"Nine is young," Judy Blume cautioned me.
The original kid whisperer wasn't exactly vetoing my plan to bring my eldest daughter to a special reception and screening for "Tiger Eyes," the theatrical adaptation of Blume's 1981 novel about a teenage girl grappling with the sudden death of her father. But she certainly wasn't endorsing it either.
"Kids don't take in what they don't want to," the 75-year-old said. "But you see that father on the floor, dying. That's really heavy. We had a 10-year-old in the San Francisco screening and she got hysterical. She loved it, but she cried and cried and cried. [Your daughter] is young for this one. She's going into fourth grade? It's very young."
If I was wedded to the idea, Blume said, I should at least talk to her about the film before coming. Then, giving me a bit more of an opening, she added that even if "Tiger Eyes" may not be the most appropriate film for a kid who likes playing with dolls and Legos, it wouldn't permanently hurt her, either. "I don't think it damages them," she said. "It's playing. It's 'Bang Bang.'"
I was torn: My daughter has read "Blubber," "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing," "Freckle Juice" and "Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great." Here was a chance for her not just to see a Judy Blume film but also to meet the writer in person, an author who is starting to affect her life, just as Blume did mine 30 years ago. Keep in mind, this was also a rare instance of my daughter dying to meet someone not on the Disney Channel.
Could I disregard the qualms of my childhood idol? Could I ignore the advice of the woman I trusted to get me through so many trying times growing up?
If you're me, the answer is yes.
When we arrived at the event, Blume took one look at my daughter and through gritted teeth said to us, "You staying for the movie?"
Lead actress Willa Holland, 21, entered the patio behind the theater. "Don't you think she's too young to see this?" Blume asked quietly, pointing at my shy daughter, who was glued to my right hip.
"What have I done?" I thought. Not only was I risking scarring my daughter with this on-screen depiction of death and sadness, but now Blume — whom I had admired since "Blubber" entered my consciousness in the early 1980s — was judging my parenting skills.
(I flashed back to a recent bad call I'd made when it came to my kids and movies. Thinking they'd love the music, I let them watch the first 40 minutes of "Les Misérables." I had forgotten about the brutal scene with the prostitutes where Anne Hathaway, playing Fantine, cuts off her hair and has her teeth pulled out. My husband made me pull the plug on that one, but the kids are still begging to see the ending.)
Perhaps Blume's opposition was another one of her subversive methods to get children hooked on her stories. She already told me that she suggests to mothers my age, women who grew up on her novels, to slyly pass along her texts, never admitting the special places they hold in our collective hearts.
"I say do not tell them these were your favorite books growing up because it will turn them right off," she said. "I say if you can afford to buy the new cover, buy the new cover, leave them around and occasionally say, 'I don't think you're ready for this.'"
It's a great strategy and played into my thinking that my eldest could handle this grown-up night of movie viewing.
As it turned out, she could. I made sure to give her every detail of the film beforehand. And she asked questions all the way through. Sure, it eliminated the suspense that energizes most moviegoers, but it made the movie all the easier for her 9-year-old brain to absorb.
The movie ended. The lights came up, and she started dancing in the aisle. "I met Judy Blume. I met Judy Blume."
She is now knee-deep in "Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself."