(MAJOR snark alert … )
Last Monday evening, after the PTO meeting wound up —
Because yes, dear reader, this quaking-in-her-boots introvert went to another PTO meeting.
I raised my hand and — my voice tight and quavering — spoke:
“I have a really out-there suggestion,” I began. “The annual school dance that’s coming up in March … ? Well … I’m wondering … could that dance *ONLY* be a dance?”
(As opposed to what it’s been for years, dear reader: a dance PLUS a pop-up Dollarama (Plastic crap for sale! Step right up, kids, and get your plastic crap here…!) PLUS a pop-up corner convenience store (Hungry? Thirsty? Of course! It’s been — what? — a half hour of
standing around the gym dancing? Here, have a bag of candy, and here, have a bottle of water that — yep! — you can open, take one sip from, and then set down and forget! Oh, don’t worry, it’ll be dumped out later [thus becoming a complete waste of resources] by your friendly host of parent volunteers!).)
Whoops. Did I say all that? Out loud, at the meeting, I mean?
No. Somehow or another, I managed to keep all my snark bottled, although I confess I *did* slip up and — before I even knew what I was doing — I was asking if people had read this CBC news article about China refusing Canada’s
completely-wasted March dance water bottles recycling.)
(Some people should simply not be permitted to venture out.)
Slip-up notwithstanding, discussion ensued.
And then: agreement, tacit as well as expressly stated.
So as I was saying:
After the PTO meeting, I stayed awhile and visited with my son’s friend’s mum, and we had a discussion that largely centred around the difficulties of getting boys to read, for goodness’ sake!
Twelve is a hard age, especially for boys, and especially when those boys have easy access to a screen. As this Luddite has said before, screens rob from reading.
“We have all these wonderful books in our house,” she lamented. “Shelves full of classics! And the boys do not pick them up. It’s as though they’re allergic to paper.”
My solution, I told her, lay in the fact that I am determinedly — actively — stuffing my boy’s head with stories, by — warning, warning: shameful admission alert — continuing to read aloud to him, despite his advanced age.
The necessity to repeat myself, to say to her — “No, you’re not following me … (my son) did not read Animal Farm on his own; I read it aloud to him…” — really brought the point home for me: it does seem that my continuing to read aloud to my 12-year-old son constitutes some sort of subversive act. (As further evidenced by our mutual reticence to sit on the couch and read together when his older brother is home from university and is prowling in the adjoining kitchen. “Why are you STILL reading aloud to him?!” he scolded TWO YEARS ago. “He can read on his own!!!”)
Okay, yes, I get it.
I *do* know this will not — and cannot — go on forever.
And there was, in fact, a space of about three months this fall in which I thought, mournfully, Well, that’s the end of that!
Earlier in the summer, we had finished Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (the Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass). And, oh my gosh, how my son LOVED that epic tale! We then went on to Mary Norton’s classic, Bedknob and Broomstick, which my son also loved. After that came Orwell’s Animal Farm, which my son thoroughly enjoyed. (He also, it must be confessed, enjoyed the look on his teacher’s face, who, when he asked this fall if anyone had read Animal Farm (their next classroom read-aloud), fully expected no hands to be raised.)
But then we went on to Howl’s Moving Castle, and therein lay my mistake.
My son didn’t love it. At all. (Nor did I, to be honest.) We stopped two or three chapters in. And at a bit of a loss as to what to choose instead, I allowed time to pass. Several long weeks of it, in fact. And evenings which had formerly been given to reading were instead given over to Star Trek Voyager. Evenings in which I sweated:
- Sometimes literally: It was a sweltering summer and the misery of that was compounded by the arrival of surely-this-is-a-cosmic-joke hot flashes.
- Sometimes figuratively: Without our read-alouds, this kid is barely reading at all! How on Earth will I get this kid reading more? He/we can’t stop yet! — surely there are more stories I should be stuffing into his head?!
An overheard snatch of conversation between my older son and his girlfriend led to me casually putting Artemis Fowl into my 12-year-old’s hands. Pay dirt: EIGHT books for him to devour! And once those were done, a second windfall arrived: Robert Muchamore’s Cherub series. EIGHTEEN books! And a further seven in a prequel series…
So yes, I had him reading again.
But still: the loss of the reading-aloud — the loss of the thing I’d done for 21 years, the loss of the thing I (fancied I) did so well, the loss of the thing I SO loved doing … the loss of that ached.
And then, serendipitously, Lynda came along with a post about a perfect holiday season read-aloud. Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas. That got us back on the reading-aloud horse and A Christmas Carol followed immediately thereafter.
Which has now led to The Neverending Story.
Which will lead to …
Of course, I don’t know if it will lead to anything else.
Because he’s inching up to 13. And if the requirement of reading-aloud has long since passed, then the wanting must surely be hanging by a thread.
Hanging by a thread seems to be a fitting phrase for the way I’ve been feeling the past while. I’ve felt — very keenly at times — that my purpose in life is shifting underneath me. It’s been a year of introspection, a year of gathering — words, ideas, quotes, lyrics — a holding-tight and clinging-on, as though those gathered words were life preservers that could buoy me up and keep me afloat.
And although a listing-out of those gathered ideas is perhaps coming soon to a blog near you, there’s one, in particular, I’d like to share now, as it perfectly ties this post together with my last.
In my search for a 2018 wall calendar this past December, I came across this:
This is the work of Austin Kleon.
And on his blog, just last week, he had his latest instalment of newspaper blackout art and this lovely freeform poem:
This was not lost on
YES, I thought, the cadence of his words sending a symphony through my psyche.
This is NOT ONLY who I want to be — who I’ve always wanted to be — but this also — poetically — sums up my life’s work as a mother.
This explains the reasoning behind all my efforts to get my children reading, to keep them reading, to read aloud to them well beyond the point of normalcy.
Because: Not only were all these efforts simply the best part of motherhood — the snuggling-up intimacy, the sharing of stories, the lyrical turn-of-words that fashion prose into music, the breath-held pauses as four (six, eight) eyes roved over work-of-art illustrations, the ceremonial slowing-down, the communal savouring of ideas, the unspoken desire to learn-new-things together — but this ALSO spelled out a means to an end: it was (is) the route by which each of my children could (can) grow to become a person this was not lost on.
Literary references. Humour. Irony. Walking-in-another-person’s-shoes-for-200 pages-empathy. Sarcasm. Dry wit. Meaning which can only be found between-the-lines, or in a shrug, or in a raised eyebrow.
I didn’t (don’t) want any of those important things to be lost on my children.
And maybe, just maybe, there’s an extension to be made here.
Maybe, just maybe, if all those things are not lost on my children, there will be one more thing that’s not lost on my children: Connections.
Connections between, oh, say, the plastic bottle they might have held in their hands at the school’s March dance, and the news report that China is no longer willing to take Canada’s glut of recycling…