Thursday, September 29, 2011

Taking initiative

It's Banned Books Week in the United States, and I've been reading blog post after blog post about how pointless, stupid, and oh yeah- how ANTI-AMERICAN it is. You know, if you count the first amendment.

But that's not what this post is about.

When KidBrotherSam and I were growing up, Mom kept tight control over what we watched on television. If it was violent, it was out. If it showed that being disrespectful to parents is okay, it was out. Those are the two main things I remember her censoring for- and I *totally* agree on those choices, but I'm sure there were more. (She also seriously limited how much TV we watched. Something like 3 hours total per week, and only on the weekend.)

Sam and I have always been voracious readers. I don't think it's because we didn't watch TV; I think it's because our parents were readers. What my mother never censored was our reading material. In hindsight, I remember Mom reading some of the stuff we read, and as an adult I can recognize that if Mom thought a book might have objectionable content, she would read it, too. (She never let on that was *why* she was reading our books. And we never questioned it.) Afterward, we would talk about it.

It wasn't a "This isn't appropriate for a child your age" conversation; she was always taking the temperature of how I had interpreted the objectionable content in books, somehow without obviously leading the discussions. I'm sure I missed a lot of the objectionable material, but the stuff that I picked up on, we talked about.

I have to say, I'm seriously impressed with how Mom parented us. When I was 14 years old, I was reading the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series (before they got all super-smutty), and one of the books centered around snuff films. My Mom, in her SuperMom cape, instead of ripping the book out of my hands and handing me something (perhaps) more age-appropriate, had a calm discussion with me about snuff films.

Stop a moment and think about that last sentence. How many parents could have a calm discussion with their teenage daughter about snuff films? Mom was pretty unflappable as a parent. I don't even remember her making crazy eyes, quickly changing the subject, or having an uncomfortable nervous laugh, ever.

Enough bragging on my mom. The point is, instead of censoring what we read, she made sure that she was informed about what we were reading. She read it herself. She talked to us. (Novel idea, that last one.)

It wasn't until I was in college where Mom actually expressed any negative opinions about *what* I was reading. My senior seminar class was on Virginia Woolf and Toni Morrison. In case you're curious, filicide is where Mom draws the line. Not only did Mom not read any of the Morrison books, she also *did not* want to discuss any of it.

She never said, "Don't read it" or "Don't take the class", she basically said, "I just *can't* talk about this with you." I don't blame her; it was a seriously dark semester. By then, I was a GrownUp (sort of), and my choices in reading material were my own.

Books aren't dangerous. Sure, they put ideas in people's heads. But if you stay ahead of the curve, you can probably keep your kids from inciting a revolution with a few calm conversations.



  1. I devoured books as a kid... I was one of thoe kids that had to be kicked in the but to get me outside, I'd rather sit inside and readreadread... by the tme I was nine I had to move to adult books, I'd read most of the rest, and my favorite book at nine was Papillon!!!

    My parents never censored our Tv either, but I grew up in Europe in the seventies: we only had two channels, whatever country we lived in (moved around) and there were kids programs only on Sunday mornings and for a teeny bit in the afternoons... My brother, who is six years older than me, always went to bed early, he needed more sleep, and I watched Peyton Place with mom (That was a nono for many of my friends) and I loved Hitchcock and Nightgallery, and never ever had any bad dreams. What I remember with horror was movies where an animal died, those funny horror things were just funny. I remember sitting up at night watching a musical... no one else could stand them! =)
    Now it's different, because there are dvds, a million channels, computers... my oldest is 22... she adored Indiana Jones at three, but cried her eyes out at 10 watching King Kong and Godzilla... because the beasties die... =) At four her fave movie was Isabel Allende's House of Spirits... funny kid that one as well.

    Our solution to what they watch, the kids i mean, has been that the TV is in the living room and we always watch things together! No TV for anyone if all four haven't finished studying, and dvd's are all bought by me, so I know what comes in. The same applies for what they do on Internet... Nobody hides what they do, doors are always open and WE TALK!!!
    What I mean with all this blabber is that I think that good sense is the secret... and talking. It's very hard to now what each child will be like... Even what they are afraid of varies and it's completely unpredictable.

    Parenting is such an adventure... and each child is SO different, that it doesn't always help that it's your third or fourth... =)

    PS: I never could read Morrison either... =)

    PPS. My brother, one of the smartest people I know, only ever read comic books... Peanuts, Asterix, Donald Duck... and then all of a sudden, at 18, he jumped to Henry Miller, john Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway and such... so even despairing of a kid who doesn't read is useless, if they have books to read , sooner or later they WILL read! =)

  2. I *love* this so very much. As the mom of a 4-year-old daughter, I stand in awe of your mother. As a Children's Librarian in a public library, I kind of want to give this entry to parents everywhere.

  3. I was a kid who read everything. My kids did too. Our favorite Saturday treat was a trip to the library. We would each check out an armload of books and if we ran out of things to read you could find us sitting around reading cereal boxes.
    I have pictures of me reading to my kids when I was pregnant with my youngest. I'm holding my 4 month old and his sisters are holding the book and turning the pages.

  4. You know what I love about this post? Not simply how awesome your mother was (is!) as a parent, but how acutely aware you are of it.

    Morrison - I started reading it late, and Beloved still haunts me in a bad way. That, and Hardy's Jude the Obscure. The writing is brilliant in both books, but there's only so much we can take in terms of horror.

    Speaking of TV/films vs books, am I the only one who is more traumatised by reading violent passages in books than by watching the corresponding scenes on TV? (I'm thinking of Clockwork Orange or The Birds for instance).

  5. Thank you from the bottom of my librarian's heart! I created a bulletin board at school, not about banned books - because, after all, how do you explain to a young child that people think some books are bad and they don't want you to read it -- but about your Freedom of Choice.

    Your parents have the right to monitor what you choose to read and to help you choose appropriate books. However, they do not have the right to monitor and restrict what others choose to read and have available.

    What your mom did was to help you learn to make good choices for yourself, not just in your choice of books, but in life! Brava, Gigi, and thank you!

  6. I also was a voracious reader, I still am. I read everything including the cereal boxes at breakfast. I read quickly and comprehend it quickly.

    I am sorry to say my children are not readers, they inherited their fathers reading ability. They read but it is very slow so they don't read as much. My daughter has picked up reading more now that she is an adult. I guess all that reading in nursing school, left no time for any other reading.
    Read to your children all the time, each child learns differently, even if yours doesn't read, they may be an auditory learning and need to be read to. Reading opens up the world.

  7. You're going to be a sensational mom, having had such a wonderful mom yourself. I read the books my kids read, too. We discuss them and it helps them in the discussions in school.

    Regarding the snuff film conversation, that brought back memories. A few years ago, my then 13-year-old told me he had "seen" some things on the internet and was upset that he had looked. I explained that curiosity of the opposite sex was normal for a boy his age, but that the girls who were posing in those pictures/videos were being exploited. In addition, they were definitely not what girls his age looked like. He and I opened a dialogue that wouldn't have happened if I'd yelled and screamed like a crazy person!

  8. Your mom is a great mom. Chances are you will be too.

    I read a book [The Birds Christmas Carol] several times. About the fourth time I read it, the main character died at the end. I swear, she never had before. I think kids don't take in what they are not ready for, for the most part anyway.

    Per the earlier comment, I think violence and death on TV is much more "in your face" and bothersome than in a book. I still dislike birds up close, although I love them in the wild. I won't have a bird feeder in my yard, for instance. I saw The Birds about a hundred years ago, and that is why.


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