October 11th, 2008

My five parenting books

Cookie magazine, a ultra-yuppie parenting magazine for those who have trouble deciding between Rome and Venice when it comes to a quick weekend getaway, has featured several writers talking about the books that they find most influential or filled with the best advice in regards to parenting.

I liked the idea. So I stole it.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
by Dave Eggers

I tend to rail on Eggers often, usually when he does goofy things or tries to be too cute. He’s a fantastic writer, though, and while the title to his first real breakout novel is a little too hyperbolic for most, it’s partially true. Well, in one sense, it is completely true it’s heartbreaking, at times. It’s a memoir, of sorts, novelized and made literary, the story of Eggers after being left motherless in his 20s, left to raise his brother, trying to make a life on his own while still serving as a guardian to a much smaller, much more impressionable kid.

And that might be what I most identify with. I’ll admit – there are still times when I assume past enjoyments are off limits, that with Sierra around I can no longer participate in the moving forward of life outside of the home. It’s ridiculous, of course, and I’m reminded of that with AHWOSG; here’s a guy who was able to balance both, though in a way that led to complete anxiety over the added responsibility. I read portions of it now and understand it in a way I never did before.

Housekeeping
by Marilynne Robinson

Housekeeping isn’t my favorite of Robinson’s novels, but it’s the one that had more of an impact, if only through coincidental accompaniment. In the weeks after Sierra was born, I would spend a lot of time rocking her to sleep. Long after she was out, I would continue to rock, back and forth, back and forth, simply holding her and feeling her warmth and weight and being amazed that she was real; a fully conscious part of our lives, not going anywhere any time soon.

Part of it also was that she would wake up if I laid her down. She was a very light sleeper, and I would take careful steps to ensure she was asleep for real.

So I read. A lot. During these nightly vigils, I would employ a touchy, temperamental book light or, on days when that was simply not working, I would leave the door open a crack and read by the light of the hallway. And more than any other book, Housekeeping best represents this period in our life. The dark, haunting story and beautiful characters were only accentuated by reading in this dim state, as if the world was turned down a notch in order to better serve the atmosphere of the prose. And I still remember it, completely, as if I was still reading it, as if I was still holding her and rocking her to sleep.

Savage Inequalities
by Jonathan Kozol

There’s no touching story behind the influence of Savage Inequalities; it’s a book about the declining education system in low-income areas throughout the United States. As a education major and once-licensed teacher, it was required reading for those of us who really thought the position carried with it the ability to change lives, if only given the chance. While I certainly still believe education is important, the Midwestern ideals and politics therein – and my own personal inability to connect with the job – drove me from the profession enough to cast a wary eye in it’s direction.

However, I still feel strongly about how best to tackle problems in education. Higher pay should lead to a higher percentage of potential teachers, then leading to a better pool from which to choose. Better facilities and equipment lead to a more peaceful learning environment. And giving students a chance – truly believing that even the worst kid can turn into something great with the right tools and the right attitude – is essential in creating tomorrow’s leaders.

I think if Savage Inequalities whenever I consider the environment and the tools we give Sierra. The life we help provide has just as much bearing on her future personality and success as her own innate feelings and characteristics. Above everything, it would be unfair to her if we, as loving parents who want the world for her, thought otherwise.

The Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint Exupéry

There’s not a lot to say about The Little Prince that sums up it’s importance better than, “We read this to her before she was born.”

From my What I’ve Been Reading post, May 2007:

I finished a second book this past month,– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. I didn’t just read it to myself. I read it out loud, to Kerrie. And, additionally, to little Baby Vilhauer. It, technically, is the first book that Baby Vilhauer has ever been exposed to, through my voice, through the womb. And even without that emotional tie, The Little Prince is easily the best book I read this month. It’s touching and filled with life lessons. And, it’s brilliantly written, easy enough for a young person, complex and thoughtful enough for even the most hardened cynic.

A children’s book that actually taught me something. How wonderful is that?

“People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babblings in Peed Onk”
by Lorrie Moore

Once you’ve become a parent – once you’ve laid eyes on your first child, held her, mentally prepared for her future and lined up all of the stars in order to give her the best chance at life – you become aware of a nagging feeling of uncertainty. Of what you would do in the event that your child becomes sick, goes through a time of crisis and spends an extended time at the hospital, leaving you unsure whether or not you’ll lose her. It frightens me. I hear stories of children with cancer and I simply can’t imagine how something similar would tear my heart apart, how I would be ill-equipped to continue after losing something so precious, something I’ve learned to love without abandon.

Lorrie Moore’s story about a parent dealing with the oddities and complexities of the pediatric oncology department is both heartwarming and frightening – heartwarming in that it’s funny and optimistic and, in the end, a happy story; frightening in that it’s about children with cancer, one of the most tragic subjects I can think of. I think of this story often. I can’t help it. It both shapes my fear and my optimism. And, it’s beautiful. It’s a great story, even without the context of children.

Category: Books, Literature, Sierra


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