Last night as I listened to the radio in the car on my way home, I heard an interview with a couple of sisters who have a band. Each sister writes independently and sends her work to the other for response. When asked what sort of response is expected, one sister said, ”I never say, ‘This is what this song means,’ but rather, “This is how this song resonates with my life.’” Exactly! This is how I read. I read an author’s work and take away not “what does this work of literature mean”, but “what does it mean to me.?” When I taught English, as well, this is how I directed my class to look at and respond to literature. “What does this make me think about in my life?”
Today while we sat at the VA waiting for Ron to be seen for his pneumonia, I read a chunk of Frederik Bachman’s Anxious People. Like the others of his books that I have read, it is charming and readable, but frequently Bachman states a truth that makes me stop in my tracks and say, “Wow.True indeed.” In this book, a character is thinking about his son and reflecting how every parent is judged by his failures. You maybe spent a thousand days at the playground watching your kid like a hawk, but the one time you take your eyes away to answer a phone call, he gets hit by a swing. No one will ever say what a great job you did watching your child all those times, but everyone will remember the time you were not watching and he got hurt. And more importantly, you think of yourself harshly because of that one time you were not paying attention. I was a terrible mother, I think about myself!
Because there is so much time required outside of school hours when you are a high school teacher (or probably any teacher!), I was often grading papers or preparing for the next day’s classes after school when I was supposedly having quality time with my kids. I went to every one of Natty’s Little League games, but he told my colleagues that I never paid attention. I thought I had fooled him because I would occasionally yell out encouraging words, but he could tell I was not watching. Abby would tell people who asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, “I know what I don’t want to be: a teacher. My mother is always working.” Seth, on the other hand, would hide from me because I was always thinking up new ways to help him with his schoolwork made more difficult because of dyslexia. I tried to make it up to him by lending him my car when he was sixteen and home from boarding school for Spring Break, so he could follow the Grateful Dead.
Parents really have no idea what we are doing. There is no instruction manual, and often I found myself reading out of my dysfunctional parents’ playbook, doing the very things they did that made me crazy and that I had sworn I would never do. Once when Abby came out of her room wearing hot pants and high boots and wanting me to take her to South Park, I said, “You look like a hussy, and you are not going to the mall dressed like that. “What’s a hussy?’ she demanded. I made her change, but felt ridiculous because those words had come out of my mother’s mouth.
I would not let my kids watch television when they were little, but then when the other kids played characters from tv shows on the playground, my kids were clueless and felt like outsiders. Later I relented and we bought a tv and I had to become a cop limiting how much time they could spend watching. When I got divorced and we moved into a smaller house, I purposely did not get cable. Natty had been away at camp when I did that, but on the first day he was home, I walked into the den and saw that cable was playing on the set. I asked him how that was possible, and he told me nonchalantly that he had climbed up the telephone pole behind our house and hooked cable back up. I figured this was a battle I could not win, and gave up. Parenting!