Growing up

It’s so hard not to compare, even when we know we shouldn’t.

I helped out in my son’s classroom today and I always find myself thinking ‘he’s so clever!’ afterwards. I always catch myself out though and promptly stop it. I think some regular volunteering time in the class has definitely opened my eyes to where some of the kids are at too. They are all start from such different places. True, my 5 yr old is indeed a very intelligent boy, but he has weaknesses in other areas and those are probably not visible to the other parents.

For example, his teacher and I got excited today because he put a costume on in the dressing-up area and was proudly walking around in character (a postman wearing a wedding dress!) Not a big deal for most kids, but Mr 5 has never been interested in dressing up. At the start of the year he seemed lost in the dress-up area, always standing back and watching the other kids but never joining it. He seemed afraid to let himself pretend, more content to be seated at a table and working. Now he loves dressing up and it’s been great to watch this transformation in him.

I started thinking about how my goals for him this year, his first year of school, have been so different from a lot of parents. Where others have been hoping their child might learn to read or write their name or count to ten, I’ve just wanted my son to be happy and confident. It was in part because he was such a clever little cookie already but also because I wanted him to love school, no matter what the work side of things were. I was more concerned with character-building than brain building I guess. He is of course learning new things and increasingly his already alarmingly large academic knowledge but he is also maturing and becoming so much more comfortable in himself. That’s so much more important for him right now.

This time last year he wouldn’t speak to his preschool teachers and was horrified by the idea of talking in front of the group. I didn’t want him to be the shy kid, afraid to be called on in class. I didn’t want him to be like me. This year he has already been excited by giving a talk to the class, and has proudly stepped up in front of everyone at assembly to collect an award.

Every week I help out in his class I reminded of how he is growing up.

It makes me happy.

 

JW

 

 

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Reading Your Life Away

Literature lovers everywhere will agree that choosing your next read is never an easy task. There are new novels in the market daily, not to mention the long and lengthy list of classics that it seems impossible to ever get through.

In that vein, Alain de Botton recently tweeted: ‘‘Some 130 million books have been published in history; a big reader will get through 6,000 in a lifetime. Choose carefully…” If this is true, then how exactly do we choose wisely? Is it even important?

Choosing which book to read next can be almost as time-consuming as reading the book itself. Whilst in days past we may have spent hours scouring the shelves of libraries and bookstores, now we can make an informed decision at home with the help of the Internet.

These days you need not look far, for a plethora of book reviews await us online via blogs, book selling websites, podcasts and social media. There are a mountain of Facebook groups and Twitter hashtags to follow, not to mention sites like Goodreads which recommend books based on those you’ve already read. Our reach now even extends to authors themselves who we can quite easily interact with via social media. Creating a list of books to read has never been easier, just how exactly do we decide which books are worthy of our time?

I’m sure some have vigorous and elaborate systems for getting through their reading list but I am a strong believer that IT DOESN’T ACTUALLY MATTER WHAT YOU READ NEXT. Just so long as you read. Putting pressure on ourselves to read books based on our limited time on this earth is futile. If we really only get 6000 books to read in a lifetime (and that really is being rather generous), does it really matter which books they are? How many TV seasons do we get to binge-watch on Netflix in our lifetime? If we knew the answer to that question would we make different choices? I sure wouldn’t!

I can’t help but feel like Alain de Botton, with his “choose wisely” decree, is trying to turn reading into some kind of elitist sport. That in stating that it’s even possible for one book to be more worthy than another he is judging me for wasting one of my 6000 choices on ‘Twilight.’ Is he shaking his snobbish head when I reach for a romance novel to pack into my holiday luggage too? More importantly, will reading Alain de Botton’s books make me a better person?

I am sure I am not alone in my belief that reading is for pleasure and escapism as much as it is for education and enlightenment (maybe even more so). Time spent absorbed in a book, any book, is time well spent if you ask me. Even if that book doesn’t meet Alain de Botton’s high standards, I say it is not wasted. There is no such thing.

I have a long and growing list of books to read (kept safe for me on Goodreads or scrawled into my diary while I am out) that I will never actually finish because I will never stop adding to it. My list is full of contemporary literature as well as romance, science fiction, crime and what is annoyingly referred to as ‘chick-lit.’ I want to read the classics too but there are just so many books on my list that I can’t fit them all in, and at some point I gave myself permission not to. Oh, I won’t ever stop reading Jane Austen and Emily Bronte but I have decided to never actually finish reading ‘Anna Karenina’ because, really, who has time for that?

I choose my next book based on my mood and my budget, not some notion that some books are better or more worthy than others. So I say to Alain de Botton: Yes, choose carefully the books that you read. Choose books that you want to read and that will make you happy. Choose local and newly established authors. Choose authors writing about the things that no one else will write about. Choose books that are self-published and from small publishing companies. Choose books at your local bookstore and library. Make those choices because they help people in a real and meaningful way and that might actually make you a better person.

JW