One of the greatest privileges I have enjoyed as a mother is reading aloud to my kids. I don’t get to do it very often anymore but for a few years, I read aloud to all three at the same time and occasionally the youngest will still sit long enough for a chapter or two.
I have a few rules for these books I read aloud:
- NO fantasy. Can’t stand it. (although I LOVED “A Wrinkle In Time”)
- NO books based on a Disney movie. Yuck!
- Finally I try to not read books told from the point of view of talking animals. I try. Can’t say I’ve never done it, but it’s not my favorite.
Occasionally a picture book from the children’s section with crazy, animal and people stuff is OK (Can somebody say “Skippy Jon Jones”? ) but typically, I prefer reading real-life stories that make you think and feel; stories that TEACH.
Serious, funny or sometimes both, typically these stories deal with many of life’s challenging “coming of age” issues and the solving –or not– of real life problems. There’s not always a “happily ever after” because ….there’s not always a “happily ever after”.
I love these types of stories because they provide a way to deal with some really difficult subjects and to engage them in a manageable way that starts on the outside and eventually works it’s way in. Teachable moments and discussions are born in these times as we enter in and get emotionally involved with a story’s characters– laughing and cheering when they win, wincing when they hurt and crying when there’s nothing to do but cry.
Through these stories I have an opportunity to speak to my children about things that matter and hard life questions. Recently, we read a book entitled “Iggie’s House” by Judy Blume. Nearly as old as I am, this book is set during the Civil Rights period right after the Chicago race riots, amidst the struggles of integration.
As we traveled through those pages, we caught a glimpse of life from all perspectives that was so much more engaging and refreshing than any static textbook. We talked about people of color and the bigotry, animosity and hatred that was present on both sides of the battle.
It was a good place to be with my then 11 year old…not a complete picture, but when it comes up again in a textbook or discussion, he can now draw from a place inside himself that can help lend a personal perspective.
By far, one of the most memorable books I’ve read aloud is “Rules” byCynthia Lord. Told from the perspective of Catharine, a 12 year old girl whose brother is “functionally” autistic, she’s very protective of him and at the same time, resentful of the weighty responsibility her parents place on her to care for him.
Often embarrassed by his behavior, Catharine struggles to fit in with her peers while love-hating and wanting to guide him at the same time. She’s an artist and the book is replete with vivid imagery, mental drawings and careful, artistic observances of the world around her.
Twice a week, she accompanies her mother and brother to OT. There she slowly befriends a boy named Jason who is wheelchair bound, nonverbal and extremely intelligent. He communicates using a “communication” book where black and white word cards are inserted in a photo-album type book and he points to the words to construct simple sentences.
Catharine begins to make word cards for him–adding color to his black and white cards (and his world), inserting expressions, adjectives and interjections common to frustrated and excited pre-teens (“STINKS A BIG ONE” and “AWESOME!” )
As she begins to trust him as a friend distinct from and despite any of his physical limitations, they find common ground, share frustrations, new words and music. They share secrets and laughter. Beautiful.
Oh but this is the part of the story I’ll NEVER forget:
Catherine comes to the clinic with hard, angry word cards for Jason based on a mean encounter with a neighbor who has taunted her brother. As she shares her frustrations with Jason, he shares his “secret”:
sometimes he wishes he was dead … he feels so “incomplete” and “disconnected”
from the world around him.
He tells her when he sleeps, he dreams of running and asks her to describe running. When she does, he’s sad because it’s not at all what it seems like to him in his dream. This is what happens next: (big time spoiler!)
“TELL. MOM. I’LL. BE. RIGHT. BACK. He stops his finger on PLEASE.
I pull in a shaky breath. “Mrs. Morehouse: Jason and I are going out in the parkinglot for a few minutes. We’re going for a run.” I say the last part extra quiet.
“A what?” She looks up from her magazine.
“A run.” I step behind Jason’s wheelchair and push. It rolls smoothly, easier than I expected across the carpet.
“Do you really think this is a good idea?” Mrs Morehouse asks as we pass her.
I can’t see what Jason taps, but she moves to open the door, “Be careful Catherine.” She fixes me with a stern look.
I grip the wheelchair handles as we go down the ramp, my muscles tight as rope. My palms feel slick, but I don’t even dare to relax even one finger, afraid he’ll roll from me.
At the bottom of the ramp, we both let go a relieved sigh. I turn the wheelchair to face the parkinglot. “if this gets too wild, lift your hand and I’ll know to stop, okay?”
Jason nods. RUN.
I jog, more a fast walk than a run. Jason’s head and shoulders shake as I bump him over cracks in the tar. There’s so much to watch out for: holes and rocks and sand near the side of the building.
I stop beside the dumpster. “Sorry this is such a bouncy ride. Are you sure you want to do this?”
I start again, pushing Jason’s chair ahead of me. I run past the fire hydrant and around the parking sign, keeping a lookout for cars puling into or out of the parkinglot. Every few feet I shoot a lightening-quick look at Jason’s hands.
He doesn’t pick them up, just holds tightly to his communication book. So I make the first turn, running faster. Clouds of seagulls take to the air in front of us quarreling and shrieking,
Running hard now, my feet pound the tar, the flap of seagulls wings as loud as my breath in my ear. People are looking,but I try not to see them as real, just statues to run past.
At the final turn, I see Mrs. Morehouse standing in the entrance to the parking lot, her palm out like a traffic cop, keeping cars from pulling in.
I dash past the mailbox, the EXIT HERE sign, past Mrs. Morehouse.
Leaning into it, faster, harder, my feet slap the pavement, until it comes–that weightless, near-to-flying fastness.” Do you feel it?” I yell to the back of Jason’s head.
But if he answers, it’s only in his head.
I run all the way to the clinics ramp “How was that?”
I bend over to steady my breath. When I straighten up, I see not only is everyone in the waiting room standing at the clinic windows watching us, but a family on the sidewalk is staring, shopping bags in hand. And in several of the restaurant windows surrounding the parking lot, people have stopped eating to watch. Most of them have their mouths dropped open.
A man in one of the restaurants gives a thumbs-up, and everyone in the waiting room cheers…
“One more time?” I ask Jason.
He grins. EXCELLENT!
And we’re off! Past the windows and the dumpster, around the parking lot sign. Seagulls billowing into the air at every turn.
Strong, flying-fast, and free, we run.”
This story is our story. It’s what God has intended for us as we journey through this life with it’s pain, suffering, hardness, coldness, cruelty and flat out meanness.
We are meant to find ourselves in Him first and then seeing one another with His eyes– with compassion for others and ourselves to walk it out together…really,
My friends….do you dream of running? Do you desire to feel the connection of another soul who understands the hard weight of gravity pressing on our souls as we try to faithfully journey through this world?
“Strong, flying-fast, and free”, we were meant to share the journey and run this race with endurance, to help one another keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and keep from getting entangled in sin. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
That’s my hope and prayer for you today; not simply to “get by” or “make it through” another day, but to know the joy of salvation and true freedom.
There’s so much to see and do and understand and know about God and being faithful in this life.
Let’s do it together… let’s run.