Stay Gold, Ponyboy. (Teaching our Boys to Read and Write)

IMG_1094Boys don’t like to read.  Watch the messages that they’re given.  Boys play sports, and wrestle, and play video games.  Girls read; just look at the early reader chapter books:  Judy Moody, Ivy and Bean, & Junie B. Jones.  When X was in first grade, we got a scolding by his teacher, because the books he read (Harry Potter, Captain Underpants, and Percy Jackson) were too violent for six year olds.  When I asked her what else he should read, she didn’t have an answer for me.

X is a reader.  He laps up books; can’t get enough of them.  He reads big, fat, complex books without pictures.  And, we can’t keep up with him.  We could have worse problems (as the librarian often tells us)  but it’s not easy to manage the content of his reading.  Because, given the option, his interests lie in the violent, unrealistic world of mythology and fantasy.  And, he refuses to read anything else.  Piles of books will go unread as he reads and rereads the same Percy Jackson book.

So, I took The Outsiders out from the library.  The book that changed my pre-teen years.  The book that I couldn’t put down, that I sat and cried through as I reached the end before school in Ms. Collins 4th grade classroom.  The book that taught me about empathy, and compassion, and how words can be beautiful.

And it sat there, at the foot of the stairs, for weeks.  Finally, I brought it to X’s room and said, “Listen, this book is important to me.  And, it’s violent and intense, and you can watch the movie when you’re done, and just try the first chapter.”  He begrudgingly closed the graphic novel he was reading, and said that he’d give it a try.

An hour later, I snuck upstairs and he was still reading under his covers well past his bedtime.  He was already leaving the drive-in, and I realized that I had to clarify some things.   I had to show him what a madras shirt looked like, and tell him they were “soshes” not “socks” and that things were going to happen that we’d need to discuss.

Two days later, he stuffed it in his bag to “finish it at school” and I felt like I had to warn him that I bawled at my desk when I was ten.  He left it at home.  The next day he asked me who my favorite character was.  And I asked him: what role each character took in the book; what would have changed if Johnny didn’t have the knife; what did people think about Greasers, was it true;  what did Johnny mean when he told Pony to “stay gold”.

And we talked about the power of writing.  Why it was important for Pony to write down his story.  And how writing can be a powerful, healing experience.

I hope Xavier never forgets these lessons, and he carries his love of reading throughout his life.  When things get hard, or scary, or confusing he can turn to the written word for knowledge and comfort.  That he can always see the sunsets, and that he always stays gold.

One Year Later

photoAbout three years ago, a dear friend told he was going to start blogging.  “I’ll read a book a week and then blog about it for 52 weeks.  You should start blogging too.”  I laughed.  I laughed really hard.

“Sure, I’ll blog,” I said. “It’ll be called 52 Reasons Why I Don’t Have Time to Blog.  This is what I’ll write…  My four year old has worms and I have to pick up the prescription; A city bus broke down in Brigham Circle and I sat behind it for 73 minutes; a freshman told her science teacher to F off.”

But, check it out.  Fifty-two weeks later and I found time to blog.  Every. Single. Week.  And, I had something to share, and something to say.  It wasn’t always easy.  Some weeks I had no clue, some weeks I pressed delete and started all over, some weeks tears rolled down my cheeks the whole time I typed.  But, I did it.  Every thursday, no matter where I was, I took a moment to write it all down.

The lesson is one about time.  And priorities.  And commitment.  That, if you put your mind to something, no matter how daunting, you can accomplish what you set out to do.  That it’s important to make time for your own endeavors.  That you shouldn’t use your kids, your job, your mood, as an excuse to not reach your goals.

This has been a good year.  Dare  I say, a great year.  There were moments, definite moments, when it didn’t feel so great.  But, when I look back on the pictures, and the experiences, and the writing, I’m amazed by how much has changed.  And how happy I am.  How much I’ve grown, and how much I’ve learned about myself.