I was going to write this last night, but a fire broke out in Shell Ridge Open Space. I got word, just as my husband and son and I were about to leave to go out to have dinner together. We were going to celebrate the end of sixth grade and his first year at middle school.
He was also to be leaving on a week-long trip to San Diego this morning. In fact, he and his father just left for the airport. I felt terrible about missing time with him last night, but it’s my job now, as editor of Walnut Creek Patch, to go out and cover such events and get the news out as quickly as possible to residents of this community.
My son wasn’t upset with me or disappointed. He and his dad had a nice time, and he had a good time going across the street and chatting with our our neighbors, a young man and his wife and the young man’s mom and her new boyfriend. This woman lost her husband last year to a range of illnesses related to kidney disease. He had been ill for a long time, and this woman and her children had helped look after him. The young man has been showing my son skateboard tricks, ones he enjoyed doing as a kid, and now my son is looking forward to going to San Diego, where his aunt has promised to buy him a new skateboard.
I’m proud of the way my son has become friendly and comfortable with our neighbors and other adults. He’s an only child, so he’s only around adults at home. He has one good friend who lives a block away, and this boy has been a regular visitor after school and on weekends. But more recently, the two of them had some kind of disagreement and are taking a break from each other.
My son is no longer participating in organized sports. That includes soccer. His tastes have become more eclectic in sports and include golf, skateboarding, rock climbing, and wrestling. His tastes have become more idiosyncratic in other things as well, primarily reading. And, actually it is this passion for reading that prompted me to want write about a proud mom moment in the first place.
Last Friday night, I was not working. Rather, my son and I watched a movie together, the 1962 film version of To Kill a Mockingbird. He wanted to see it, because he had just finished reading the book. So, we watched the movie, and I teased him about venturing into the world of black and white cinema, but he agreed that this movie could have only been made in black and white. We both became teary-eyed at certain moments, notably the first time you see Boo Radley (a young Robert Duvall) step out of the shadows. He’s a gentle figure, misunderstood as the crazy monster down the street, but he’s just rescued Scout’s big brother Jem from the vengeance-seeking Bob Ewell.
After finishing the movie, my son exclaimed over and over again how great it was, and how great the book was. “I just want to re-read it and go back to that world.”
He’s talking about the world of a small southern town, in the early 1930s. In some ways, Scout and Jem enjoyed the idyllic unstructured world of American childhood that no longer exists in our hyper-structured, multi-tasking, high tech lives.
There was no organized kids’ activities back then, at least in this town. Atticus Finch, a hard-working but low-paid lawyer, probably couldn’t have afforded to send his kids to a camp anyway. So his son and daughter wander around town all summer, making up games and getting into mischief. They also learn some difficult lessons about the adult world–how it’s not so nice andfilled with racial segregation, prejudice, false rape allegations, ignorance, poverty, attempted lynchings and unjust jury verdicts.
But that’s the world my son wanted to dive back into, courtesy of this book. He wanted to live, in his mind, within the gentle pace of a small Depression-era southern town, where bad things happened but kids roamed free and learned important lessons about life.
My proud mom moment came when he spoke of a book as a vehicle for transporting him to a rich other world, one that is fiction but that’s based on true life.
To me, it showed that he had become a reader in the best sense of the word. He has also been reading or trying to read other classic and contemporary adult books. Some intrigue him because they have been on various banned lists: To Kill a Mockingbird was one, The Catcher in the Rye was another.
He’s also become a fan of Cormac McCarthy, one of America’s great living novelists. His choice of No Country for Old Men prompted an admonishment from a teacher who told him she didn’t think it was “appropriate” for his age. Yes, this book, which was made in the Academy Award-winning film, is filled with violence and dark themes. My son loved it, and I don’t think it was because of the violence. He kept talking about McCarthy’s spare language and method of dialogue. He has been quoting lines from the scene in which that “prophet of doom” Anton Chigurh offers a gas station attendant the chance to win–or lose–everything with a coin toss.
His teacher also wondered if my son was choosing books above his reading level, because he didn’t always score high marks on quizzes generated by a software reading program, Accelerated Reader, that she was using in class. Maybe, she suggested, he didn’t quite comprehend the books as well as he could because they were too hard for him.
I have to say I wasn’t convinced that the results of these software program comprehension quizzes revealed much of anything To me, his true measure as a reader was the love he has expressed for the texts, and his curiosity about trying out challenging books, supposedly above his reading level.
I remember the summer between 7th and 8th grade, trying to read William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. I don’t remember why I chose it, other than hearing that it was one of those great books one is supposed to read. It was a long, tough-going book, with 1840s British language and complex sentences that an editor today might simplify for clarity. I’m sure I didn’t understand some of what I was reading, certainly some of the vocabulary, and I actually didn’t finish it. But I remember where I was reading it–on a summer houseboat trip to the Delta–and I remember being transported to that world of 1840s English society.
My son didn’t prove himself to be a straight-A super student this year, and maybe we wonder–as parents start to wonder now so early about these things–whether he will be UC material.
I don’t know. Maybe I should care, but I don’t.
He got his first official job this year, working in the cafeteria at school. He got the job after my husband was laid off; he said he was concerned about saving us some money, and he would be earning a free lunch for helping to hand out fruit and other food in the cafeteria line. He then gave up the job after learning about another kid whose family was financially hurting much more than us. He gave the job to that kid.
And, just yesterday, we were walking along Main Street after I picked him up from school. We were approached by a young woman who was seeking donations for the Human Rights Campaign, which works for equal rights for gays, lesbians, and transgender people. He wanted us to donate. After I set up an automatic payment through my credit card, my son announced that he wanted to pay half.
Another proud mom moment. I think I’ll keep him.