lilo isn’t some delicate flower and neither is her sister, Nani. Unlike a lot of animated girls, the females in Lilo and Stitch look like humans. No, “OMG, my wrist is smaller than my eyeball!” here, thank you very much.
  2. Not everyone in the story is white. In fact, most of the characters aren’t. Which is a pretty refreshing, actually. Yes, when it comes to heroines of color, we’ve got a few other options—Tiana most recently—but Lilo is still the only modern American of color who’s a major character. Go, Lilo!
  3. The general wackiness of the plot. Okay, the complicated plot (which involves a genetically engineered killing machine masquerading as a family dog who befriends an orphaned girl is … well, just waskadoodle. But it’s also delightful. The themes of family, acceptance and redemption will always resonate.
  4. It’s real portrayal of grief. A lot of Disney characters lose their parents. I mean, a lot. Like, hardly anyone actually has parents. That said, Lilo’s grief feels more ugly, more tangible, more real, than any other character’s grief in the entire Disney pantheon. Most Disney movies, gloss over the tough business of loosing a loved one (Frozen) or force the character to cope and move on for plotting purposes (The Lion King). But Lilo and her sister are mired in their grief. They’re drowning in it. The small signs of Lilo’s grief (lying on the floor listening to Elvis, her anger, the voodoo dolls she’s making for her friends who no longer know how to treat her), feel so real they are heartbreaking, but they never overwhelm the story.
  5. It’s funny. Despite Lilo’s depression and sorrow, the movie is a blast. Even her grief is funny. Come on, a Disney heroine who makes voodoo dolls? She’s my kind girl!
  6. The mosquitoes! All my life, I’ve been mosquito bait. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve looked down at my legs and seen them covered in mosquitoes when whoever is next to me is completely mosquito-free. So the fact that mosquitoes are vital to saving our world from alien destruction? Love it!
  7. Lilo-Stitch-Screencap-lilo-and-stitch-1727198-960-536It’s set in Kauai! And the setting is awesome! Trust me, I was there last week and they nailed Kauai.
  8. David—Nani’s tangential love interest—is such a great Strong Male Character. I’ve been reading a lot on-line recently about the pit-falls of the “Strong Female Character” and the “Trinity Syndrome”—i.e. female characters who are ostensibly strong, but are either only two dimensional or don’t have any real role in the story. And that’s David’s role in Lilo and Stitch. He’s a fun character. He’s a good love interest. But he doesn’t really do much. He certainly doesn’t sweep in and save the day. I love that the writer’s were comfortable giving him a backseat.

So what Disney movies do you think are underrated? What’s your favorite?


Emily McKay loves to read, shop, and geek out about movies. When she’s not writing, she reads on-line gossip and bakes luscious deserts. She pretends that her weekly yoga practice balances out both of those things. She lives in central Texas with her family and her crazy pets.

That indefinable coolness

PastedGraphic-2Yesterday was the talent show at my kids elementary school and my son did a little Tae Kwon Do routine and broke a board with his kick. It was tons of fun. (With a little bit of drama mixed in when he experiences his first bit of stage fright.) Though I volunteer at the kid’s school a little bit, I don’t often get the full depth and breadth of the elementary school experience the way I did by watching the talent show.

Here’s what struck me watching the talent show: some kids are cool and others just aren’t.

I know. Brilliant observation, right? That’s me. Genius at large.

But I found myself fascinated trying to figure out the difference between the cool kids and the not. For the record, I was never one of the cool kids. I was always too much in my own head. For too long I was totally unaware that there were cool kids. And then I was trying too desperately to be like them and failing. My daughter, who is nine, will suffer the same fate. I can see it happening already. I’m okay with it, I think. If my daughter was cool and super popular, what would I do with that? Would I know how to be the mother of a cool kid? I don’t think so. My son has a shot at it, I think. It seems to me that there are some parents who are very invested in whether or not their kids are cool. As for me, I’m very invested in not caring about it either way.

However, I am fascinated by watching it. Trying to figure it out. I guess it’s the YA writer in me–still trying to learn the rules of high school. Trying to study “cool” like I’m some sort of anthropologist. So, watching the talent, I was inexplicably aware of which kids have “it” and which don’t. And, furthermore, trying to figure out what “it” even is.

Here’s what I’ve decided: for boys, it has something to do with being tall. And coordinated. And probably tough. For girls, it has something to do with understanding the rules. With knowing how to manipulate and control other people, both girls and boys. With having power over other people. And I guess that makes sense–from and evolutionary stand point, I mean. Despite ten thousand years of civilization, we are all still tribal creatures, high school more so than any other time in our lives. And in the ancient tribe, the men who were tough in battle and best able to defend the tribe were the most valuable. The most cool. And the woman who were able to keep everyone else in line were equally valuable.

How I Got Into CollegeOf course, the problem is, we no longer live in tribes. So we must simultaneously prepare are children to survive in the tribe of high school and then to evolve to succeed in the (hopefully) more civilized world beyond school. In the end, what I’d most like my children to realize is that the “cool” you are forever chasing in high school fades away in the world beyond. Many of the most interesting, successful people I know were geeky rejects in high school, just like I was. On the other hand, I have good friends now that I have no idea what their social status was in school. They may have been the popular kids. They may have been the losers. It just doesn’t matter any more. One of my favorite movies from the early ’90’s was called How I Got into College. I’m guessing no one remembers it, because I think only twenty-three people ever saw it. But here’s my favorite line: “College is like a federal protection and relocation program for high school students.”