Give Them a Chance


It’s funny how something pops into your brain and you think, that would make a good blog post.

Today I mailed 100 books to a librarian in Menlo Park. They are old kids’ books that my children read back in the day.  My librarian Facebook friend asked for books for her students to read this summer, and I just happened to be sorting out tubs of books in my garage.

I had offered a short stack to my handy woman’s daughter, who is eleven. Her mom edited the stack down to two books.

“She won’t read those,” she said about the rest.

How does she know that her daughter wouldn’t read those? She is basing it on what her daughter has done or not done in the past. How does she know one of those books wouldn’t have sparked something in her kid?

Years ago, when I taught middle school, I was given a class of remedial students. The class was labeled 8 Low.  I knew I had a bunch of reluctant readers, so every weekend I’d hop on my bike and ride around Omaha to the various garage sales and buy up all their paperback books that I thought the kids might read.

I bought joke books, riddle books, rude books, and spicy books. One in particular by Judy Blume talked about “doing it”. The book was called Forever.

Every kid in that class read one of those books. Many of them read Forever. I had a secret library in the teacher room off of my classroom. The kids could check out books when they had finished their assignment. That library was popular. I had 90 students over the course of a day, plus my study hall kids, who could also check out books from my mini library.

Another teacher tried to cop a book for one of his students, and I said “No way, Jose. Go get your own.”

I knew my kids would return them because I was their teacher. But another kid from another class? Not so sure. They had the real library down the hall, anyway.

On the last day of 8th grade, a boy named Chris from my 8 Low class came up to me and said, “Miss Middleton, I’ll have you know that because of you, I read a whole book for the first time ever. You are to blame, and you will have to live with that on your conscience for the rest of your life.”

He smiled his devilish smile at me, and we both laughed. He was paying me a compliment in the only way he knew how, by making it into a joke.

I’ll bet if I would’ve shown the book to his mom, she would’ve said to me, “He’ll never read it.”

The point being, don’t edit your kids’ lives based on what they have done in the past. Give them a chance to decide for themselves and to grow.

Back in Iowa, years ago, we were visiting from California. After a stressful day, my husband and I bought Chinese take-out for 15 people so that my mom wouldn’t have to cook. When we walked in the door with it, a relative to said to me, “My kids won’t eat that.”

Okay, maybe Chinese in Iowa isn’t as great as what we can get here, but really? How about let us place it on the table and let them see it before you edit and decide for them?

Parents, be careful. My mother used to introduce my older sister to people as the artist and me as the writer. Today I can’t draw anything but stick people. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yes, I can write, because I was told my whole life that I could write. But I can’t draw, because I was told my whole childhood that I couldn’t draw; it was a talent exclusive to my older sister. I was the writer, not the artist.

My mother, the artist, had decided.

Why couldn’t I have been both?

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