Thursday, July 15, 2010

Another book-delivered epiphany

Last winter I wrote about my validating experience in reading the Confederate General Rides North (you can read that here), this morning while driving I had a true epiphany delivered to me by my current audio book--The School of Essential Ingredients.

Lillian had been four years old when her father left them, and her mother, stunned, had slid into books like a seal into water. Lillian had watched her mother submerge and disappear, sensing instinctively even at her young age the impersonal nature of a choice made simply for survival, and adapting to the niche she would now inhabit, as a watcher from the shore of her mother's ocean.

In this new life, Lillian's mother's face became a series of book covers, held in place where eyes, nose, or mouth might normally appear. Lillian soon learned that book covers could forecast moods much like facial expressions, for Lillian's mother swam deeply into the books she read….

Her mother's preoccupation with books was not an entirely silent occupation. Long before Lillian's father had left them, long before Lillian knew that words had a meaning beyond the music of their inflections, her mother had read aloud to her. Not from cardboard books with their primary-colored illustrations and monosyllabic rhymes. Lillian's mother dismissed the few that entered their house under the guise of guilt.

"There's no need to eat potatoes, Lily," she would say, "when four-course meals are ready and waiting." And she would read.

For Lillian's mother, every part of a book was magic, but what she delighted in most were the words themselves. Lillian's mother collected exquisite phrases and complicated rhythms, descriptions that undulated across a page like cake batter pouring into a pan, read aloud to put the words in the air, where she could hear as well as see them.

"Oh, Lily," her mother would say, "listen to this one. It sounds green, don't you think?"

And Lillian, who was too young to know that words were not colors and thoughts were not sounds, would listen while the syllables fell quietly through her, and she would think, This is what green sounds like.

After Lillian's father left…she increasingly came to see herself simply as a mute and obliging assistant in the accumulation of exceptional phrases….. People would smile at the vision of a mother nurturing her daughter's literary imagination, but Lillian knew better. In Lillian's mind, her mother was a museum for words; Lillian was an annex, necessary when space became limited in the original building.

Not surprisingly, when it came time for Lillian to learn to read, she balked. It was not only an act of defiance, although by the time kindergarten started, Lillian was already feeling toward books private surges of aggression that left her both con-fused and slightly powerful….. There was no magic on the page itself, Lillian saw; and while this increased Lillian's estimation of her mother's abilities, it did nothing to further her interest in books.

This book brought fully into my conscious mind the thought that I have tried to repress for so many years now: that my son, and now too my daughter, dislike reading because I use books as an escape from the pressures of life. I had such a moment about "career vs job" when P was running around screaming "I hate OFFICE, I hate OFFICE" one Friday night when our family time was interrupted by an irate attorney from my office who was displeased that I could not read her mind and therefore had not supplied the exact kernel of knowledge she needed at that exact moment. I took a "job" soon after so my Friday evenings were again the property of my children!

As I was listening to this book this morning, my first thought was of another "Charlotte Mason-sh" quote to post and share with other CM-influenced homeschool moms. Then as the reading went on and I began to see that this was not going to be a "life enriched by excellent prose" moment, but a "dang woman--can't you see yourself" moment. I had to retrench, lick my wounds and ponder. All this year I have worked consistently to spend more and more time with my kids. Yet my reading log grows and grows.

I try to remember to ask first what they want to do. I did laugh the other night when, the instant my fork hit my empty plate, P said, "Time to take your little buddies [i.e. the cats] and go read so I can have the TV to myself." He was kidding, but I felt "ouch--that hit home."

Even if they want something else or if it really is an appropriate time for me to read [right before I go to sleep say] I always invite them to join me. Like most things in life, this is seasonal--I get more takers in the winter when we can all flop on my bed and toast under the comforter and read. Summer is for action. I try to remember to say "great!" to their requests of "Let's play badminton" or "Crazy 8s anybody?" Mostly I feel I'm not missed--they are too obsessed by their friends on their phones. But no one reads. They simply don't chose it. I've felt the nagging suspicion from time-to-time that I cause that. Felt that suspicion--and sent it flying back into the dim recesses of my brain to hide from it.
But P has always hated reading, I remind myself. He loved to be read to as a little boy--if it was his turn to pick the book! Otherwise he created chaos and tried to stop the reading. He always wanted rhyming books or pop-up books or ones that you press a button and it makes a noise at the right moment in the story. He still loves rhymes. Now that he has stopped skipping the little words, and has figured out that the blurb on the back just might help him pick a book he's interested in rather than just grabbing the smallest volume, he does occasionally enjoy reading.

B loved to read until she went back to public school and met the cheerleaders and decided she had to be one. She will read and reads well--but her attention span is being destroyed by the phone and the need to fit in. She rarely picks up a book anymore if she is bored. More likely it's her phone or her nail stuff.
Tonight I will act on this epiphany and offer again to watch a movie together or to just hang out or play a game tonight instead of heading for my books. I don't want them to feel the pressure I am escaping is THEM because it isn't. It's life, it's bills, it's almost being 50 it's needing to get in shape, it's my aging mother, it's, it's, it's--but no, it's not THEM. But, oh I so want to finish this book!The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. I may write about the rest of the book later--for now here is a link to the entire passage that I quoted from: Excerpt: "The School of Essential Ingredients" (NPR).


Jeanne said...

Okay. Guilty as charged, officer.

I guess there needs to be a balance, doesn't there? Homes where Mum and Dad don't read rarely contain reading children either, and yet I'm hearing what you say.

Thanks for the reminder. I guess.

Susan said...

Ahhhh ... I feel stressed, just reading this! The biggie I am taking from this is that, as moms, we are always feeling guilty and stressed out for one reason or another. Are we making healthy enough food? Are we cleaning enough? Earning enough? Encouraging the right activities?
Anyway, you always amaze me with the good job you're doing with 2 kids at a very difficult age. My oldest is so sweet, but at 13 even she is exhibiting some "surly" moments lately. My next child - let's not even go there. And honestly, while I would love my kids to read, I don't think NOT enjoying reading is a character flaw. Neither of my parents enjoys reading, yet I love it - so that trait can pop up in the oddest places. And as I said, your kids are at difficult ages now, so in another decade they may totally love reading as much as you do. (Hugs) - I hope you get some good, relaxing, non-guilt-filled reading time today!