Stuffing In The Stories. And Being A Person This Was Not Lost On.

(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!

I commiserated.

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:

A person

This was not lost on

is

who

I

want to

be

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…

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13 thoughts on “Stuffing In The Stories. And Being A Person This Was Not Lost On.

  1. Love this post 😀 well done for being so brave at the PTO meeting, it’s hard when you’re the only one speaking out about these things. Schools should be leading the way on these issues, showing the children how to live consciously. Well done 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you 🙂 !
      I was both heartened and relieved when the teacher sitting beside me immediately chimed in with his support, and then two other parents made comments about hating both the plastic junk and the water bottles. I agree with you 100% — schools SHOULD be at the forefront of these issues. (Although I didn’t need it that night, I did have a bit of a mini-speech rehearsed regarding just that, as well as a plan to take things to the school board level if my concerns weren’t going to be addressed.)
      Many thanks for taking the time to leave a comment 🙂 .

      Like

  2. 1) I’m so glad the PTO/dance conversation went well. I’m still trying to raise my voice on your crap-free book fair. Ours is going on this week and while my kids are smart and know I don’t go for the junk, it’s still there and such a waste.

    2) As I was reading your comments about reading aloud to your (older) youngest, I thought about how my husband doesn’t like to read but he’ll always tune in to NPR’s Chapter a Day or how when I was reading Harry Potter aloud, he’d always manage to mosey into the living room and listen. Abram will read aloud to him some nights and he loves it. (Just writing this makes me think I should get him a subscription to audible.) I loved when my mom read to me. Or to my younger siblings when I could glob on. She was just the BEST at it. (Elementary school teachers usually do have the read aloud gift). I’m terrible at it. I was good when the kids where little/little and they’d sit on my lap and we’d snuggle and go through board book after board book (once on a long car trip when V was super fussy, we recited Sandra Boynton books from memory to keep her entertained) but as the books got older, my impatience gets the best of me and I just want to READ and reading aloud is so slow. Anyway, I don’t know the purpose of all of that. (You’re better at making connections and coming full circle!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kate 🙂 .
      With regards to wanting to raise your voice as to the junk sold at the book fairs that are held in your school…I don’t know if this will give you the nerve to speak up or not (and I certainly don’t want to pressure you) but FWIW here’s what I’m finding: The more I speak up, the more I realize I’m actually NOT alone in seeing all these things. I think there are many, many parents out there who look at the way things are done now and don’t like it/don’t agree with it/wish it didn’t have to be this way, but they don’t speak up because (I think) they are perhaps afraid to be the FIRST ONE to say, Really?! Why exactly are we doing this/allowing this? Because who wants to be *that* person who destroys others’ fun? (ME, apparently 😉 — I could/just might do a whole post on this.) The thing I keep in mind is that kids were capable of having fun LONG before plastic crap was invented (and became so pervasive), and the chances are really good that other parents (of my approximate age) completely KNOW this and will agree and will be relieved when someone else speaks first. So I do, even when my anxiety is taking me to the point where I’m worried I might just throw up.
      I’m also convinced that if children *actually* saw the cost of this junk — if they were taken through a mental exercise that dispelled the notion that things simply pop into and out of existence (ie. where does this stuff come from/how many millions are made/how is the stuff shipped to us/where does it go when we’re done with it) THEY probably wouldn’t want the junk either! Our kids are watching what’s going on in the world — with climate change and rising carbon emissions, and plastics in the oceans and animals being harmed. And I think (idealistically, I suppose) that if children are given all the pertinent information, they will naturally choose to do the right thing for the environment.

      I love hearing your thoughts on the reading aloud thing, and laughed at the image of your husband nonchalantly hanging about to listen! My husband also loves to listen to our read-alouds and has actually, at times, been a bit crestfallen when he’s missed parts. There is definitely *something* different about listening to a story versus reading it silently. I think you have to pay attention in a different sort of way, which I think is a good skill to learn. I also think the reason I love it so much is because it meshes exactly with the way I read silently — each word enunciated in my thoughts, which I know is quite different to how you’ve said you read, which would explain your impatience with it.
      Maybe your husband enjoys listening to that NPR show because he can multi-task? If I recall correctly, you’ve said he’s always busy with something…maybe sitting to read represents a waste of time, but if he can slot it in while doing something else he’s perhaps quite glad to be either learning something new or hearing about something interesting or just having something other than his own thoughts for company…?

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      1. You’re so right on the kids making the right choice. Violet is more and more turning away from that kind of stuff without my prompting (though she has an addiction to stuffed animals that makes me CRAZY). She’s talking about how she wants to be a marine biologist and help save the coral (hopefully there will still be some there to save!). She also talks about not getting her driver’s license so she’s forced to use public transit because that’s better for the environment. It makes my family laugh about how I boycotted McDonald’s when I was her age because of their use of styrofoam (it made for a long family vacation when my stepdad would only stop at McDonald’s in a not very funny effort to make me cave which is a whole other long story). I actually worked for an environmental lobbyist briefly in college. She’s 10, so who knows where she’ll end up, but it combines her love of science, swimming, and nature, so maybe?

        And I’m pretty sure you’ve hit the nail on the head with him being able to multi-task. When I first met him, he read a lot because he was working as a nightshift guard for a lumber yard and had a lot of time where he was just sitting in the gatehouse. I tease him that he sold me a bill of goods because I used to say I would never marry a person who didn’t READ and once he got a job where he didn’t have all the time, he just doesn’t read. But he will listen to books. (I can’t do that. I can listen to music and podcasts, but audio books give me the heebs!) Anyway…I should get back to packing up. I’m doing that overwhelmed procrastinating thing. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I love hearing about Violet’s views on things — it sounds like she’s connecting the dots, and is concerned about making conscientious choices, which is fantastic! Speaking of thoughtful daughters…as I’ve mentioned before, my daughter became a vegetarian just before turning 12, and this was something she came up with entirely on her own, because of concern for animals. She has been big on science, outdoor activities (like camping, hiking, skiing, canoeing, sailing), and nature ever since she was little, and she actually IS combining all those loves into her career: she’s just finishing her B.Sc. in biology and has almost made up her mind about doing a Masters in biology with a focus on researching the impacts of pollution etc on water. (Freshwater, because of where we live, and because she does so love the Great Lakes.)

        Your McDonald’s story…that makes my heart ache, Kate. I hate it when kids take conscientious stances and their parents don’t support them. Your stepdad could have used that opportunity to explore brand new eating options, and the whole family could have grown because of it, and instead…? (How do I make a MAD emoticon??)

        I laughed at the bill of goods thing 🙂 and it reminded me of a movie where a fellow became a chauffeur specifically because he wanted to have loads of time to read. (Can’t remember the name of the movie, but the concept certainly is appealing!)
        I also can’t seem to do audio books. I tried to listen to one while exercising and I kept losing track of what was going on. An hour of frustrated Wait? What? which is really too bad, because I would love to be able to stuff more stories into my own head, without having that impinge on my knitting and exercise time.

        I hope your packing went well…

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  3. Hi Marian,
    I’m SO GLAD you spoke up again! You know how much I loved your crap-free book fair posts, so I’m cheering you on as you go bigger. I know I’ve seen about a million inspirational meme-type thingies about how when you dare to show who you really are you’ll find yourself attracting more people than when you play it safe, but I don’t have any handy. What they all say, too, is that you end up attracting the right people. So, just, you go girl. You be you. You is awesome.

    And, so much I can relate to on the reading aloud. Have you ever read Jim Trelease’s Read Aloud Handbook? He would tell you that they’re never too old to be read to. One of the hardest things for me to let go of was reading aloud to my kids. I kept it going until halfway through 6th grade. Our downfall was that I couldn’t find books both of them would like. Their tastes really started to diverge. And if I found a book Grace liked, she’d read ahead and then not want to listen to it. Will would get grumpy about her reading ahead. *cue the bickering* I had to let it go. But know that you’ve laid the foundation you wanted to. On his last phone call to me, Will opened by telling me he’d just finished reading a book with more than a thousand pages–and was then promptly made fun of by his roommate (who said it was evidence that he’s a liberal, which I won’t comment on because that would lead to a major digression). Will just laughed. While I know (hope!) that grandchildren are a ways off, I can’t wait to get them hooked and have an excuse to buy all kinds of wonderful children’s books again. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your first paragraph just put the BIGGEST smile on my face, Rita 🙂 — thank you so much for that!

      I have not read the Read Aloud Handbook! I’ll have to look for it — anything that motivates me to keep this going is fine by me. I can completely see why you had to let it go when you did. I feel like even getting to grade six is a rare feat…
      I can just imagine how happy you were to hear Will had just finished a thousand pager! (You’ll have to tell me, sometime, what the book was; I’m curious to know after the “liberal evidence” comment.) I’m really happy that after a couple of pretty dry reading years, my older son is back into reading again. It helps that his girlfriend is an English major (I confess I did an internal whoop of joy when I found out what she was studying) although he might have come back to it again of his own accord because he did SO love it growing up. You’re absolutely right about laying the foundation: when my son wasn’t reading for those couple of years, he *did* seem to be rueful that he wasn’t, as though he could see that something was missing; similarly, my daughter, who has very little spare time for free reading, has often said that she would like to be able to read more. I’m betting Grace also has a hard time fitting it into her schedule…

      I’ve kept almost all of the children’s books; it’s a good thing they keep coming up with new ones 😉 . I have LOVED the task of finding and buying books for my kiddos over the years. (And even earlier than that — I loved buying books for my niece and nephew a half dozen years before we even had kids of our own.) When I think of possible future grandchildren, my mind immediately goes to an image of me reading with them 🙂 .

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  4. Oh Marian, that is just brilliant! I’m so glad you went along, and even more that you dredged up the courage to speak out. And what a change you’ve achieved! Small steps…..
    As for the reading aloud, I think what you and your son is great. You’re building your relationship, which will serve you both for the rest of your lives. As well as building his love of reading. Isn’t is strange how people think it’s odd / unusual for you to read aloud to him, yet think nothing of listening to stories on the radio, going to see plays, etc etc.
    Anyway, I hope you keep on sharing the love, and being the you you want to be, not the you you think others expect / want.

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    1. Thank you, Deborah!! I have to tell you that it’s been words you said, in a comment here, several post ago (“Never underestimate the possibility that someone (or several people) there will go away and think about something differently as a result of your intervention”) that I keep coming back to, words which bolster me each and every time I want to give up. (As well as the corollary to that, which I cooked up myself, and which I’ve determinedly decided to believe: Never underestimate the possibility that other people are thinking EXACTLY the same thing as you are, and that they, too, may be nervous about speaking their minds.)

      I hadn’t thought about plays as an extension of the whole reading-aloud thing; that’s a very good point! Seeking out and sharing stories — in books, in tv shows, in movies, in plays, in radio dramas, in 17th century parlours, in a circle around a campfire — using language to share experiences, that’s pretty much what sets humans apart from other creatures, isn’t it? That’s pretty much what we’ve been doing ever since we began talking, thousands and thousands of years ago…!
      I consider myself so fortunate to have been able to do this (in such a major way) with my children, and it’s been the very thing that I’ve held tight to during those times when it’s felt like we were flying apart, when it seemed as though everything was going sideways. (And by that, I mean those lovely teenage years when our children cannot seem to stand us…)
      Thank you for reading, Deborah, and for taking the time to leave a comment 🙂 .

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  5. Oh yes, the teenage years. So glad to have left those behind! And you’re absolutely right about the importance of sharing stories.
    And how right you’ve been proved to be in holding on to the possibility that others may be thinking just the same as you). Turns out they are….

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    1. I knew you would be able to completely relate to the need to *somehow* just get through the teenage years 😦 . (It never fails to hearten me, the stories you share about your grown sons.)
      And on “thinking the same” I would add, thank goodness for the internet, where those of us who need to can gather enough gumption from online friends in order to get going in Real Life 🙂 …

      Liked by 1 person

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