Eleanor, my 11-year-old, has recently been coming into the office and looking at my book shelf and exclaiming, “I didn’t know you had this book!” And then she takes it and is gone for the day. And she is satisfied. This makes me want to have more children. Josh jokes that Eleanor and I are on the same reading level. He’s so precious. Anyway, I realize that she’s always done this, but something is different now. Now, she’s actually at the reading level to really enjoy the book rather than just explore it. I’ve always let my girls read anything they want. This may be shocking, but I even let her read “The Lovely Bones” when she was ten. I worried a little because I found the book by her bed and didn’t get to “prepare” her for what kind of book it was. But then I thought about it. What was I going to tell her: rape and murder are bad and scary and I just wanted to warn you? It was too late anyway. I asked what she thought about the book. Honestly, I don’t remember her answer exactly. She had some questions which I answered, but I do remember that she basically understood what was happening and wasn’t scared. She got the concept, but not the enormity of the story. In fact, she put the book down for about six months before trying it again. She didn’t finish it that time either. The point is, she learned what rape and murder are; and it didn’t damage her.
Similarly: When I was student teaching (eighth grade), I had a group of four girls that wanted to read “The Lovely Bones.” My mentor teacher contacted the parents and told them that she’d facilitate a group reading situation so they and she could talk about it. One mother said no. The girl wasn’t upset, which surprised me. That’s just downright un-teenager-y, no? Then the girl went to my mentor teacher and said, “Will you read it for me and tell me all about it?” It was endearing, and I was sad for the girl, too. I thought about just telling her to sneak it for crying out loud, though I didn’t. But isn’t that one of the most wonderful parts of reading–when we can go become part of a story that is outside of our reality and we can explore things that aren’t safe? It’s the safest thing of all, really. Having the experience without the experience. We had another group of girls (the bad group–I’ll just say it) that year who read “Crank” and passed that book around school like crazy. My mentor teacher and I were both excited that they were reading at all. I may be naive, but I believe that they wanted the experience of a drug user without doing it themselves.
So, I’m not going to hold my kids back from reading about the world. I’m their mom; I’m here for them. When the world gets to be too much for them, they can fall into my arms, cry it out, and know that they are loved. When they read things that are confusing and difficult–when Eleanor does finish “The Lovely Bones,”– I’ll be here to tell her how our family values fit or don’t fit with what she’s exploring, and what in the world we can do about it. Because I think that if we parents act like goalies now and block them from it, then they’ll grow up and the ball will smack them in the face.
Along the same lines, a friend of mine just turned me on to FreeRangeKids. There is an wonderful post about an author who was going to do a school visit via Skype, but couldn’t because of guidelines about the kids being seen on the Internet. A comment about that post led to a response about how the kids were losing out on an wonderful opportunity for a wild “what if” scenario. As a parent, and as a hopeful author, I loved it.