In the Dursleys’ Wine Cellar

Our youngest is not a “bed” guy. For years, he slept on the floor in his brothers’ rooms, dragging sleeping bags, blankets, pillows, stuffed animals and his book down the hall every night.

With the older two entering teen-dom, however, their patience eventually dried up. So, he set up camp on the floor in his own room right next to his bed. It took us a few months of cajoling to realize he is afraid of falling out of bed. So, we bought a queen-size mattress and put it on the floor (no bedsprings) with new super soft, red fleece sheets.

It worked. For months, he climbed into bed every night, then spent ten minutes methodically setting up shop. Large stuffed bear and pillows along the non-wall side. Seven foxes snuggled against Big Bear in order of whose night of the week it was to sleep closest to him. “Blue Blanky” as first blanket, because it’s his favorite, then the others on top.

But something snapped.

He realized that if he pulls the mattress away from the wall, he can set up a bed back there… on the floor.

The ten-minute bedtime process got moved.

Then two nights ago, when he was feeling sorry for himself, it moved again…

…to the closet.

“I want to hide from the world!”

Big Bear, Blue Blanky, pillow, foxes, flashlight, book all in the smallest possible place to sleep. Shirts hanging just above him.

“Like Harry Potter’s bed at the Dursleys’,” I said, thinking that would discourage him. But by Night #2, it was his happy place.

Harry had to sleep in the wine cellar. Remember? It was under the stairs.”

As if that made all the difference.

And in all my years of reading Harry Potter books, I never pictured the Durselys drinking wine.

For the Love of Reading

According to our seventh grader, he read a 401-page book yesterday afternoon. He reads so quickly that we used to doubt his retention. But when we’d ask him to tell us about the story or his favorite character, he would provide every detail, every twist and turn.

I always wondered how you could enjoy a book if you didn’t linger over it.

But as he read yesterday, curled in a chair, his too-big-for-his-body feet hanging over the chair’s arm, a grin would spread across his face, and he’d say, “Mom, do you want to hear a good line?”

Be still, my heart!

And then he’d read me a well-written description or funny phrase that made you visualize a moment perfectly.

Even better, in-between perfectly written sentences, his face would burst into a smile over this plot twist or the next. An amusing comeback. And I don’t know what else.

I could have watched him read for hours…but then he finished the book.

Terence, This is Stupid Stuff

Last night, my husband and I were sitting at our fire-pit drinking wine, talking about how people eventually get what’s coming to them. And he said, “That reminds me of a poem I memorized by A.E. Housman.”

Seriously?

He memorized it in high school without being assigned to do so. “I just liked the poem.”

Well, I too memorized poems and Shakespearean monologues when I was young. I got an A on the hardest exam I ever took – 10th grade English, when we had to identify a long list of obscure quotations and say what texts they came from, which author, and why important. I was in multiple plays. I only missed a line once, but in that play, I was actually Head of Costumes, and only because I had memorized most of the lines in Annie Get Your Gun, I was a last-minute understudy.

But I no longer remember any of it. That monologue by Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream? Nope. My favorite quotes from F. Scott Fitzgerald? I’ll have to check the book that I used to keep by my bed. The really hard-to-memorize …ugh… what was the name of that poem… Canterbury Tales. Nope.

I only remember one line, “It’s like the ladies’ restroom at the Oriental Theater.” From Auntie Mame. I was the nanny.

Meanwhile, my husband, the science guy, sitting at the fire-pit at least thirty years later, recited – almost flawlessly and without pause – the second half of Housman’s Terence, This is Stupid Stuff.

And I felt stupid.

So, inspired by my husband with the memory of an elephant, I pulled out my – yes, I kept it –  10th grade Norton’s Anthology, and today, I’m going to re-memorize an old favorite.

Hopefully, it stays in my head long enough to recite it around the fire-pit.

An Empty Library

My son is looking at high schools. He has visited two of five schools so far, and it strikes me with each visit that what excites him most makes me wary.

After the first: “I could go to Chipotle every single day for lunch!”

And…“everyone carries their phones around everywhere, even into class!”

After the second: “I only saw one device that wasn’t an Apple product!”

And… “no one uses their lockers because there are no textbooks. They’re totally digital!”

And then when I walked into the old library, there wasn’t a single book. The tour guide said, ”When we realized that only three books were checked out one entire year, we turned the library into a resource center.”

Schools with no books. Makes me sad.

Developmentally Inappropriate Reading

I was at a small get-together with some sixth grade moms last week, and we were debating whether a school-required book our kids are reading is age-appropriate. We have all read the book so we can guide our children through some issues it raises in case their teachers focus on other things.

As we were talking about those issues (i.e. cocaine use, neglectful parents, violence from older brothers, and bad decisions with no consequences), I realized that the extra assignment I had given my fifth and sixth grade sons this summer might be more intense and grown-up than the book we were discussing.

We got a subscription to USA Today, because I decided they should start reading the newspaper, and the writing is less sophisticated than the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, which my husband and I read. Plus, the kids would get drawn in by the sports section.

What a summer of developmentally inappropriate news… for any age!

This really hit home when my eleven year old walked into the kitchen, which at the time was filled with six snacking boys (his brothers and friends, age 6-10) and addressed them in a stream of consciousness:

“Wow, lots of plane crashes lately. How many people do you think have died? And that war in the Ukraine. Do you think it could start World War Three? I mean, really, did you see they bombed a school in Gaza? What’s the world coming to?!”

Six little ice cream covered faces just stared at him. Wide eyes. Still-chubby cheeks. And now heads filled with real-life stories they may not have been ready to hear.

The sad thing is… the truth can be far worse than fiction.

What I Just Read: Draft One

The hardest thing for any writer to learn is that Draft One is very rarely final. My fourth grader is suffering from that lesson today.

I told him to write down what he wanted to say for an oral book presentation he is supposed to give tomorrow. He is an avid reader, and when inspired, he can convince an entire class to read his latest top pick. Apparently, the book he must present tomorrow did not grab his attention.

This is what he wrote:

The book I read was Flora and Ulysses. Ulysses is a squirrel and Flora is a girl. Flora’s mother wants to kill Ulysses because she wants Flora to be normal. Her mother is a romantic novelist. I think killing isn’t romantic. Any questions?

When I told him to think about what he wanted to add for Draft Two, he claimed that no one else ever says more than that for their book reports, like they are the kings of queens of book reports.

“It’s not fair! I am not saying all that stupid stuff you want me to say about if I liked the book or how it compares to her other books or my favorite character, or…”

See, I smiled, he knows all about Draft Two.

Mom is Reading My Books!

During the last few weeks, I took a break from the stack of books on my bedside table so that I could read the required summer reading for my sons. I wanted to read the books before they did, so that we could talk about them. My fourth grader was too fast. He knocked them off in early June. So I hit the fifth grade list. Apparently, my fifth grader is at least approaching the age of reading maturity where we might enjoy the same books. For a book lover like me, that could be really fun.

http://voices.yahoo.com/childrens-book-review-gary-paulsens-hatchet-12256148.html?cat=25

I started with Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, which I have reviewed for Yahoo. The link is here if you want to know what a mom gets out of a book written for her kids.

The ironic piece of the review is that I talk about teaching my kids self-reliance, while I am reading their books to make sure they are understanding what they read before school starts. Funny. I did not pick that up until I re-read the review.