Friday, January 28, 2005

the kindness of strangers

A friend of a friend, someone I have never met, wants to buy us Parenting Magazine as a gift. My friend assures me she's just a nice person, that she wants to help. This is a very kind gesture. I have never looked at a Parenting Magazine. I have no idea what it is like, though I suspect it is somewhat faithfully mainstream.

I think about the magazines that I subscribe to now, things like Poets and Writers and The Sun, and I can't see any reason why I wouldn't be able to gather as much information about parenting through those. Today, we are so literal, so specialized, so compartmentalized. We cut out gym classes, cut music programs – extraneous subjects where one ostensibly learns about physical fitness and playing the oboe. Doctors know about birth, women do not. If you want to learn about parenting, read a parenting magazine. The relational aspect of life (that IS life) opened to me only in college. I still remember the elation I felt when I realized that what I was studying in art appreciation and philosophy was influenced by what was going on at those times in political history and vice versa, that even my ability to study from a certain pool of languages spoke to a context, what communities surrounded me historically and geographically. Everything was related! I'd found the web, and it was no small secret.

The finer the web, the better. I learn from the details. I've always been more interested in learning history, for example, from personal accounts and from literature – even though it's "fiction" than from textbooks and newspapers. Writing from the personal, the particular offers something other accounts can't. The poet Anna Akhmatova was waiting outside the prison in Leningrad day after day during the years of Stalin's Russia for word of her husband and son. She was there in the bitter cold with hundreds of others when someone recognized her. "Can you describe this?" the woman asked her. "I can," she answered and went home and wrote her poem "Requiem." The bigger picture is fine, but it's big and written by men and talks about dropping bombs at coordinates on a map, as if not blasting into hundreds or thousands of individual lives. Don't talk to me of battlefields, tell me about kitchen tables. I had a boyfriend once who was all about the big picture. "You know what today is the anniversary of, don't you?" he asked me once. I thought carefully. It was December 7th. "Is this the day John Lennon was shot?" I tried. He was completely incredulous. How could I have mistaken December 7th – the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor, for the day (December 8th) one person died!?

How many gunshots or bomb blasts count as memorable? How many lives need to end before it makes "history?"

If music class is for oboe lessons, libraries are for books, and really isn't our attitude that there is the internet for that, isn't there? Salinas, a city about 20 miles east of us is, like every other city these days, in financial crisis. Because of a proposition on the ballot last November that failed to pass a half-cent tax hike, they've decided to close their three libraries. I find this horrifying. I'm not alone. I'm working on a radio story about it, and my idea was to talk to kids and hear what they had to say about libraries and books. I spent a very educational day with second graders nodding into my microphone and supplying me with tamale recipes, in addition to excitedly showing me the books they liked best. When I asked one little boy if he ever went to the library with his mom and dad he told me "They won't let me." "Won't let you?" I probed. "How come?" "They are so busy. They're just busy every day." In that moment, I felt a physical pain in my chest. A tiny window to this child's world opened just a crack, and through it a flood of light escaped.

Could this feeling I had be attached to an instinct for what is right and true? Could I know something already about parenting? I want to believe that I learn all the time and that I will know what is right for my child without reading every word from the "experts". I am so very analytical already. It makes me leery of targeted magazines. Teaching, for example, has never been the same after studying it in graduate school. Too much information. Can't just enjoy it anymore. And so in the simple offer of a magazine, I am caught between the genuine and unsolicited kindness of a stranger and what else I hope is true.


Molicious said...

I never really thought those child magazines did any good. I still don't. Sure they have helpful tips on how NOT to beat your child while he/she throws a tantrum in the grocery store and so on. But I have always thought the best thing a parent can do for a child is to read to him. I was read to constantly as a child and I have grown up with a great love of reading. So I am saddened that those libraries are closing. I can only hope the children's parents will slow down for a few minutes and read to them. That would probably mean more than anything to them.

Anonymous said...

My father read me The Hobbit when I was a little girl. It made a huge impression on me, especially because he made up voices and we did them together. "What's itsssss got in itsssssss pocketsssssss....?"

We still talk in our Gollum voices sometimes.


Kitty said...

I must have been read to as a child, but honestly I have no big memories of it. I remember learning to read and trying to read to my mother though. and I remember her making columns of words in english and spanish and i had to match them up.

Anonymous said...

I am hoping you will share your story.
sermon on kindness

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