Thursday, May 28, 2015

To be or not to be......

Be who you are and say what you feel,
 because those who mind don't matter, 
and those who matter don't mind.
Dr. Seuss

When I had my first child, I was determined to make her a reader. I come from a family of readers. I had my nose in a book for most of my childhood and adolescence, so I knew from experience the exhilaration that comes from a good book. I lived vicariously through reading, and my curiosity about the world and its inhabitants was fueled by reading about people whose lives were vastly different from mine. I loved reading, and I wanted my kids to love reading as well.

That tiny baby was subjected to books almost as soon as she could breathe. I figured there was no better time to start than before she became mobile and could get away from me. I plunked her down in my lap, and I read out loud. Sometimes I would lay her down beside me on the floor and hold the book above our heads. She would stare at "Go Dog Go" with rapt attention, and wiggle her entire body with excitement. Reading to Erin was a delight. Those days are some of my most treasured memories of motherhood.

As she grew older, I continued to read aloud to her. We were reading chapter books together by the time she was four years old. She loved books as much as I did, and I was thrilled.

My second daughter was born less than two years after the first. I had no reason to believe that she should be parented any differently, so I started the practice of reading with her as well. And it was a bust. She had no interest in hearing the words; she was far more interested in eating the pages. It was a struggle to get her to hold still on my lap, even as a tiny infant, and if I laid her down on the floor and attempted to lay beside her, holding the book above our heads as I'd done with the first, she would roll away. She could roll from back to front by 2 weeks of age. There was no holding her still for something as mundane as a book.

I persevered with my second child, as I was convinced that I could make her love reading as much as I, and her older sister, did. Books were, and are, a window to the world, a peek into lives we would not ourselves live, places we would not get to see, adventures we would not get to have. We could experience all of these things by reading about them. It was almost as good as living them. I wanted her to have what I had, a curiosity about the world around her, and the world far away. I wanted her to love reading, and to experience the joy and sorrow to be found within the pages of a book. More than anything else, I wanted her to crave books, as I did.

Throughout my girls' elementary years, our nightly tradition of reading continued. The second child eventually stopped wiggling long enough to listen, especially if she was snuggled under her covers and attempting to delay sleep. One of our favorite books was "To Kill a Mockingbird", which we read as a family before renting and watching the Gregory Peck movie. I hope my kids never forget that shared experience. It was truly magical, and I believe it laid the roots for my children's acceptance of all humanity, be they black or white, gay or straight. "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.... until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it." Books are one way to climb inside another person's skin, and experience life as he or she lives it.

In spite of all my efforts, my second child never did develop a love of reading. As she grew, she preferred playing with dolls, or playing dress-up, or dancing. Especially dancing. She spent many long hours choreographing dance routines to her favorite music, and she would perform them for us regularly. She loved to dance. She worked hard to develop her talent, eventually performing with a dance group at the Junior Olympics in Des Moines, Iowa, and in a national dance competition in Orlando, Florida. She danced with her high school drill team, and she was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to teach dance to the next generation, passing on her passion. Just like I tried to do with reading.

Even now, as an adult, if she has leisure time, she does not spend it buried in a book. Over the years, I have given her many books as gifts at each holiday and birthday, hoping to rouse in her a desire to read for pleasure. But, alas, it was not to be. She does not love to read.

She can read, certainly, and has occasionally found a book she has enjoyed. But she does not seek out books for pleasure, or entertainment. Music is her passion, and, still, dance. And I have accepted that this is who she is. I do not berate her because she doesn't love what I love. I still gift her with books on occasion, if I find one I think might speak to her. For example, last Christmas I gave her a guidebook to Melbourne, Australia. I knew she would enjoy it, as she was soon to leave for a six month stay Down Under. But it has been several years since I have given her a novel. She isn't a reader. She just isn't.

As a new mother, I had fallen prey to the notion that I could mold and shape my children to be who I thought they should be. And what I learned, after much effort, was that my children came to this world hard-wired to be who they are. They were not blank slates, waiting for me to imprint my hopes and dreams on their little brains. They were people, with unique talents and gifts, and their own personal likes and dislikes. One likes to read, one likes to dance, one likes sports, one likes Shakespeare. And each is magnificent in her (and his) own way. Because they are each who they are supposed to be. Not mini-me's. Not carbon copies of their parents. And that is to be celebrated, not mourned.

My daughter may not like to read, but she loves to dance. And watching her dance is like watching poetry in motion. It is beautiful. She is beautiful. Not in spite of what she isn't, but because of what she is.

As much as I wanted my children to be readers, my mother wanted her children to be religious. To that end, she started teaching us from birth to pray, and to read holy scriptures, and to revere holy things. At least, she attempted to.

She (and my father) took us to church every week, and we attended every church-sponsored activity. She did her level best to hold weekly Family Home Evening, a special night set aside for family religious study. She made multiple serious attempts to get us to sit still as she read to us from the Book of Mormon. Most of those attempts resulted in scoldings and recriminations for wiggly children unable to pay attention to what she considered divinely inspired writings, yet still she persevered. She taught us to fast monthly, and to pay fast offerings, and to tithe ten percent of our income. She encouraged my seven brothers to make it a goal to serve a church mission, and she taught all of us to look toward the temple as the place where we would be sealed for eternity to our chosen spouse. My mother loved the church, and she wanted us to love it, too.

My mom believed wholeheartedly in the scriptural admonition to train up a child in the way he should go, believing that when he is old, he will not depart from it. She believed, as a prophet had said, that no success could compensate for failure in the home, equating failure in the home with children who did not embrace the gospel as she herself did. She loved church as much as I loved reading, and she wanted to pass that love on to her children. It was more than a duty to her; it was her life, and she wanted to share it with her beloved offspring.

Unfortunately, for my mom, she has had about as much luck teaching all of us to love church as I did teaching my daughter to love reading. As it stands now, 50% of her children are still practicing Mormons. I am one of those who is not.

One of my brothers left the church as a teenager, only to return several years later. He has since been a devoted attendee, bringing much joy and rejoicing to my mother.

Three of my brothers left the church in their young adult years, and have not returned. Their lack of devotion to religion has grieved my mother to the depths of her soul. I know she mourns this loss, as she has shared her grief with me over the years.

And  me? What became of me, my mother's only daughter?

After 49 years of attempting to forge a religious identity, I found that it was not to be. I could not, can not, be religious. I am not religious. Much to my mother's dismay, I do not revere holy things. I do not like church, and I do not feel an affinity for spiritual matters.

I believed, for most of my life, that how I felt about religion and church was inconsequential. It didn't matter if I didn't like it. The church was True, with a capital T. So I didn't see that there was a choice about participation. It was True; I was flawed. So I persevered. I did all of the things my mother had taught me, and I stayed the course. I did my best to be a model Mormon, believing that if I did so, the sure knowledge that it was True would come, in time. My mom believed it was True, so I believed it was True.

Until the day I knew it wasn't.

And I realized that my feelings over the years had been valid, and that it was okay for me to be secular. That being secular was a bonafide option. That in spite of my mother's best efforts, she could not turn me into a believer, just as I could not turn my daughter into a reader.

I discovered that I am decidedly, contentedly, happily secular. My discovery has not pleased my mother. She does not see religiosity as an individual character trait. Religion, to her, is for everyone. Like it or not.

I'm not sure Dr. Seuss got it right. My mother minds, and my mother matters. And neither of those two things is ever likely to change.

I know my mother loves me. I do. I know this. But I also know that my mother mourns what I am not. I wish instead that she could celebrate what I am.

Unfortunately, her religious beliefs do not make room for such a celebration. So maybe I can be the example for her this time around. I can love her wholeheartedly, unabashedly, unconditionally, even though she is a believer.

She is, after all, also a reader. That counts for something.