You Are My Families

January 1, 2014

The other day I had the joy of helping a mother and her three girls, each with a generous gift certificate.  This is a reading family, a book loving family in which each person clearly has their own unique and evolving relationship with books.

The youngest had just begun reading and she sat at our little table with a stack of books. She read a bit from each book softly, the words barely audible under her breath. She was clearly proud of her new ability and intent on finding a book in her comfort zone, not too difficult but challenging enough to hold her interest. The oldest daughter nearly skipped about the store, creating a huge arm filling stack, eyes sparkling brightly. Mom sought advice and gave the girls good input, clearly putting great thought into the unique needs of each child. The middle child was the most discerning: too long a book wouldn’t do, nor would  a too slim volume work. It couldn’t be too boring, too silly; nothing seemed to suit her. Mom and the other sisters were patient and helpful, making suggestions, reminding her of books she’d read and liked. Finally, when accounts were being tallied, she found, entirely unassisted, a wonderful new graphic novel from The Olympians series. This was perfect she’d decided and all of them, including mom, left happily anticipating their new reads.

While admiring this delightful bunch and thinking about the many other “book families” who frequent our store, I was taken back to a conversation I’d had a few years ago. It was late September in 2011 and Borders was closing. My daughter and I drove to the Mount Kisco store to see if there were any great bargains as well as possible booksellers looking for work. We found a few books whose prices were lower than our wholesalers and a couple items that satisfied my daughter’s ‘need right now’ whims.

We stood in a long line when the cashier looked past the faces of a few people ahead of us. “Hey” he smiled, and while he looked a bit familiar, I couldn’t quite place him. Our turn came to pay and he gave my daughter a huge grin. “My goodness you’ve grown!” he remarked. Seeing the puzzlement on my face he said ” White Plains Borders, you used to come there with your whole family. You’d stay for hours.” Suddenly I recognized him as a very nice and helpful bookseller “And your brother, (he turned to my daughter) well, he must be in college by now … right Mom?”

I swallowed hard as my eyes filled, we’d spent so many happy hours there, browsing, reading, sharing. I began to stumble over my words, always fearful of people’s reactions … “We, um, well, the sad story (I ease them in slowly, it’s like landing a plane) well, we , actually, we lost her brother two years ago. He had a seizure in his sleep.” “Oh no,” the kind bookseller looked stricken “I’m so sorry …” “No, no, ” I replied “I’m so grateful for you remembering us.”

And then, the tears on both sides of the counter breaking down social boundaries, he shared his memory of us as “his family.” “In the store we each had favorite customers and families and you guys were like “my” family. I always loved when you came by, which was a lot, and your kids were so nice, and they loved books, and you were all so happy and always having a good time. And he used to wear them funny pants,” (he looked suddenly apologetic but I laughed, remembering our boy’s penchant for “easy on” clothes) ” … and he’d get excited and kinda jump around,” (yes he did, my joyful kid). And the tears streamed and I thanked this sweet man for the gift of his memory.  He remembered. He’d seen us.

And on this sad and happy transition into a New Year , just to say, to “my families,” I see you.

Happy New Year.

2014

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Elf Resigns! Goes Off Shelf!

December 14, 2012

Elf resigns. Says controlling children with threats is just wrong.

Elf resigns. Says controlling children with threats is just wrong.

Dear Santa,

After working for you in the capacity as Elf on the Shelf for quite some time, it is not without some regret that I resign my position. I will miss my visits to the North Pole but I must say I will be relieved to not have to report misdeeds of children to you each night.
In addition to the wear and tear of such travel, I have discovered a new way of looking at and relating to children that no longer allows me to threaten them into goodness. I’ve discovered that coerced goodness is not goodness at all, but is in fact a dynamic that breeds mistrust, cynicism and deeply interferes with real learning.
Rather than helping the children that depend on me to learn to be good, they are simply learning to appear to be good. That is a huge difference and puts them at risk for doing bad or even dangerous things behind my back.
I really like the kids I live with! Why would I want to have a relationship with them based on fear and mistrust? We are now having great discussions about my thoughts on goodness and theirs. I’m learning so much from these talks too; about them and about myself. Plus I am modeling goodness rather than being a nasty tattletale.
Santa I know how much you love kids, now it’s time to learn to respect them as well. It’s a new era Santa, where adults need to be trusted advisors to children and not behavior police. It makes us all kinder, smarter and happier.
Sorry for the short notice, have a great holiday!
Yours Truly,
Elf off the Shelf