Monday, March 27, 2006

Reading and Having Read

I just re-read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I say I re-read it, because I remember reading it before. But no, I remember having read it. I remember saying "I've read that book." I remember the tree. I remember Brooklyn. I remember the book was in the attic bookshelves at my mother's house. I remember looking at the cover and thinking "I've read this."

But, having just read it this week, I can honestly say I don't remember any of it. Did I actually ever read it before - or did I intend to and then think I read it?

I thought perhaps I was losing my mind, or that this was a phenomenon unique to me. Apparently, it is not. Melissa Wiley at Here in the Bonny Glen has remembered reading books and yet - when re-reading them found the experience new and enlightening.

She beautifully captures the experience of re-reading The Great Gatsby:
I might as well have been reading for the first time a book I'd only heard vague hints about. The language, the richness of it, was wholly new. I had no memory of tasting those phrases and images before. It was like trying some kind of food, like chocolate or lobster, for the first time. No matter what one has heard other people say about it, the exact flavor is indescribable because it is unique. It, in fact, forms a basis of comparison for other foods. I could say that some other book has a Gatsby-like quality, but I can't say Gatsby tastes like anything else I've ever tasted before.
And she references a post she read at Book World, about how long a book stays read. There, the author stated:
I know the story lines and names of some of the characters in [these books] because they are themselves well known, and have passed into the wider common culture outside the novel itself. But I'm reasonably confident that if I went back and re-read them I would find the books themselves almost unrecognisable.
So, how many books do we not read because we read them before?

There are so many wonderful new books out there. There are so many wonderful old books out there. If we keep re-reading the same few we miss out on so much.

But, how much do we miss, by saying "I read that already." Especially when talking about books that were read in High School.

In a book discussion group I belong to, we read both Fahrenheit 451 and To Kill a Mockingbird. Both books I read in high school. Both books I enjoyed reading in high school. And I remembered the books. But what a rich and new experience it was reading them as an adult.

Should I just re-read everything. Some books that I hated I would probably love. Some I loved, maybe I wouldn't care for anymore. And then there are all the new books. Who can keep up?

I still don't know if I really ever did read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn before. (And, by the way, I absolutely loved every minute of that book.) But, after reading Melissa Wiley's blog, I'm thinking I should re-read The Great Gatsby.

Like a Piece of Handmade Lace

There is a young man who likes to spend time on the swings in our local playground. He can be found there in all kinds of weather, early in the morning, the afternoon or late in the day. I've never seen him speak to anyone. He bicycles over, and swings, high and long, then bicycles home.

I don't know the young man, but I suspect he has autism. People with autism can be soothed by repetitive behavior. Perhaps he simply likes to swing.

I suspect that some in the strollet set, might be bothered by this young man. Who is he? Why is he here all the time? Would he harm someone?

He justs wants to swing.

And I got to thinking that, whereas we'd all like our children to be perfect in every way - after all, no one wishes disease or hardship on their children - that is not always going to be the case.

And why not? If God made us in his image, shouldn't we all be perfect?

Yet, clearly we are not. Even those of us without diseases of mind or body are far from perfect.

Medical science has tried to do away with those diseases. Some have tried to do away with people suffering from them. Many people would consider it almost thoughtful to abort a baby who, if allowed to live, would suffer from some grave malady. But, those who suffer from those same maladies, say they value their lives. They may be different, they may have problems, but their life is still a beautiful thing to them.

And then I thought about a trip I made to Belgium, years ago, with my friend, Liz. We went to a lace shop and someone asked "How can you tell handmade lace from machine-made lace?"

The answer: "The handmade lace has mistakes in it."

Now, God doesn't make mistakes, and I'm not saying he does. But isn't humanity kind of like a piece of handmade lace (made by God's hand) and isn't it more valuable, and yes, even more beautiful, because it is not all uniformly perfect?

Because, of course, the handmade lace is the more desirable.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Mr. Independence

My son, age 6, likes to do things for himself. If he thinks he is capable of something, he doesn't see the need to wait for Mom to do it for him, or even the need to ask.

This is great as far as it goes. He can get himself his own snacks, even make his lunch (under my supervision), he can work the VCR, DVD player and computer. But then there are the times like last summer when I found him in the garage, bicycle helmet on, garage door open. When I asked where he was going he said "oh, for a little bike ride." He was five! That idea got vetoed mighty quick - and he got a long talk about the importance of always asking permission before he leaves the house.

Well, last night we had to call Poison Control for the first time. (Our oldest is 9, so we've gone a long time without having to call.) Mr. Independence decided he needed allergy medicine. His mean mother, that would be me, told him to just go to sleep (it was after 9:30). He hadn't been sneezing, or even sniffling as far as I could tell - I prefer to keep the medicine for when it seems called for.

So, what does Mr. Indepence do when Mom says 'no'? He takes matters into his own hands. We soon became aware that he was in the bathroom and he eventually admitted that he had taken allergy medicine, Sudafed and Allervert.

At first I wasn't too concerned. I've given him those things before - they are in chewable tablet form, he knows to take one. I asked my husband to have a word with him about the dangers of taking his own medicine.

But then we realized that he'd also given himself some Benadryl. Liquid. How much? We couldn't be sure. Now is when we started to worry.

His older sister, hearing the commotion, freaked out, crying that she didn't want to be an only child.

My husband called his mother, a pharmacist, to get her take. She said 'call Poison Control.'

While he did that, Mr. Independence, now a bit worried, thought maybe he had to throw up. Seemed like a good idea to me - but nothing.

We determined that he'd probably taken less than a teaspoonful of Benadryl and Poison Control said not to worry, it would probably just make him drowsy.

Darling daughter, went to bed, relieved that she didn't have to worry about being an only child.

And Mr. Independence? Well, he crawled into my lap, all the bravery worn off, and said "I think I might have to cry now."

I held him tight. "That's fine, go ahead and cry," I told him. He did, for about a minute, then he pulled himself together.

Then he got the warning to never do that again. He agreed.

He'll always be independent, and I'm glad. But my hair seems to be turning gray faster and faster. I wonder why?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

I Didn't Say I Told You So

Sometimes I'm convinced that my biggest fault as a parent is that I talk a whole lot more than I listen. When the children are very small, and they don't talk much yet, that is perfectly understandable. But, mine are getting bigger (9 and 6) and they do have things to say.

So, sometimes I lecture when I should be listening. I try to remember to keep my mouth shut and hear what they have to say - but sometimes the lecture is just right there and so obvious it's hard to not say it.

Today, the children were playing a game of blowing up balloons as big as they could and then letting them go and watching them careen around the room.

I warned that if you blow up a balloon too big it could pop. One warning. That was all I gave. Just imparted the information.

Well, later, when darling daughter was supposed to be working on homework, but she had to get just one more balloon race in there, I heard the loud POP.

She was okay, but devastated. She had really liked that balloon.

I could have said, "I warned you that if you blew a balloon up too big it could pop." But, what would be the point? I knew I had warned her, I'm sure she remembered I had warned her. And now she was sad about losing the balloon.

So, I listened to her tell me why she had liked the balloon so much, and why she was so sad it had popped. And I didn't say anything. I didn't need to.

And I especially didn't say "I told you so."

I'm very proud of myself.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Angels Among Us

Every now and then angels become a popular theme in pop culture and beyond. What are angels? Are they people who went before us and now have earned their wings (Clarence in It's a Wonderful Life)?

As a Catholic, I believe in Guardian Angels. And as tempting as it is to imagine a beloved grandparent as flitting around with wings protecting us, that's not what the church teaches Angels are. To be sure, the beloved grandparent may be in heaven, watching out for us, and interceding on ourbehalf. But he or she is not an angel.

An Angel is a distinct creation of God. A different kind of being. A spirit being, if you will. And the really fascinating thing about guardian angels, I think, is that their job is to look after us humans.

Think about that for a minute. They were created to watch over us.

I don't take nearly the kind of advantage of this that I should.

I should pray to my guardian angel more. Not in a worshipful way - but as a way to communicate. I should ask for more favors. I should be more thankful.

It's humbling to think that God created beings to look out for us.

We should remember to thank him for that.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Raising Readers

Everyone wants their children to be great readers. What parent wouldn't be thrilled if their child chose to pick up a book as opposed to watching TV? And to my great joy - both of my children are like that. At age nine and six, they both love books.

So what's the secret of our success? How did we do it? What advice can I give?

First: My husband and I are both readers. We have a house full of books. We get countless magazine subscriptions (countless, because I really have lost count of how many there are), and get two daily newspapers. There is always something to read in our house.

Second: We don't have cable TV, so the TV choices are limited. Believe me, that has to help.

Third: From a very early age we read to the children. Bedtimes could go on forever as first Mom and then Dad would read to each child.

Fourth: Dick and Jane books. People make fun of them, but both of my children learned to read at age four, using those books. They are great for getting that initial concept of letters make up words and they mean something.

Fifth: Finding books that really pique a child's interest. When my daughter was little she loved anything to do with fairies. We discovered the Pixie Trick series. My son, age six, is a Magic Tree House fanatic. We had to go out yesterday and get the newest book the day it hit bookstores. He was done with it in a little over an hour.

Six: Reading lights. We got them each a Timely Reader reading light. It allows a parent to set the timer for up to ninety minutes. When the time is up the light goes off (with a two minute warning blink). They are allowed to stay awake longer because they are reading. In theory, when the light goes off, they put the book down and go to sleep. It almost works that way too.

Seven: I think I am just very blessed. I don't know if anything I did or didn't do made my children love books. I just thank the good Lord that they do.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

I'm So Proud

There are moments when being a mother can seem very trying - children stalling about getting ready for just about anything; disagreements about homework (whether it should be done now or not) - that kind of thing. But then there are the moments like I just had with my daughter. The kind of moment that warms the heart.

You see, my nine-year-old daughter has a complaint about school - one that probably a lot of children have: the lunch aides are mean. They want quiet. They yell. They make lunch not fun.

But tonight, my daughter told me that every night she is saying an extra "Glory Be" for Mrs. P (the aide she particularly doesn't like), figuring that even though Mrs. P isn't nice to them, if they are nice to her, and pray for her, maybe it will filter down.

She's hoping the prayers will help.

I'm sure they will.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Mary called Magdalene

There is a woman mentioned in the New Testament of the Bible, one of the few mentioned several times by name. Her name was Mary. She was called the Magdalene. I would presume that is because that was where she was from. Perhaps it was just a nickname - after all, of the woman mentioned by name in the New Testament, most of them appear to be named Mary. There had to be some way to distinguish her.

What do we know about Mary, called Magdalene from the Bible? Very little. We know that Jesus cured her. He cast out seven demons from her. (Mark 16:9, Luke 8:2) She traveled with Jesus and his disciples (Luke 8:1-2). She witnessed the crucifixion. (Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40, John 19:25). She attended his burial (Matthew 27:60-62, Mark 15:47). She went to the tomb on Sunday morning to properly annoint the body and found the tomb empty (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1, Luke 24:1-10, John 20:1). She announced this finding to the disciples and in two of the gospels (John 20:11-18 and Mark 16:9) she is the first to see and speak to the Risen Lord.

From this small amount of information Mary Magdalene has been turned over by popular culture to a prostitute and Jesus's wife and the mother of his children. Seems like kind of a big leap to me.

Did Jesus love Mary Magdalene?

He loved all that followed him. He loved everyone.

Did Mary Magdalene love Jesus?

She stayed to witness his death and burial, she went as soon as possible to annoint his body. You don't do this for a casual acquaintance.

Did Jesus and Mary have a special relationship?

Two accounts have her as the first person who sees the Risen Christ. One account has him speaking to her. I'd say that she was special to him.

We don't know a lot about Jesus's life. Part of his three years of public ministry is recorded in the Gospels. Nothing about his personal life is recorded. We don't know if he was in love with any particular woman. We don't know if he ever married. It doesn't say he did - it also doesn't say he didn't. I believe he didn't marry. After all, men in that time period often did not marry until they were about thirty and able to support a family - he turned thirty and became an itinerant minister.

But I believe that Mary Magdalene was an important part of Jesus's inner circle and that she has gotten a bad rap. Do people only believe she would be there if Jesus were having a personal relationship with her? Why?

In the Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown supports the theory that Mary and Jesus wed. Interesting to contemplate - but no evidence to back it up. But why do people flock to that theory? Do they think woman can only be important if there is sex involved? That is a denigrating way to view women. Can't we as a society do better than that?

It's something to think about.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Is it Banned in Boston?

I've been reading some posts lately on a group I belong to that seem to come down very heavily on Harry Potter and the Da Vinci Code. I've read them both. Actually I've only read the first four Harry Potter books, but I think that's enough for me to form an opinion.

Starting with Harry Potter. Harry Potter is a wizard. Do you know any real-life wizards? I mean the kind that can fly on broomsticks and the like - not the kind who practice Wicca and call themselves wizards (and I don't know any of that kind either, but I suspect someone might). Do you think there are any schools of magic that only wizards can see? No, of course you don't - and chances are your kids don't either.

It's fiction. It's fantasy. It's fun. Most children who are of an age to be able to read the Harry Potter books know the difference between fantasy & fiction and reality. That doesn't mean they don't wish some fantastical things were real. After all, wouldn't everyone love to have a cloak of invisibility, or an owl that brings you mail?

Are the books Anti-Catholic? They don't address religion at all as far as I can see - and they don't make witchcraft a religion either. It is just what these people are: magical beings.

Harry Potter is the good guy using the means available to him to vanquish the bad guy. I think that's a lesson worth imparting.

Now on to Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. I read it and enjoyed it. It was a fast paced thriller with all the murder and mayhem that goes along in that category. Was it the best book I ever read? No, not by a long shot.

Did it weaken my Catholic faith? No. Not at all. I knew the book was fiction. I dealt with it as fiction. Interesting points, but all false, so enjoy the action and adventure.

Could that book weaken the faith of someone who isn't too sure about what they believe. Yes, I suppose it could. However, the true answers are out there for anyone willing to look for them. And perhaps, if someone wasn't too sure about things, and read the book and wanted to know what the church said about these things they'd learn more than they ever would have learned before.

Is it wise to be careful what things we expose ourselves and our children too? Yes - of course.

Should we make a crusade out of popular books because the opinions expressed in them don't match our religious convictions? No.

Why not? Because people not willing to allow themselves to be open to other points of view; to not give themselves a chance to understand why they believe what they believe, are not allowing themselves to grow and strengthen their faith.

When we are small we believe because our parents tell us to. But if at some point in our lives we don't question why we believe that and come up with our own reasons, we will never get beyond the point of 'because my parents said so.'

In some parts of the world people are not allowed to read or see things that contradict what the government wants them to know. Why? Because if they think for themselves perhaps the people will no longer be willing to say "because the government told me so."

The church can stand up to much scrutiny because it is based on the truth that is Jesus Christ. Let people scrutinize, let people question, but provide the answers. Make the truth readily available. Maybe it will be a learning experience.

In the meantime, I don't think these books have been Banned in Boston.