What do the following books have in common? The Red Badge of Courage, 1984, "Julius Caesar," The Grapes of Wrath, Lord of the Flies, The Diary of Anne Frank, Call of the Wild, and Flowers for Algernon?
If you said, "some of the most depressing books ever written," I would agree. Or as my sarcastic older daughter pointed out after I had finished reading her the Jack London some years ago, "Great book, dad. Everyone you care about dies." If you also said, "assigned and recommended reading for the ninth grade class at the school where I taught English in the late 70s," you are also correct. Tough list. I remember a faculty meeting in which we discussed the choices. "Why are we subjecting 14-year-old children to literature in which betrayal, torture, and death are ubiquitous?" someone asked. I didn't have any insight into that question 40 years ago and I don't know what to tell you today. I would go out on a limb and suggest that while you are reading to your kids--you are reading to your kids, aren't you?--that you pick some uplifting books as well. I might include Pride and Prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird, the Harry Potter Series, Tom Jones, and The Phantom Tollbooth in this list.
Make no mistake: In my judgment, every educated adult should read all the books on both lists. Censorship has no place in a free society or on my blog. Nor does ignorance. I'm just musing about ages and stages. Sharing a glass of wine with your 30-year-old daughter makes sense. Opening a bottle for her ninth birthday not so much. Books are one of the greatest joys we can share with our kids. But we have to think about what the kids are ready for and when.
Which brings me--"finally" it could be argued--to my point for this Tuesday morning: don't you find any number of my stories about unhappy families, for want of a better word, "depressing"? Sure, it's important to talk about how to avoid the misery. Nobody wants to live in the home with the adolescent who says, "F*%# you, mom; it's all your fault; I hope you die, you f*%#ing b#%*h." But who wants to read about such sadness week after week? And what about my frequent screeds about how hard it is to raise healthy kids in this toxic culture? "Process addictions are everywhere!" "Watch out for drugs and alcohol on every corner!" "Stay away from violent video games!" I'm not stepping back from these warnings, but wouldn't you like to hear a happy story once is a while?
So here you go: One of my running buddies makes a ton of money. He has explained the process by which he is so well compensated a number of times over the years. Still not sure exactly what he does though. I imagine he provides a service or produces a product of some kind. Maybe something to do with financial services. Or maybe widgets. Honestly, I can't understand a word of it. "For God's sake, Jim, I'm a counselor not a businessman!" I do know that my buddy has a lot of employees and that his favorite thing to do in life is to make them wealthy. "They work hard," he says. "Why wouldn't I want them to do well?" Of course, my buddy does well too.
My buddy also has a daughter. She works at one of his concerns. You know what he pays her? Eight dollars and ten cents an hour. And are you ready for this? She's grateful. "My dad is paying for my private college," she says. "Of course, I'm happy to help out over the summer." I asked her about some of the kids who get late model cars for their 16th birthdays and don't even say thank you to their parents. "Yeah, I don't understand that at all," she said.
To be fair, their lives are not perfect from what I can tell. We all had breakfast at a diner after the run the other day and there was a big argument over who would pick up the check. Ultimately my buddy won the dispute, but the situation was getting a little volatile. (For the chronically irony impaired, let me reiterate that everyone wanting to pay for breakfast is a good problem to have.)
So there you have it. It is possible to bring up healthy, happy, content, appreciative children in this toxic culture. It's not only about having financial security. Although, as my grandmother used to say, "Rich or poor, it's good to have money." This family got along beautifully through economic reversals, health concerns, and loss. They have always worked together for a common goal. They have always been respectful of one another.
I have to wonder: do you think my buddy read The Phantom Tollbooth to his daughter when she was little? I hear it's a good book and that the characters that you care about don't die.