Cursed by a Happy Childhood is a warm, funny, bighearted collection of one dad’s reminiscences about the kinds of lessons we all learn--sometimes the hard way, often without even realizing it--on the road to becoming a grown-up. The book began as a diary of sorts that Carl Lennertz wanted to keep for his eleven-year-old daughter, a way to let her know that he understood something about being a child and dealing with the milestones she would soon be approaching as a teenager.
As Carl began to write, he realized that his stories--of friendship and cliques, fitting in while being yourself (a neat trick!), music and books, first job and first love, teachers and other role models--are stories we all share and are as poignant and recognizable to parents and adults as they would be to his daughter. The book soon grew into a keenly observed, deeply felt reflection on the ways we’re all pretty much the same despite the obvious differences demanded by our stations in life--old or young, parent or child, male or female. Who, after all, ever really gets control of their inner kaleidoscopic mix of hopefulness, vulnerability, silliness, uncertainty, ambition . . . and fear of looking dorky in front of the cool kids?
Cursed by a Happy Childhood is rich with vignettes of youth and life that point to truths larger than the stories themselves. Most make us smile, a few make us wince, and all epitomize the power of memory to entertain, educate, and affect. The lesson that Carl learned--which we can all learn through his gently humorous and sometimes profound words--is that the little moments are the big moments, and that we can and should enjoy our own stories and take heart in the magic way they have of helping us feel a little closer, a little stronger, and a little happier to face each day.
In a project begun as a diary for his 11-year-old daughter, publishing vet Lennertz, currently HarperCollins's marketing v-p, chronicles his "safe, fun, basic childhood" in the 1960s in a small, rural town on Long Island. Writing in brief, epistolary chapters that revolve around themes like cliques, summer jobs, comic books and television shows, Lennertz routinely draws parallels between his experiences and those of his daughter, a modern kid coming of age in the city. Lighthearted and nostalgic, the book is written for two audiences: Lennertz's fellow baby boomers and their preteen kids, in terms that can be digested easily by both. Like all parents, Lennertz struggles between protecting his daughter and giving her a sense of independence, as when he allows her to take a first unchaperoned walk around the neighborhood. In this episode, he comments, "kids actually do want parents to be clear about what the boundaries are and to help them shape and understand their world," and he recognizes that these borders become more difficult to define as children get older. Lennertz is comfortable bending the rules of proper child-rearing, as when he proclaims, "Thank goodness for television... how could any parent get by without it?" He also finds humor in family quagmires, as when he dresses up as Barney the Dinosaur for his daughter's second birthday party only to terrify two of her young guests. Acknowledging the "Norman Rockwellian" nature of his childhood experiences, Lennertz still addresses universal truths about parenting and growing up. This is a charming meditation on the imperfect art of raising children.