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Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Greatest Gift

THE GREATEST GIFT – I firmly believe that the greatest gift you can pass on to your children is the love of reading.  Not money, not athletic prowess, not even the secret to studying and getting good grades.  If I could identify the single most important gift I pass on to my kids it is the love of books and the love of reading.  My mother, a public school teacher for over 30 years, passed that on to me.  Along with my grandmother, who had a Doctorate in Education, one of the first females in the nation to get an EdD.  My mother always said, when my kids were little, “you have to bathe your children in words.”  Mrs. O’Neill, our pre-K teacher at BDMS, and a former professor of children’s literature at the Mount, always used the famous quote, “I was rich indeed, for I had a parent who read to me.”  I had once read that if you rubbed your belly while pregnant and asked for two things, that’s what you would get, so with both kids I rubbed my belly and said over and over “Baby Loves to Read, Baby Loves to Swim.”  We have tens of thousands of books in our home, from poetry and rare and antique books to Dr. Seuss.  I have read to my kids every night as long as the oldest let me I still read picture books to Michael at night.  Michael and I sit and read in our Reading Chair every day. 
     Imagine my utter horror when I realized one day that Christian had stopped reading.  Don’t get me wrong, he reads his novels for school and his textbooks, and he’s on the high honor roll.  But he had simply stopped reading non-school books.  True, he was busy with school, athletics, and friends, but everybody has time for a book.  When I realized he wasn’t reading, my blood literally froze.  There could be no greater failure in my life.  I’d rather have him stop doing sports than stop reading, I was horrified.
            So I prayed.  And I asked my mom for suggestions.  “Well, I’m sure they already had him read Salinger in school, how did that strike him?”  And then it hit me.  He goes to Catholic School, they are never going to assign “Catcher in the Rye,” the book by J.D. Salinger that changed my life and the lives of so many before and after me.  Brilliant, Lola, I said!  That’s it, I will get him “Catcher in the Rye.”  That was 6 months ago.  In the meantime, Michael polished off the entire Percy Jackson series, my husband probably read 30 novels and I read about 10 novels along with the newest biographies of Winston Churchill as well as Alexander the Great.  We are all voracious readers.  But that darn copy of “Catcher in the Rye,” which has sold over 65 million copies since it came out in 1951 and continues to sell 250,000 copies a year, just sat on the coffee table.  Staring back at me.  Mocking me.  I could almost hear Holden Caufield, the main character, saying, “well, who’s the phony now?”  The thing is, I knew Christian would love this novel, he is so Holden.  I have read everything by Salinger, every short story, Frannie and Zooey, the Glass stories, you name it, several times over. 
            I love to read and I love to research the authors.  Especially American literature.  I had my law school graduation at the same table at the Alongquin Hotel where Dorothy Parker, James Thurber, Edna Ferber and Donald Ogden Stewart, among other great writers used to gather to form the “Vicious Circle” of writers and journalists from 1919 – 1929.  Many of my NYU professors begged me to pursue writing “or at least journalism.”  Maybe in my retirement.  In the meantime, I write my blog and -- isn’t everyone working on the great unfinished American novel? 
            Then the documentary “Salinger” came out, in honor of his 105th birthday, which was January 1, 2014.  I have watched it several times.  I thought I knew everything about Salinger.  Some things were well known, some things were new.  Some things I wish I hadn’t learned.  That was it, I couldn’t stand it anymore.  I became like a madwoman.  I marched into my son’s room, where he was talking on the phone and I started shaking “Catcher” at him:  “Jerry Salinger stormed the beaches of Normandy carrying the pages of this book!  He liberated the Nazi concentration camps carrying the pages of this book!  This isn’t just a book, this is THE coming of age book, and if you do not read it right now I will have FAILED as a mother.  Do you understand me?  I don’t care if you ever row again, I don’t care if you ever catch a football again, I don’t even care about the Honor Roll!  If you do not at least read one chapter in this book, I will have failed!”  Ok, that was a little dramatic but what can I say.  What did my son do?  “Um, I’m on the phone, Mom, can you calm down?”  That’s it, I’m done, I said to myself. The world needs ditch diggers too.
            Christian is not a cruel child.  He could see his mother was distressed.  Out of sheer pity for me, he began reading the book.  Then something magical happened.  He started getting into it.  In fact, he spent all day reading it.  He stayed up until 3am reading it.  However, he wouldn’t finish reading it right away, because he loved it so much, he couldn’t bear for it to end.  All readers know that feeling. 
            And so it was that I went out to Barnes and Noble in a blizzard to buy “Frannie and Zooey,” the next book by Salinger, so there would be something to look forward to.  Finally, my oldest son is a reader again.  He’s back.  More than any crew victory, or football victory, or even making Principal’s List, THIS was my greatest victory to date as a mother.  Baby loves to read!

            Keep reading everyone, and keep fighting for your kids.  Above all,  remember to count your blessings!  Have a great Saturday, everyone! <3 Mrs. Lo