July 2, 2009

Don't Cry Kitty; Mommy Will Read to You

Dad Reading
Mom reading, 1951; Dad reading, 1961; Grandpa Reading, 1974
In my baby book my mom wrote: "A book worm--she loved all books. At 2 years her favorites were Dumbo, Children's Garden of Verses, Alice in Wonderland. Was always eager for Cinderella, Goldilocks, etc." Under my favorite books, she listed Daddy's and Uncle George's yearbook, Mother Goose, all magazines, ABC book. Later I wrote in Nancy Drew. My obsession with my dad's yearbook indicated that I was fascinated by family history and dynamics from infancy.

My parents read to us every single night. They tended to pick books of interest to the older children, so the younger ones were exposed to Winnie the Pooh, Children's Garden of Verse, Treasure Island, The Jungle Books, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, The Wind in the Willows, at an early age. On their first visit to Anne, my oldest, in the hospital the day she was born, my mom and dad bought three picture books.

My mom and dad were consummate book worms. Our local library was a tiny volunteer operation in an old church. They took us to the Hempstead Library, three miles away. We were each allowed to take out as many books as we could carry; once I managed 20. As a librarian, I am upset by parents who restrict their kids to two or three books, especially when they ask me to back them up their restrictions. I smile apologetically at the parents and tell the kid that the library limit is 25:) . My first library card seemed magical. I vividly remember my awe when I realized I now had a passport to the universe.Wherever I have been in the world, libraries are my home, my church. Jorge Luis Borges wrote, "I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library." When I am manicy, I am bombarded with synchronicity. Libraries are palaces of synchronicity.
I have always been grateful that we did not have a television set until I was 14. John and I experimented with throwing out our television when Anne was 4 and maintained our resolve for for five years. Rose, who never watched TV until she was 5, is the most voracious reader and writer.

My sister-in-law once paid me the supreme compliment: "Your idea of domesticity is putting your books in alphabetical order." Reading always took precedence over housework. I have always found time to read at least 4 or 5 books a week. Admittedly my speed is much better than my retention. I can enjoy the same mysteries twice.

My family believes this picture of 3-year-old Carolyn, taken in 1985, is our cutest. Carolyn's kitten-holding technique was not optimal. She assured me she could talk to animals, and I absolutely believed her. What living creature could resist her? Her sisters were in their Madonna phase. Carolyn loved to dance around with her grandma's rosary beads around her neck, telling everyone she was a material girl.
Reading to toddlers and preschoolers is one of life's supreme pleasures. It is the natural follow-up to breastfeeding. Preschoolers who are read to realize that reading aloud is a wonderful way to nurture someone. I recall my daughter Rose's saying to her doll, "Don't cry baby. Mommy will read to you." I always read aloud to the older girls when I was nursing the baby.

Preschoolers can enjoy chapter books. Michelle insisted on our reading The Wind in the Willows to her three separate times when she was 4. Beverly Cleary's Ramona books are perfect for 4's and 5's because she is 4 in the first one. Ramona was Carolyn's ego ideal. Don't stop reading to your children when they learn to read. Continue to read chapter books, books beyond their ability to read themselves. We never lose our love for being read to. Check out the thousands of books on tape and CD at your local library. If your library doesn't have the title you want, they can usually get it from another library.

I babysat for the same family from age 11 to 18; the kids were 2 and 6 when I started. By the time I graduated from college, Marion, the oldest, could babysit her brother by herself. I always read to them. About 10 years ago, I discovered a novel written by Marion. I was thrilled, look her up, and we write to each other sporadically. I loved to imagine that all those hundreds of books I had read to Marion and her brother helped influence her to become a writer.

My oldest daughter Anne loved the Curious George books. She loved them so much that both my parents and John and I gave her the same giant Curious George for her second Christmas. She grew up to be a curious Anne. She spent her 20s and early 30s working around the world in 75 world cities, living in Kosovo, Niger, and Rwanda.I recall George wound up with his head in the toilet.

When Anne was a teenager, we often seemed to communicate best by leaving books for each other on the radiator next to the toilet. No matter how conflicted our relationship became, we both enjoyed the same books. As a teen librarian, I discovered that throwing books on the floor by the teen's feet was the most promising way to recommend them.

Do you ever go back and read your favorite children's books? At any age, it is illuminating to try to find out what books you wanted read to you again and again. I remember Anne's calling me from college, thrilled that she had made a new friend who loved the same children's books. After my dad died, I was delighted to discover that rereading the books he read to us brought him back.

I lust for a software program that enables you to feed in all your children's favorite books and then spits out an analysis of their character and advice on what battles are worth fighting. When asked to recommend books for children in the library, I usually talk to the kid for few minutes, figure out what daughter, brother, niece, nephew, cousin, friend she reminds me of, and recommend that child's favorite book. This absolutely intuitive technique works well.

As a child I adored all the Oz books. I spent a great deal of time pretending I was Glinda the Good. I frequently wear a pin with red shoes, celebrating Dorothy's magic red slippers. Nancy Drew, girl detective, was my other favorite. Starting when we were 7, my best friend and I used to walk 2 miles to discover the Nancy Drew books selling for ten cents at the Salvation Army.

My only essential plastic is my library card.

July 1, 2009

Presidential Candidates of 2044

The Future


I deliberately chose serious pictures of my then  8-month-old and  5-month-old granddaughters. Read the green shirt. Intellectual self-confidence breeds true. I will be 99 when they can run for president in 2044.

Radical feminist that I was, I was shocked to discover when my first daughter  Emma was born in 1973 that motherhood empowered women, made them much stronger and braver. I decided to write a book reconciling intense motherhood and feminism. Twenty -six years later I am trying to gather up writings scattered in untranscribed noteboks, on  floppy discs most computers can't read, too many blogs under too many pseudonyms.

During the primary campaign, I was chagrined to discover that I had gifted my 4 daughters with brilliant nonsexist childrearing, but apparently felt it unnecessary to grow young feminists. They often  had never heard of authors that had shaped me.

My grandmother was born in 1898. She voted in the first election open to women. At 40 she was a widow, with 7 children, including a two year old. She had lost a daughter and both her parents were dead. My mother had to abandon her journalism dreams and go to secretarial school. Looking back in 1980 at 1939, she wishes she would have become a lawyer, like her dad and two brothers. If she were born 25 years later, I am certain she would have gone into politics. My daughter Jane, who is both a lawyer and a writer, has succeeded where my mother and I faltered.
The book will concentrate on my mom and me, but I will also discuss my grandmother, my daughters (stressing education, career, combining motherhood and career), my niees. I have two granddaughters, 8 months and 5 months; another is due in early September. I also have 2 great nieces. I hope my granddaughters and grandnieces grow up in a family friendly America, but I was sure my daughters would as well. I hope we will have a woman president before they are eligible to run in 2044.
I have an abundant of original source material, including well over a thousand letters my mother wrote to my soldier father from November 1942 to February 1946, when he first met his 7-month-old daughter. My mother lived in Uniondale, 3 miles away from my home in Baldwin from 1947 to 2002. She was a community leader and the mainstay (close to assistant pastor) of her church, St. Martha's. She went to nearby colleges, Nassau Community and Hofstra. She taught American History at Uniondale High School from 1969 to 1980.
I decided to make St. Martha's my church home, at least for the time being. I went to the weekday mass this morning and talked to five people who knew my mother well. I am now in the Uniondale Library, looking at their strong local history collection. I have all the documents from my mother's hard drive, with long lists of phone numbers. At least five of her closest friends are still alive, including two who have known her since they were 13.
My uncle, another history teacher, has a huge archive of family letters, including the ones my grandmother wrote to them when he was pursuing graduate study at Notre Dame. He moved from Long Island to the finger lakes when he retired. We are spending our summer vacation four miles away from where he lives. I teased him if he leaves me his archives, I will write his biography. He never ever throws anything out.
I have never thrown out the journal I kept from the time I dropped out of Columbia Law School after two weeks in 1971 through my pregnancy in 1972-73. Most of it is about feminism, wrestling with the possibilities of combining ambition and mothering.
My daughters never experienced discrimination through their brilliant college and graduate school careers. It is only now, when three of them are new mothers, that they realize their daughters do not live in a post-feminist world.