I have a story for you. It’s a story about a little girl who loved to read. When she was very young, she saw all of her family–mother, father, brother–always immersed in books. Her father and brother read wonderful stories to her from those books. She begged to be taught to read herself and finally her brother taught her because she couldn’t wait until she was in school to get to read stories herself.
Years passed. Friends came into her life. They laughed at the books she always carried, but they also asked what each story was about. The girl began to write stories of her own, trying to match the wonder she found in Raggedy Ann stories and Nancy Drew mysteries. She never stopped writing stories or reading books. In high school, all her teachers encouraged her to become a writer. With knowing smiles, they allowed her to read her own book when she should have been paying attention in class. She discovered new authors without assistance–Charles Dickens, Alexandre Dumas, Jane Austen. She began to understand history in a way she wouldn’t have otherwise. When stress or meanness came into her life, she had a place to go, always. She always had a book.
Last week, my beautiful husband was sick. He had bronchitis, sinusitus, and an upper respiratory infection. He was not feeling well at all, and he stayed home from work the whole week. This meant I ran more than usual, hopping into the car to go to the store and pick up this or that for him. Apparently it was a bad week for everyone around here, because about 80% of the people with whom I came into contact were grumpy and mean. Or condescending and mean. Or annoyed and mean.
If you’ve been reading me for any length of time, then you know that I believe that the most important human trait is kindness and that I practice it every moment. When people are mean to me, I have to admit, I get confused. If I am being polite, friendly, kind… why the hell are people responding to me this way? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t take a lot of guff, and when a situation calls for strength, I find it. But if the cashier at the gas station stares a hole through me because I’m taking too long to put my change away, am I supposed to stare back? Attack her, either verbally or physically? Well, no, the situation calls for none of those things. I don’t know what’s going on in her life to make her so impatient–I don’t even know her name–so why would I pull out my cranky card?
After one particular similar situation, I left the store and climbed into my car. My brain was still trying to assess the event and I was feeling confused and a little hurt and a little offended and a little like, “Why the f— did I come out in public again?” I put the keys in the ignition and looked down at the console. There sat my Kindle. Ready to be turned on, the text-to-speech option almost blinking at me with its serenity. And I smiled. And I forgot the meanness inside the store as I remembered I had a beautiful story to listen to on the way home, and I didn’t know that woman. She didn’t even know my name. In an hour she will have forgotten me. In 2 minutes, I would forget her. I turned on my Kindle, put the car in reverse, and smiled as that wonderful robotic voice began to read to me.
I had a book. I always have a book.
This. This is why we want to engender a love of reading in our children. Sure, there are other reasons–to promote literacy and good speech, to help them learn about the world, to give them knowledge. But the single best thing about a book is that it takes you away. I’ve said it before, but I fully believe that teaching our littles to love reading gives them a healthy form of escapism and could save them from trying other, more dangerous ways to escape. Sure, I could have come straight home and poured a stiff drink to shake off that incident. It probably would have relaxed me. But by the time I got home I would have been stewing in it for 15 minutes, blowing it up in my head, letting my feelings hurt even more. I might have needed 2 drinks at that point. haha
Instead, I had immediate succor. Something that relaxed me and made the incident seem as trivial as it really was. We want that for our kids, don’t we? Because no matter how much we want to and how hard we try, we can’t protect them from all the mean people in the world or all the temporarily mean moods.
There is nothing more relaxing than falling into a good story and staying there until your brain is ready to deal with your problems. So read to your littles. Read in front of your littles. Have your littles read to you. Read, read, read.
Some day, when they’re pulling away from the store with an oncoming headache, they will thank you.