Family, friendships

open chapters

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Books.  They changed my life.

“…people who read literary fiction (as opposed to popular fiction or nonfiction) were better able to detect another’s emotions…”

Levitin, Daniel J. The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overlaod. New York: Dutton Adult, 2014. Kindle file.

They are seemingly innocuous; the opaque, off-white, inked parchment bound in spines.   As a young girl I fingered the pages; reverently turning them as I tried to decipher the meaning of the phrases.  From the safety of my twin bed I would be transported to places beyond; a welcome escape from the dull every day of my solitary world.  My most  cherished and well-worn book in my collection?  A used dictionary from a thrift shop that I had begged my mother to purchase at age ten.   I coveted a thesaurus; something I would not own until my first year in college.

As my mother shopped in the grocery store, next door, I sat in the thrift shop; absorbing the words in the short hour allocated to purchasing food staples.  To my mother books were a waste of time; my energy better utilized in cleaning house and learning how to sew and cook.  Books would get me nowhere.

Recently I caught myself reciting this phrase to my children, inserting computer gaming instead of books.   It is easy to place the blame on the plastic encased whir of electrical circuitry; the imagery on the monitors.  Instead of socializing with their peers my sons sit in chairs talking on headsets to friends from borders beyond.  There is no face-to-face time unless they decide to Skype.  When the procrastination sets in, it is the computer’s fault for distracting them.  Books or television no longer are the primary ways to escape reality.

It’s easy to externalize my fears onto an object; harder to acknowledge that they are my very own; that I have fault in propagating them.

I worry that my sons won’t know how to successfully navigate the social world; to practice the art of communication.  They are solitary figures lit up by high res screens.  They don’t need to know how to read body cues; to learn reciprocity or empathy.  Instead, they are  buffered by bandwidths and short typewritten acronyms like AFK (away from keyboard).  BRB (be right back).  TY, YW & GG (thank you, your welcome and good game).  The nuances of spoken language and face-to-face time are being lost in this generation.   How can I create change, to fix my complacency?

I’ve immersed myself in literature: parenting, education and self-help books.  I read memoirs and blogs; gleaning tidbits on what to expect; reading literary fiction in-between to take a mental break.  But am I not, too, lost in solitary confinement not practicing what I preach?  Information means nothing if you do not put it into practice.  One of the best indicators of success in our children, according to The Smartest Kids in the World author Amanda Ripley; is to model reading for them.  Avid readers become critical thinkers.  But does this make them better communicators?

This is where the books come in.

I remember when they re-entered my life after a long hiatus.  I was busy parenting young sons; recovering from a surgery seven years before.  My girlfriend invited me to join a newly founded book club to which I immediately refused.  I had no time for the wasteful books; who has time to read?  She handed me the book by Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray Love, anway; ignoring my remarks.  A month later I found myself amongst my neighbors, women I barely knew from school.  It was only the second meeting of their discussion group and I pondered how to politely extricate myself.  I was not fond of this book, a bestseller, which would become a movie. 

Three  years later as the movers packed my home in boxes for the umpteenth time; the tears coursed down my cheeks.  The monthly babysitting fee to allow myself three hours of book discussion was worth its weight in gold.   At my farewell I not only discovered my long lost love of books.  I had been accustomed to the moving routine; transitioning from one place to another and not becoming attached.  The lesson I learned from these women was life altering.  Life is too short to not propagate roots; to build foundations of fellowship.

I was reminded of this last evening.

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It is easy to get caught up in the busyness of life; to blame externals.   To find excuses.  I can find fault in others to protect my walls and keep people at bay.  Sometimes it’s just not worth the hassle.  I become lost in works, not spoken words.   Relationships do not just happen by sitting in front of a computer, reading a book or finding busy work to keep us distracted and occupied.  Externals cannot prove our self-worth.  It is in people, in social interactions, in direct conversations that form the ties that bind.   Sometimes it’s not easy; nor convenient.  We must be purposeful in their upkeep.

The best of your friends are those who love you when you are not your best.

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“If being transparent strengthens the social ties that make life worth living, and enables others to forgive our shortcomings, why not do it more often?”

Levitin, Daniel J. The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overlaod. New York: Dutton Adult, 2014. Kindle file.

In discovering the joys of reading I have also found the joys in relationship.  What began as a monthly break from the minutiae of parenting has become a lifeline.  I gained more than I had ever bargained for.   Our current reading discussion group, on the pretense of discussing literature, have formed a family.  I, the only child, have gained nine other sisters and all that that entails; a bit overwhelming for this only child of none.

But the true gift was probably something none of these women would’ve expected.  I thought of their plotting and scheming in multitudes of texts, cooking excursions and behind-the-scenes coordination.   The celebration of my birth wasn’t the real fruit of their labors.  It was in the working together; in their inside jokes that I found value.    It was their joint journeys that made me most happy, overcoming obstacles and thorny spines of their best laid plans.  Life isn’t a bed of roses.   The lack of running water, unexpected company and urgent care visits are the realities in this life.  What mattered the most was the love and care these girls took to get there.   It is this sentiment that is indelibly etched in my mind.  It was worth it.

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In modeling our love of reading to our sons; we now have avid readers.  I underestimated the power of the words in the pages and the interactions on computer screens.  My kids are technologically more savvy than I and are more socially aware than I had imagined.  I now understand the ways my boys obtain their mental escape to daydreaming mode; their way to unwind from a taxing day of common core and social pressures.

“Reading was associated not only with measures of verbal intelligence (such as vocabulary tests) but with measures of nonverbal intelligence as well (such as reasoning tests). “

Klein, Hannah. “Stronger early reading skills predict higher intelligence later.”  Eurekalert.org.  24 July 2014.  Web. 27 Sept. 2014

I, too, am learning to be empathetic; to read between the lines. I am beginning to detect my sons’ nonverbal (and hormonally verbal)  emotions.  I am taking the focus off of the end-result and adjusting to the daily life journey.  Their choices may not be reasonable; they must make mistakes.    They will find their life paths and relationships.  But they must write the chapters of their books all on their own.

The books, they brought me everywhere; but most importantly right here.  Our package from Japan arrived today; another child beaming.  My chapter is open; typewritten across the screen as I am given a bear hug from behind.

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What I know for sure?  I am grateful.  Thank you.

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