In the latest Vanity Fair issue, Courtney Love says she thinks one of the reasons her 19 year-old daughter is estranged from her is because she never read to her as a child. It surprises me that Courtney didn't read to her daughter because usually artistic people like books. It's important to read to your kids as part of their bedtime routine. Nowadays, a lot of kids have TVs in their bedrooms and use that to get themselves to sleep. We have a "No TV In The Bedrooms" rule in our house. That's not to say we don't watch TV. The TV is pretty much on all day, every day. I remember a friend of mine telling me that she recently read about a family who had the TV on for more than 8 hours a day! "Oh, we do that," I said. "It's not that we just sit there and watch it all day, but it's on all day." It was the same when I was a kid. But I didn't have a TV in my bedroom back then either. My parents read to me every night.
First my mom would come in, and I'd get to pick one of my books from my bookshelf. Then my dad would come in, but he preferred to make up his own stories or to tell me condensed kid-friendly versions of his personal favorites. Considering that his two favorite books were Joyce's "Ulysses" and Melville's "Moby Dick," I guess "The Runaway Pancake" was not really entertaining enough for him.
This has become part of my family history. My dad's cousin, Terry, often tells me about the night she was was visiting and took his place in my bedtime routine while my dad was involved in one of their super-competitive Monopoly games. I told her then that since she was taking my dad's place, she couldn't read me a story, she had to make one up! She said she thought, "Make one up? You have to really work hard for this kid!"
First, he'd ask me to tell him the names of some of the kids in my class, and then he'd make up the story. I remember one story had a bunch of us in a house that was on fire, but one of the kids got a hose, and we were all running around, but we managed to put out the fire in time. One night he told me about Steinbeck's "The Pearl," the story of a poor fisherman whose son gets bit by a scorpion, but he can't afford to pay the doctor until he finds a giant pearl that seems to solve all his problems. Of course, it just makes his life worse because he becomes greedy, and the novella teaches us a lesson concerning good vs. evil. My father's stories usually ended in a lesson of some sort, probably due to the fact that he was a teacher!
Another night, he told me about Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter." He said that the lady in the book was being accused of adultery and had to wear the letter "A" on the outside of her dress, over her heart. Nobody knew which man in town she was unfaithful with. But of course the man knew, and because of this, he had his own letter "A," but it was on the inside of his heart. Eventually, this caused his heart to die because he kept his secret and all of his feelings of guilt and shame inside of him. My dad said that everyone always thought the woman had it worse because she had to stand outside being taunted in front of the whole town wearing that big letter "A," but it was really the man who had it worse all along. I often think of the message of that story when situations come up in my own life. That it's better to let your feelings out than to hide them. I doubt that Dora could give me as good of a lesson as that!