We’re going to need a bigger house. No, not a new baby. It’s the books. Specifically, my daughter’s books. I cannot seem to edit her bedroom bookshelves to make room for new books (other than maybe to pay forward those pesky mass market paperback equivalents known as “easy readers”—you buy one and suddenly there are ten in the same spot the next morning). She has literally hundreds of books, of all kinds, collected since she was a wee lass.
I’m emotionally tied to virtually all of them for one reason or another. Part of it is the actual financial investment of buying books. We buy books far more than toys (family and birthday parties usually pick up the slack when it comes to toys). It’s not only because books retain their value (and usability) longer term, but I like to support authors and illustrators, and, when possible, independent bookstores or places like Better World Books. Yes, we certainly make good use of our library on a very regular basis, but I’m also committed to investing in books of our own too.
Some small part is also wanting to hang on to something from her childhood for her to share with her own children someday. I certainly see myself making storage sacrifices for Frog and Toad more than Elsa or Fluttershy. Some of it is not wanting to rush gifts from friends and family out the door too soon. But mostly, I just really love books and find comfort in being surrounded by them.
I’m not the only one. She also has a really hard time letting go of books. Certainly, there are some books that are easy to move along. The board books are long gone to cousins or Goodwill. Topics or characters that she simply wasn’t into are now residing in her former Kindergarten and current first grade classrooms, maybe to ignite the reading fire of another child. But the rest? She wants to keep them. So for now, we shift, stack, and start second rows.
It got me to thinking about the picture books on her shelf that I would give to other children as gifts, either because they have compelling stories or messages, interesting illustrations, or because M has shown us that they are the kinds of books that can be returned to time and again, each time revealing another layer that her younger self might not have seen. They are equally suitable for boys and girls and do not have (in my opinion) any questionable content.* These are the “workhorses” who’ve been with us for a while now (with one exception**), and aren’t going anywhere either.
I’m sure there’s a few more gift worthy books I could cull from her stack, but these were the ones that jumped out to me right away. And when I stacked them in the living room as a reminder to write this post, this is what happened, another type of gift altogether:
What picture books are on your child’s shelves that you think would make good gift books for children 12 and younger? Is there one “go to” book that you give over and over again? What book has your child received that has become a “keeper”?
* Near the end of Where Do Balloons Go? (a story about the mystery of where a balloon that’s accidentally let go might end up) there is a reference to “that place up above” the stars, which for some might mean heaven; as an atheist, I think it’s worded vaguely enough to be comfortable interpreting it as just more outer space beyond the stars we can see.
** Rosie Revere Engineer is a very recent addition to our collection, but already I can see that it has sparked her imagination and definitely is the kind of book I think so many children would enjoy as a gift.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
Seven year olds are great. Of course, I seem to say that about every age for the past two or three years. But I’m in the sweet spot when it comes to childhood. I was not my best self as the parent of a baby and toddler. I didn’t take a lot of it in stride, at least not as much as I had hoped I could. That just might be my nature though, at any age.
But seven? So lovely. They carry on conversations at length and ask the deep questions. They are silly and hold hands with you. They can go off on their own at a large family party and you pretty much know they are not going to eat marbles while holding a lit candle or run into traffic. They are pressedupthisclosetoyou and suddenly go “missing” for an hour or two, absorbed in some other world, all in the same day. They want to read on their own and want you to read to them. They leave their socks lying around but then leave little “I love you” notes on your pillow. They know what they like, know what they don’t, and yet can still be persuaded to try new things.
At the same time, it also feels like the age where the door to the outside world—the stuff that you’ve worked so hard to keep from their view—is now permanently ajar, even if it’s just a crack. I knew it was coming and yet I didn’t quite expect some of it so soon. Hearing about things like cancer, illicit drug use, or September 11th for the first time ever. Coming to understand that some people she meets might express themselves in ways that she might not understand or be comfortable with at first. Being able to understand, or at least register for later contemplation, off-handed and unfriendly comments by friends and family about body image, race, or sexual preferences. Detecting differences, big and small, in the current and historical treatment between and of males and females.
These little glimpses into the wider world leave me stumbling some of the time. How do I reconcile being honest with her without scaring or discouraging her? How do I temper something that I fundamentally disagree with that was said by someone she loves or admires, all without necessarily skewing her ability to form her own opinion (either about the issue or the person who said it)? How do I protect the innocence that I think that seven year olds (and beyond) should still be able to have, even if the rest of the world is not as protective of it as I am? How do I allow her to become literate and confident in the social, technological, and cultural world without showing her too much too soon? Do I even know where that line is anymore?
Many of the speed bumps that we encounter in the early part of their lives are driven by forces that are not beyond the child or home itself. Though they might be challenging, they are generally manageable because they don’t result in the finer chiseling of the individual or her understanding of the rest of the world. At that stage, we are giving general shape to the individual we hope they become, whether it be kind-heartedness, respect for others, or learning to say “excuse me” at the dinner table.
But now? There are certainly some “outside” influences getting in, and being digested by her (somewhat), that I stumble sometimes. I’m not sure if she senses it yet. While we (as her parents) still do and should give the lion’s share of guidance in helping her understand the world, she has to also be aware of some of the world in order to have some context, and also so she can develop preferences for and positions about things in due course. It’s the chicken and egg conundrum. How much should I be proactive about and control the information (at least before her peers chime in), and how much do I deal with reactively?
A perfect example happened last month on September 11th. Her teacher read a book to the class (this one) that only very subtly dealt with the terrible acts that occurred on that day. Before this book (and the brief discussion that took place after it was read), the importance of this day was completely off of her radar. She had absolutely no knowledge of it. When I picked her up from school, she seemed a bit melancholy and had a hundred questions about the Twin Towers, most importantly, about why they were knocked down. The range of emotions that flew threw me in that car ride home left me in tears by the time we got to the driveway just three minutes later. Had I failed as a parent by not bringing up this subject beforehand? Why didn’t I think that this might come up at school, if not by the teacher then at least perhaps some of the older students? But, wait a minute, why did the teacher even go down this road? They are six and seven these children. “Bad men did this” doesn’t seem to cover it (and certainly not with my probing daughter) and yet getting into the fine detail of radical religiously-focused terrorists doesn’t either. Where’s the line? If September 11th is fair game for a first-grader, then why not all of the other tragedies? Do I need to tell her about all the wars in history as we get close to Veterans’ Day? Was she thinking about her grandfather who was flying here that very same day?
This is a mere glimpse of my thought process in the hours after she told me about the book. This is the kind of thought process I have as the mother of a seven year old. I’m stumbling and fumbling. Though aren’t we all?
I know that it’s OK to tell her when I do not know something (which I do all the time), but I struggle with what about when I do? That seems to be where I get tripped up. I imagine it will eventually get easier when she has the capacity to rationalize and process some of the things we continue to keep at bay, but in the interim? I expect to be falling down a little more than usual.
And so that I can end on a silly note, in honor of my seven year old’s very nature, here is what had her in stitches last night. STITCHES. I give you the P-mate (scroll down for video link).
What age made it hard for you to know whether to spill the beans or bite your tongue? Does it get easier as the child gets older, or do the problems and issues just become more complex? What topics have you deliberately held off discussing for as long as possible?
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
Do you do your best thinking in the shower? I do. Sometimes I wonder if the puzzles of world peace or missing socks would best be solved if we all bathed together. On second thought…
This weekend I had another one of my water logged revelations. Or maybe they are epiphanies. It was about the theme of several of the books I’ve read lately.
Three of the books I’ve read over the past several months deal with the notion of being lost. I didn’t intentionally choose the books for this theme, but hindsight suggests that maybe I was (subconsciously) leaning toward books that might explain, commiserate, or even guide me through what I am seemingly experiencing right now, which is a sense of being lost. I think I’m feeling this way primarily about various forks along my vocational road, both the ones at my feet right now and the ones I sense ahead. The forks well behind me certainly come into all of this too, though for entirely different reasons.
I feel like I’m feeling my way in the dark so much of the time, aimlessly wandering down a path toward an unknown, uncharted destination.
The sensation of feeling a bit lost also seems to be tied to “where I see myself in the next ten years” (to use a job interview phrase) around the time when I will turn fifty and my daughter will be close to embarking out on her own. I am more of a planner by nature than a free-spirited wanderer, so the past three years in particular have really cut against the grain of who I am (though, surprisingly, in profoundly good ways). Still, I think about how the choices I make right now play into all that is yet to come. I’m constantly thinking about all of this, on some level, and I’m pretty sure I’ve got to make some choices soon. No more wasting time. I’ve got to “find” myself and get back on the map.
The books, you ask?
Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding by Lynn Darling,
Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and most recently,
A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit.
There was even a poem that I found serendipitously last week in my copy of Good Poems, selected by Garrison Keillor: Lost by David Wagoner. How apt.
I’ve liked each book for very different reasons—indeed they each involve entirely different circumstances and writing styles. I found myself underlining passages quite frequently in Out of the Woods (which I reviewed briefly here) and A Field Guide to Getting Lost.
At minimum, they’ve shown me that I’m not unique in the experience of feeling or getting lost, even at this age. In fact, I venture to guess that, for many of us, more of us feel this way around the age of 40 than other ages, though no one seems to talk about it. Does this feeling ever subside down the road? I’m going to have to get back to you on that, but I can say that for myself, the feeling right now is more palpable than it has been since I was about 25 or so. It is unexpected, to say the least. Aren’t we supposed to be sure of ourselves four decades in? I’m not so sure anymore.
But there’s a passage in Solnit’s book that seems to help me think about it all with fresh eyes:
…the real difficulties, the real arts of survival, seem to lie in more subtle realms. There, what’s called for is a kind of resilience of the psyche, a readiness to deal with what comes next. These captives lay out in a stark and dramatic way what goes on in every day life: the transitions whereby you cease to be who you were. Seldom is it as dramatic, but nevertheless, something of this journey between the near and the far goes on in every life. Sometimes an old photograph, an old friend, an old letter will remind you that you are not who you once were, for the person who dwelt among them, valued this, chose that, wrote thus, no longer exists. Without noticing it you have traversed a great distance; the strange has become familiar and the familiar if not strange at least awkward or uncomfortable, an outgrown garment. And some people travel far more than others.
She goes on for another few pages talking about butterflies and metamorphosis, with the chrysalis and instar stages, an example so completely perfect and written so compellingly that I highly recommend you seek it out sometime (it is just too long to put down here). But she gets to the nub, I think, of where I currently am, which is maybe not lost after all.
Do you seem to read books in clusters of a particular theme? Is it intentional or do you only realize it after the fact? Do you think it matters if you are choosing fiction or nonfiction as the source? Is one more of an escape and the other a how-to manual?
HOUSEKEEPING: For any non-Twitter, non-Bloglovin’ (or other similar kind of feed) folks out there, I want to let you know that I have created a Facebook Page where you can follow all of my writing, not just what appears on my blog. It’s called “Kristen Ploetz, Writer”. Hope to see you there.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
I had my daughter when I was 33. Certainly not ancient, but still on the older end of the childbearing spectrum. I am 40 now and my daughter is seven.
When my own mother was 40, I was much, much older. I think about that sometimes: how just the fact of how old I was when I had my daughter sometimes alters my experience of being a mother, at least when compared to my own mother or any number of women who have children at a younger age.
This difference cropped up unexpectedly two weeks ago. I was in my bedroom getting dressed to go to my annual physical and first mammogram. I remarked about how I had to remember to not put on antiperspirant that morning because it can affect the accuracy of the mammogram. My daughter heard me say this and then proceeded to ask me what I was talking about.
It dawned on me in that moment that I probably was not even aware of mammograms, let alone my mother having them, until I was closer to twenty. It was yet another way that my experience (let alone my daughter’s) will be different just because I chose to have a child later in life than my mother did.
At seven years old, she’s not quite at the precipice of puberty and changes in her body, though I can already sense they are on the horizon. But she is mature enough to understand some basic things like the importance of taking care of our bodies, that breasts serve an important function, and that there are some routine medical examinations that are preventive in nature (and therefore not inherently scary). So I used it as an opportunity to explain what I was doing that morning. I explained to her the why (in very basic terms) and the how (in seemingly excruciating detail due to a gazillion questions and request for a visual demonstration about how the machine works…ahem). I was comfortable telling her and was very matter of fact about it, and she responded like a seven year old might: lots of giggles about boobs, followed by “Oh, OK, cool, Mommy. Can I have some strawberries with breakfast?”
I’m somewhat of an anxious person, especially when it comes to medical testing. But I’ll be completely honest: this particular test did not have me feeling worried. That’s really never happened before. Instead, I felt a sense of gratitude that I even had this chance to have a mammogram. In fact, while I was in the waiting room at the mammography center, sitting there with about six other women, all dressed only in a robe from the waist up, I felt a silent solidarity with them. Most of them were far older than me (which was evidenced by the inability of two being unable to work the iPad check-in form), and who knows why any of the others were there. Maybe it wasn’t a positive experience for some of them. But I felt a sisterhood, in age and physical form, with these women. We really are all in this together. In my head, I wished each one of them well.
If you want to make your mammography nurse giggle, ask lots of ignorant questions! Turns out the reading of “21.5 lbs” I saw on the digital display while the nurse was setting up my breast in the machine is not how much my breast weighs. It is the pressure being exerted by the machine. The more you know…
My results came by email a week later. Happily, the mammogram was clear. I reported back to my daughter, just in case there was a worried loose end floating around in her (often worried) mind. She smiled. And then proceeded to randomly yell across the house to my husband a few days later, “Hey, Dad! Mama’s boobs are healthy!”
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. If you are unsure about whether a mammogram is right for you right now, check with your physician or start by reading the guidelines offered by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The procedure is relatively easy and only momentarily uncomfortable.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
She cries like that because she’s a girl.
Even that girl can do it, so why can’t you?
That’s something that girls play with, not boys.
And who can forget the Always #LikeAGirl campaign this past summer?
We’ve all heard iterations of the same thing at one time or another—on the playground, in sports, in the toy store, or at the schoolyard. It is tough to hear, especially when it’s coming from a parent or other trusted adult in that child’s life.
These unfair characterizations are based solely on gender and ignore that child’s individual personality, abilities, and needs in that moment. These kinds of remarks not only cut down the intended target child, but they also suggest to other children within earshot—boys and girls—that these labels are legitimate and meaningful. They become part of a child’s inner dialogue while growing up, and, if left unchecked, will ultimately inform their adult worldview.
And you know what? I’ve had enough. I’m tired of people using “girl” (or any other label) as leverage to define what someone should or should not be doing. I’m tired of adults saying things that, indirectly or otherwise, will affect the way my daughter may be treated or perceived just because she’s a girl.
Time to stamp out subtle sexism. Time for a new plan.
Come find out more at Mamalode where I am honored to have a piece explaining what triggered my new resolve.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
Copyright (c) 2010-2014 Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved. Personal theme was created in WordPress by Obox Themes.