Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mamma, What Are You Reading?

“Where you tend a rose my lad, a thistle cannot grow.” 

I was looking around for a good "reading quote" to go along with my thought process here for this soon to be long blog post.  I found many! Some of my favorites: 

“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.” 

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” 

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” 

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” 
― Dr. Seuss

“Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious, for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live.” 

An article I read some time ago really struck me but good. It was entitled, "Stop Cleaning the Kitchen and Read a Book" by Susan Wise Bauer. You mean...stop straightening, wiping down, sweeping up..sit down a book. My OCD self wanted to do all that stuff first, then read a book. I have always loved reading, but as an adult, I find 'more important' things to cleaning my kitchen.  My favorite book as a child at the little library in Prospect, CT was The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett. Favorite line from the book: “Might I," quavered Mary, "might I have a bit of earth?” If you've read the book you know that surely, some magic was about to happen.

 My family was in CT a few years ago. The old stone library building on the corner was all boarded up and a new one had been built in town. I was disappointed not to be able to show my son the exact spot in the basement where that book was held. If you took a right at the bottom of the stairs, and went straight all the way to the back wall, that's where it was. I don't know how many times I checked that book out...back when you signed your name on the card in the front of the book. I did find the exact book in the new library, so that was neat.   Hands down, my all time favorite book. Who wouldn't want to escape to a secret garden and have a robin tweet the garden's secrets?

“The robin flew from his swinging spray of ivy on to the top of the wall and he opened his beak and sang a loud, lovely trill, merely to show off. Nothing in the world is quite as adorably lovely as a robin when he shows off - and they are nearly always doing it.” 

“To speak robin to a robin is like speaking French to a Frenchman” 

 Ohhh...and to posses the key to the secret door?? Bliss!  Yes, I have the movie. And yes, the sound track too. Good stuff. My friend Carolyn gave me the book around 14 years ago. Why I never possessed the book before then, I can't tell you. I have no idea why. This book was one of my all time favorite gifts anyone has ever given me. Now my son loves the story (and the movie. and the soundtrack to the movie.). He's 16 years old and still loves that book..that somehow ended up in his library. Wait. How did that happen? 

I loved to escape into a book. To travel, to dream, to pretend, to love, to hate, to learn....ahhh, the joys of a good book. Ever since my son Jonathan was a baby, I've read to him. Often. I still read to him even though he's bigger than me. He will close his eyes, fold his hands in front of him on his stomach, and with a grin sit back and listen. When I met my friend Carolyn, I think Jonathan was 2 yrs old. She loved books as well and loved to buy my little boy books. She would read to him during choir practice (I was the piano player and thus, involved in the choir). Every week, she showed up with a new book to read to him, and for him to keep. He still has them and cherishes them. She still buys him books. When we moved into our new house last year and set up his library, Jonathan and I were talking about the books as we put them up on his newly built bookshelves. He remembered who gave him the book, how many times he's read it, and what he loved most about it. Turns out, most of the books he owns, Carolyn was the one who gave them to him! And most of them, he's read at least twice.  What a friend! And what friends these books have been to him. 

“If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” 

So what does all that have to do with mammas and reading and not cleaning the kitchen? Well, my thought process this week has been focusing on what to do about 9th grade. We are looking into 'Classical Education" and it's a bit different than what I'm used to. We home school and love it. We've home schooled Jonathan since Kindergarten..all but 3rd grade. I taught school that year at the request of our pastor and Jonathan was in a classroom setting. His teacher was excellent and is still one of my favorite persons to this day. The drama, however, of 3rd graders was way more than either Jonathan or I was prepared for. Good grief. Jonathan BEGGED to go back to home schooling...and frankly, so did I. Great school, great teachers, but not for us. As we prepare for 9th grade and all that entails, I somewhat start to panic. Am I prepared to teach high school courses? I have a college education, but really, that was so long ago, I'm not sure how that will help me. So, how will I be able to keep up with my guy as courses get more difficult? Educate myself, that's how. Jonathan loves the classics. He actually likes to read Charles Dickens and wants to study Latin. What? I remember struggling through Charles Dickens in high school, yet Jonathan loves the way Dickens writes. Ok, then. What shall I do?? Well, start reading for one. I want to be able to 'keep up with him' as he learns. How will he be able to sort out what he believes and why if I cannot have a logical discussion with him? How can I teach him the great things..the things he thrives on reading about, if I know nothing of his interests? I'm molding a future adult here and he needs someone to talk to about his adult ideas, thoughts, and dreams. "Reading is very difficult. Many of us become frustrated in our first attempts to read the classics. We resolve to read; we open the first “great book" and dive in. After twenty pages, we stop. That internal voice says, “You have no idea what this book means. You'll probably never understand it." And we put the book down, frustrated." states Bauer. "Often, this is the point at which the battle for selfeducation is lost. We decide: Ah, I just don't have enough education to understand this. And we give up." 

Here is the part in the article that about rendered me unconscious. Figuratively speaking, mind you. Mammas, read this:

In many ways, it's more rewarding to get up in the morning and clean the kitchen than to get up and read. After all, if your husband or your mother walks in, you can say, “I am a useful human being. I am a useful member of society. Look at my kitchen." But if your house is filthy, the baby is screaming, and you have a book in your hand, you won't feel at all rewarded.

We tend to grasp those visible results and say to ourselves, “Clean house, clean baby. That proves I'm doing my job and I'm a good mother." But that baby will eventually grow up. He'll be 17, studying modern history, and he'll come to you one day and say, “Mom, why did Hitler hate the Jewish people so much? I don't understand what lay behind that horrible, horrible hatred. What do you think?" The truth is that if you have spent the last 14 years every morning getting up and doing what is immediately visible and immediately rewarding, you may not be able to answer that question. But if you have spent some of that time reading, thinking, and preparing yourself by educating your own mind, you will be able to have that conversation with your child.

The problem? That conversation with your teenager is a long ways away. But remember that the ability to put off immediate satisfaction (clean kitchen) for the sake of future gain (meaningful conversation with growing child) demonstrates self-discipline
and maturity. The project of self-education requires you to take a very long view. It requires you to sometimes ignore immediate rewards in favor of a much greater reward down the road.

If you can't have that conversation with your child, then who is going to have it? You are going to have to outsource it to somebody else. Is that really what you want to do? As you try to carve out a small amount of time to educate yourself, think about your priorities—both now, and for the future.

And don't read simply for the sake of your children, either. It is true that we have a great responsibility toward our children, but it's also true that as parents we are made in the image of God, and we have a responsibility to develop our own minds. 

I had to really think about that one. I still like my kitchen clean. I like the living room and bedroom floors vacuumed, the bathroom tidied up, and the house looking 'put together'. But, I've been reading more. We have a saying in our house...'Book in hand'...and it is said with raised eyebrows. If I have a really good book I'm reading and Jonathan has a question that I know he can ask his dad or wait til later, that's what I say...'Book in hand!"..meaning...'Can you come back later?" If I see he is reading a book and I have a chore for him to do, I tell him that at the end of that chapter, I need him to do something. I know how it is to be stopped in the middle of a good's just not right! (kidding..well, depends on the book...)

 I need to keep up. Jonathan is asking harder, more detailed, and definitely thought out questions the older he gets. The more classic books he reads, the deeper the thoughts. The more he reads, the more he thinks. The more he thinks, the more questions he asks. It doesn't have to be the Classics, I say. Start somewhere, though. Recently, I went in search of some books for him based on this article published in Memoria Press, The Dangerous Article for Boys. While I didn't find a lot of the books on this list, I did bring home 4 books I thought he might like, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens (He jumped for joy for this one..), The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, and The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The last 3 we are able to keep because the library is updating their books. The Hobbit has to be returned, so that one was read first. The next one on his list to read? The Scarlet Pimpernel..simply because it was written by a Baroness. I suppose that's a good enough reason to choose that one first, so here we go. We're going back to the year 1792 headed for the 'center of deadly political intrigue'. It's time to dust the cobwebs from my brain and read along with him about the Reign of Terror in France and 'Madame la Guillotine'. He was thrilled that he knew what that meant. I hope it's not too gory. 

 So it may not be the Classics your child is interest in. What about mysteries? History? Science? Prairie life?  Your child is growing fast and so are his/her interests. Mamma, what are you reading? 

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! -- When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Enough Light

As we were getting ready to leave my aunt's house, we gathered in a circle and my dad began to pray. He prayed for comfort, for healing, for answers, for enough light to get through the day. We had just spent Thanksgiving with my aunt and uncle a few weeks before. We sat at the same table, laughed, told stories, and ate more mashed potatoes than we should have.   We were all stunned to receive the news that this same uncle had died suddenly and we needed to come back for the funeral. We were just there. How fast our lives can change. Strange, isn't it? One day your loved one is there. And the next...they're not. It is hard to wrap your brain around that. "What in the world just happened?", we ask.  My aunt lost a husband, his children lost their father, my dad lost a brother-in-law and dear friend, and I lost a favorite uncle. He was many things to many people: Husband, father, grandfather, uncle, pastor, counselor, and friend. My dad prayed for 'enough light' to make it through this difficult time. That phrase struck me as something I needed to ponder on for awhile. How many dark times have I had in the last few years and all I really needed was just enough light to make it through the day? Not a lot of light to blind me..but just...enough. Just enough of Jesus...enough of Himself to remind me that I am not alone. Just enough of Jesus to hold on to in the night and know that He will be there in the morning as well.  It makes me think of a few dear-to-my- heart- friends who needed these words prayed over them.  I pray these words now for the one family whose son took his life accidentally...and the family whose son took his life on purpose. This prayer is for the mother whose daughter lost her way in a world of drugs and is finding her way back to life and living...for a friend of ours whose wife died of cancer last year; and another friend who buried their newborn.  What do you say to make it better? What can you do to help ease the pain? I know that when we buried our baby boy nearly 10 years ago, I dreaded the question, "How are you?". I don't even ask that question now. I am well aware of how painful it is to answer. There are other ways, I have found, to let them know you care.  When you feel lost, you don't really want to tell people how black your day is, or how alone you feel, or how bitter life is tasting right now. Sometimes an honest answer in times like this are ugly and can be a bit shocking to those who only mean to wish you well, and those who are relieved when you answer, 'Fine'..when you both know that is not the truth.  How do you pray when there are no words to say how deeply sorry you are that this happened? How do you encourage one who really is not in the mood to be encouraged right now? What do you say to relieve a bit of pain and sorrow and hand out a ray of hope? So many questions, the answers... a mystery, so for now I pray for just.enough.light

  May all of you dear to me who are struggling find enough light to get out of bed when you want to pull the covers over your head and hide; enough light to keep your vision clear and to not despair; enough light to remember what it feels like to laugh;  and enough light to be able to find your smile again when the darkness has subsided.