Monday, August 29, 2011

Tom Sawyer and Mary Lennox

I don't consider myself a heliocopter parent (smugly so, I might add), and then I notice myself doing things like checking the 5th-grade website five times a day (still not updated for the new week) (I HATE that). In my defense I'll insist that I'm just curious and I have NO INTENTION of discussing the contents/ activities with either my fifth grader or his teacher.

(Total lie, BTW. I'll "discuss" it with Si, and the conversation will go something like this:

Me: Hey, I noticed that you guys are reading ___.
Si: (crickets chirping)
Me: (slightly aggrieved whisper) Si. That was kind of a question.
Si: What? Oh. Yeah, we are.
Me: And what do you think? Do you like it?
Si: (shrugs) Mm hmm.
Me: (kicking self for asking a yes-or-no question) What's it about?
Si: Um. This guy does this thing, and then he has a dog, and then he does something, I don't remember what, and then he does this other thing. He rides the bus, I think.
Me: Oh. What's your favorite part?
Si: (raising his face to the ceiling and speaking in a just-end-this-conversation-NOW monotone): I like it ALLLLL.

Meanwhile, I ask Helen on the third day of school what she did in class today (this is after we reviewed in detail all the important parts of the day, such as recess, the other recess, lunch, and specials). She sighs noisily and says, "We just did the USUAL STUFF, MOM."

In summary: I have NO BLOODY IDEA what either of my children are doing in school. Hence my obsessive refreshing of the 5th grade website.

This is one reason I like reading to them at the end of the day so much. At least that's one thing that's going into their brains that I'm involved in. Also, I've said this before, but reading kids' books is one of the main reasons I had kids. As soon as Si reaches a non-read-aloud-to-age--like, gasp, 11--I'm going to have to insist that he start reproducing, so that by the time Helen is too old to read to, I'll have a read-aloud partner again. Although the catch will be that I'll have to read a bunch of the same books instead of all new material. Already I'm on reread #2 of The Secret Garden--there could be worse books to reread twice in two years, of course, but I find myself throwing longing glances at Pippi Longstocking and the Moomintroll books.

Si and I are reading Tom Sawyer, and we're both more-or-less enjoying it. This is one of those books that I wanted to read less because I lovity-loved it as a child (I didn't, and I still don't--Tom is kind of vain and self-aggrandizing, and the book is a little heavy on the adult-directed cultural commentary for either my taste or Si's) than because it's an Essential Book. You might think, from this statement, that I'm a canon-driven, reading-is-good-for-your-character kind of pedant, and, well, you'd be right. In my defense, I'm doing it because someone has to. His school favors dreary, good-for-you Cultural Context/ Sensitivity Training books, and he favors series. Both of these are fine, but they tend to omit or elide certain aspects of real life. Such as: one of the things I like about Tom Sawyer this time around is that it shows girls and boys living in entirely separate, mutually antagonistic worlds. Sure, Tom likes Becky Thatcher (that part is kind of weird, actually), but they aren't friends. Almost every other kid book in the world is based on a dual girl-and-boy hero/heroine set, and they're usually best pals and completely support each other. Which is a nice model. It also doesn't exist for kids over the age of 6, as far as I can tell.

Also, Tom's friends are both his bosom pals and...kind of based on opportunistic serendipity. They aren't friends because they really understand each other, or have long heart-to-heart conversations, or show up on the doorstep bearing comic books and bubblegum when the other guy is sick. No, they're friends because they happen to be in the same place at the same time and like to play the same things. Or they're friends because they totally envy the other guy's set-up (see Tom's affection for Huck: is it Huck he likes, or the fact that Huck doesn't have to go to school or bed or church? And does he even get Huck? I don't think he does. Camping out on the island with stolen food is a lark for Tom but pretty SOP for Huck, and it's not at all clear that Tom understands that this is what Huck's life is like all the time.) But none of this stuff matters: they're friends, or buddies, or whatever, and that's all they need. Whenever I stare at Si's roster of hero-worship friends, neighborhood pals, baseball buddies and other opportunistic associations and wonder what the hell friendship even means for him, it helps to remember Tom Sawyer.

1 comment:

Kate/High Altitude Gardening said...

*Big Grin* I recall those days with my own daughter. It's like a tooth extraction, getting them to pontificate about anything happening outside of recess. Great post.