AJ’s Neighborhood is inspired by my son and our neighborhood, obviously. We love our neighborhood, and we do take walks to the library all the time. And AJ does wear rainboots a lot despite us living in Southern California drought conditions. But there’s a lot more to the backstory of how I came to write this book.
I wrote AJ’s Neighborhood during the summer of 2020. Earlier in the year I had worked on another book with the hopes of self-publishing it, but that project stalled. However, the research and prep I did on that project made me feel that self-publishing something was achievable.
There was a big event that inspired the story in AJ’s Neighborhood. Early in 2020, before the pandemic, I was taking the kids out to meet up with friends. AJ was two at the time, and Jo was just a few months old. I told AJ to put his shoes on because it was time to go. And by shoes, I mean rainboots, because that is all he would wear then.
I went to get Jo only to find she had a majorly poopy diaper that I would need to deal with before we could get in the car. The thing is–we cloth diaper, so it takes a little bit of time to clean up after a poop. So while I am taking care of things, Jo is also screaming her head off. (She was and remains a top-level screamer.)
When I finally finish with the diaper and get Jo to get in the car, I can’t find AJ anywhere. I am looking in hampers, under beds, in the backyard. I figured out he must have gone out the front door and the baby’s screaming kept me from hearing the noise. Outside, I call his name up and down our street, and freak out our mail carrier. I am hoping he hasn’t tried to cross our busy street to try and make his way to the the fire station to see the engines.
Finally, I have no choice but to call the police. I’m almost hysterical at this point. But it’s only a moment before they tell me someone has found a little boy fitting the description I gave. They direct me to go around the block.
I dash around the corner to find AJ being corralled by a couple who saw him run by their house. They thought it was odd to see a child that small running by himself. Plus he’s wearing rainboots from some reason. They went outside, chatted with him and kept him from running any further while they called the police.
Later, when I had calmed down, I had a serious talk with AJ about not running around by himself. As we talked, I realized that even though he had only gone around the block, he had gotten himself totally lost. AJ has always had a thing for maps, so we made a little map of our neighborhood so he would have a better sense of direction should he get lost again.
That day that AJ got lost stayed in my mind for a while. As a parent, it was a terrible experience. But it quickly became a classic anecdote for our family. I am sure AJ will be sick of hearing about it before long. In the retelling, I was able to see past the scary parts into seeing something interesting, fun and inspiring. I hope I was able to put that feeling into the finished project. Only 2 more months, and you can tell me how I did.
(Also, after this we got these super handy child-proof door knob things because mama is not messing around.)