Imagination tells us that ‘Mother’ does not understand us, does not know half what great persons we are; that ‘Father’ is not kind, that Lucy or Edward is more noticed than we are, that lessons are hateful, that going for a walk is a bother, that seeing people is a nuisance, that any book but a storybook is dull; and, by degrees, other people find us just what we, in our imagination, have pictured them. (Ourselves, p. 50)
This book doesn’t have enough action in it,” she whined, tossing it my direction. Over the past three or four months, one of my daughters decided she has strict views as to what is or is not an interesting book. Only fast-paced storybooks are interesting; all others are Annoyances Imposed on Her By Others.
If you haven’t had something like this happen at your house yet, Just Wait. Your turn is coming.
I quickly determined a conversation wouldn’t improve things, so I ignored her comment. If she said it to get a rise out of me, it wasn’t going to work.
Shortly thereafter, we finished our lunchtime read aloud. It was time to choose a new title. Sometimes, I ask for input, or let one of the children choose, but I had wanted to read Mornings on Horseback for years and we seemed to always put it off. I chose this book for me. It wasn’t in my mind that this was not an action-packed storybook, and therefore didn’t pass my daughter’s test.
What I mean is, I wasn’t deliberately trying to stretch her character.
Admittedly, I read too much the first time I pulled it out at lunch. With some books, it takes a time or two before I determine how much is appropriate to read at once. But I suspect that even had I not done this, I still would have had the same conversation at the end:
“Does this have any action in it?” she asked.
“It’s the introduction,” I replied. This was a way of avoiding the question. I was sure she really meant, “Is this fiction?” which, of course, it isn’t.
A couple days later:
“Did this really happen?” she asked, obviously annoyed when I answered in the affirmative.
Turns out, the worst possible quality in a book is that it might tell you something factually true. I had suspected history was no long acceptable to this child; this was confirmation.
Things like this used to intimidate me, but lucky for her this isn’t my first rodeo, and I’ve learned to take the long view.
Now is not forever, you see.
It’s easy to think, for example, that because she claims to dislike history books, she will dislike history FOREVER AND ALWAYS. There’s no reason for this to be true. She liked history in the past. She might like it again in the future.
Beyond this, I remember being a child. If you haven’t tried remembering your own childhood, I highly recommend it as a handy tool with which to gain some perspective. At different points in my academic career, I remember: not liking math, not liking geography, not liking history, and on and on. (I also only liked physics because it got me an awesome prom date.) None of these afflictions were permanent.
As an adult, I like all subjects, though admittedly the blame for my dislike of geography falls squarely on the shoulders of the terrible teaching methods I was forced to endure. No matter. Even then the damage wasn’t permanent. (Thank you, Richard Halliburton.)
The fact that I grew up to like math, history, and also vegetables gives me hope for my children.
I think my daughter would have tried badgering me into switching books if she had thought it would work, but alas I have a habit of perseverance, the consequences of which we have all regularly endured together. There was a time when, had we taken a vote, even I would have been in favor of putting Nicholas Nickelby back on the shelf, but Vencels Don’t Quit and so we read the whole thing (we ended up liking it, by the way).
She said nothing, but she looked at me with mournful eyes, and I’m pretty sure she measured the book’s thickness in an attempt to estimate how many weeks she could expect such torture to last.
I read Mornings on Horseback aloud just as often as I would a work of fiction chosen for the same purpose. If we would normally read a story at breakfast, I read it at breakfast. Same for lunch. Same for car rides. Whatever.
The first indication that, regardless of her loudly repeated opinion on books, she might be a teensy tiny bit interested, came last week, right before I left for my trip. It was a small thing; she asked a question.
Here is a great secret: questions are asked by interested persons. I was tempted to be annoying and suggest she might actually like the book, but these things can backfire, so I remained silent.
Upon returning home, I feared any progress she had made before my trip might have been lost by our five days of separation. Did she feel those days to be a blessed relief? She didn’t say, but she also didn’t complain when I picked up the book after lunch on Monday for our regular read aloud time. We had relocated to the living room, and O-Age-Nine was using his boundless energy to roll around on the floor. As he got louder and louder — as I was just about to scold him for being too loud — my daughter (yes, the one who supposedly hates this book) told him to knock it off.
“I can’t hear Mom!” she said.
At this point, I still didn’t say anything, but I’ve been feeling quite smug ever since. Tuesday’s reading had hardly any action at all — it was a section discussing the psychosomatic nature of asthma, and she seemed to find it intriguing.
What’s the moral of this story?
If you asked my daughter, she’d probably still tell you she only likes fictional tales of action and adventure. But her behavior says otherwise. Sometimes, when what we hear is discouraging, what we see can be encouraging, so it’s important to pay attention.
The real moral, though, is in the title: now is not forever. It is so easy to be really disappointed in this moment — in this place we are in right now. It’s irritating when my mother tells me, “This, too, shall pass,” but that doesn’t make it false. In fact, she’s been right every time she’s said it.
Homeschooling has its disheartening moments. It’s okay to feel it. Sometimes those moments give us energy to move in a new direction or think of a new and creative solution. But don’t be discouraged. You’re standing in a single moment of time. You don’t know the picture on the front of the puzzle box and how this piece fits. So live out your principles and trust God with the results. Kids don’t always know their own minds, anyway.