When my children were babies I picked them up every time they cried, despite all the dire warnings. I buy my kids things that they have not earned. And I often do things for them they could easily do for themselves – sometimes even their chores. So, I suppose some people would say my kids are spoiled, but I disagree. By definition, spoiled means ruined. And I can assure that you my children are not ruined. In fact, I would argue that these extravagances are not only not spoiling my children, they are actually helping them to become the best version of themselves.
We as parents take great pride in our children’s accomplishments. And as American’s we have a particular admiration for independence and hard work. We hold in high esteem the “self-made” man, and we want our children to possess the qualities we believe made this country great. Maybe this is the reason this quote by Anne Landers has been circulating around the Internet so much recently:
It’s not what you do for your children but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.
Pshhhhst. As if the entire point of raising children is to make them independent, self-sufficient human beings. It’s not that those are bad qualities in a person. In fact they are essential. But I certainly don’t think they are the supreme measure of success. What about compassion? What about kindness? What about generosity? In fact, I’d say a better motto might be: It’s not what you teach your children to do for themselves, but what you teach them to do for others that will make them successful (and good) human beings.
But how do you teach generosity, kindness, and self-sacrifice? You model it. This is not to say that I am the perfect model. In fact, I struggle daily with my own selfishness. But my own parents were and continue to be so incredibly generous in every way, that I am at least aware that there is a better way, and I want to teach it to my own children. Here are the ways I “spoil” my kids for the sake of generosity.
I BUY THEM THINGS THAT THEY HAVE NOT EARNED.
I remember once when I was in high school and my mother took me shopping. On the way home that evening, it suddenly dawned on my how selfless she was. This was by no means the first time my mother had spent a day out with me like this, but as we drove home and she chattered excitedly about how cute my new boots were and about all the places I could wear my new outfits, it occurred to me that she hadn’t spent a dime on herself. She was absolutely delighted to have spent the entire day walking around the mall, waiting outside dressing rooms, and spending money on clothes all for me. I don’t even remember exactly what we bought or how many things. I don’t think that mattered. But I do remember being suddenly and utterly awed by my mother’s generosity – not because she spent a fortune (I’m sure she didn’t), but because she was just as happy to spend her money on me as she would have been on herself. In fact, happier.
So, yeah. I do the same for my kids. Not all the time and certainly not whatever they want. But I don’t always make them wait for a special occasion or until they’ve saved up their own money to buy them nice things. Recently Charming Mary wanted a record player. Apparently in this age of digital downloads, record players have suddenly become very hip. It was shortly after Christmas – not the time of year one usually buys gifts. But I did. For no reason other than the fact that she wanted it, and I wanted to do something to please her. And please her it did. She was completely delighted and extremely grateful. (And as an aside, I might add that the record play has been transformative, improving her taste in music and inspiring her to reorganize her room.) Of course I could have made her wait and save her money, maybe do some extra chores, to earn her record player. There are certainly valuable lessons to be learned from that kind discipline – patience, hard-work, frugality – and those lessons should be taught. But so should lessons of unearned generosity and kindness for the sake of kindness. That lesson was certainly worth the price of a record player.
I DO THINGS FOR THEM THEY COULD DO FOR THEMSELVES.
I make my kids’ beds. Well, not usually, but for Lent this year I’m doing it. I also sometimes offer to do their farm chores if they have friends over or if they are in the middle of a good book. I fix them snacks that they could easily fix for themselves and, while they know how to do their own laundry, I often do it for them. Why? Because I want them to be the kind of people who help other people. As parents we want kids have to learn to be responsible – even when it’s hard. But sometimes in our eagerness to make kids responsible, we neglect to make them kind, flexible, or compassionate. Rigid rules about who does which chores and inflexible schedules not only build resentment, but they also run the risk of building a kind of pride ,and they foster a notion that we shouldn’t help those we presume are perfectly capable of helping themselves.
My parents have always seemed to derive a real sense of pleasure from doing things for us. Even today my father goes out of his way to pick up my kids from school to save me a trip. I don’t wait on my kids hand and foot. But I do help them – even when they don’t need it. Because the truth is, they rarely need it. But I want them to see that helping others is a kindness that doesn’t have to wait until the need arises. Helping others can just be a way to make someone else’s day a little easier or a little brighter.
I LAVISH AFFECTION ON THEM
When my kids were babies, I heard all the dire warning about my children manipulating me with their tears. I was warned that they would never be able to sleep alone or self-soothe. I was told they would control my life. Meh. I picked them up anyway. We let them sleep in our bed when they got scared. And I carried them way past the age when they could walk on their own. (all just like my parents did for us) Well, they are all big now. And no one wants to sleep in our bed or be carried around, and they never cry to get their way. Those years when they were little were a vapor. I am so glad I rarely missed a chance to cuddle or comfort. And I am convinced that their own sunny and compassionate personalities were formed, in part, by a childhood of extravagant love.
THEY ARE THE CENTER OF MY UNIVERSE.
Next to God, that is. And my husband. Actually, alongside my husband. That’s how we want it. We’ve heard all the marital advice about not letting your kids come between you, but we think it’s silly. Sure we need to make time for us and we do. But it was our love that created them. Giving more of our love to them does not drive us apart. It brings us closer. It’s not us against them. Our family is one unit. And our love doesn’t divide. It multiplies. When we were first married, many well-meaning people told us that we should put each other first. Well, who says anyone has to be first? Our policy has always been to put the person first who is neediest in the moment. When they were little, it was usually one of them (or all of them at once). But sometimes it’s me. Or Charming Hal. The point is that I want every person in my family to feel as if he or she is most important person on earth to me. The current wisdom is that kids need to learn they aren’t the center of the universe. I’m not worried. The universe will make that pretty clear as soon as they walk out the front door. But I do want them to think they are the center of our universe because our love for them should give them a glimpse of the love their Heavenly Father bears for them. And He loves them with a love that is completely self-giving and all encompassing. He does not worry about sending us the wrong message about us own importance. And it’s a good thing because the cross sends a pretty strong message that God thinks we are a big deal. He is capable of loving each of us as if we are the most important person in the universe.
So, there it is. My dirty little secret. I spoil my children. But the thing is, I don’t think I’m the only one. If fact, most parents I know are just as generous and helpful with their own kids. However, thanks to Facebook and Pinterest and 24/7 info-tainment, we are constantly reminded of all the ways we can screw up our kids. It seems like a lot of the advice we are getting warns us not to over-indulge them, coddle them, or make them think they are too important. Yes, there is some great wisdom in all of that advice, but I must have missed the posts, pins, and articles about teaching kindness, generosity, and self-giving. The funny thing is, for most parents, those things are the easiest things to teach because they just come naturally.
It seems like every year Lent sneaks ups on me. I know it’s coming, yet I still find myself scrambling at the last minute to find something to read and to think of something meaningful to do or not do. Not this year. This year I think I’ve got a game plan – or at least the beginnings of one.
My children on the other hand, are a different story. I realized the profound shallowness of one of my chidren’s Lenten preparation when I heard her say, “I’m glad it’s almost Lent, I need to get in shape.” It dawned on me then that I wasn’t the only one in the family who needed to prepare in order to prepare for the resurrection of our Lord. So, to help my children get beyond just giving up sweets (and shedding a few lbs) I’ve compiled a list of ideas for teenagers. For those of you who have managed to raise kids who are free from the trappings of this world and whose idea of reasonable Lenten disciplines are horse hair shirts and sleeping without a blanket, I applaud you. I’d love to know the secret, but there’s probably no need for you to keep reading. But my children are a delightful mix of worldliness and would-be saints – who listen to pop music, own cell phones, and think leggings are pants. Here are some things I’m going to suggest they prayerfully consider giving up and taking on for Lent…
LEARN TO PRAY BETTER
Prayer is the key to holiness and to growing closer to God. It should be as important to us as oxygen. And yet it’s so easy to forget to pray or to get distracted at prayer. Having a prayer system can help. Here are some of my favorite ways to add prayer to my day or to make my prayers more meaningful.
- The ACTS prayer – This is a way to organize prayer so we don’t spend to whole time just listing the things we want from God. The ACTS prayer involves praying first Adoration, then Confession, next Thanksgiving, and finally Supplication.
- Aspirations – These are short, silent prayers offered up anytime and anyplace - Jesus, I love you. Lord, have Mercy. Jesus, I believe. Help me with my unbelief. Mother Mary, prayer for us. Any small way that we can turn our hearts and minds to the Lord throughout the day are pleasing to Him and can help us grow in holiness.
- Keeping a prayer journal - It’s easy to say, “I’m going to pray for Brittany.” Or “I’m going to be more thankful.” But as we all know, easier said than prayed. I’m going to encourage my children to write down their prayer intentions and blessings. As any seasoned prayer knows, writing down prayers not only helps us remember what to pray, but allows us to look back later and see how God as worked in our lives.
BEFRIEND THE FRIENDLESS
Every time I pray the third sorrowful mystery of the rosary (the crowning with thorns), I ask Jesus to help my children and me to remember the outcast and the bullied. I realize that our Lord suffered much more than bullying, but still for the sake of His suffering, I hope that my children (and I) will make an effort to relieve the suffering of someone else being mocked, ridiculed, or forgotten. A kind word, a smile, or a “how’s it going?” might mean the world to someone who feels invisible most of the time. I hope this Lenten season my children will invite a loner to sit with them at lunch, compliment a kid who others barely notice, or is some way make a special effort at kindness.
LISTEN TO CHRISTIAN MUSIC
I’m not gonna lie. I’m not a huge fan of contemporary Christian music. I dislike it for the same reason I dislike most Kelly Clarkson or One Direction songs. There’s nothing wrong with them. They just aren’t my thing. But they are a darn site better than most of the vile, brainless junk on pop radio. Blogger,Matt Walsh, makes a great case that pop music isn’t only immoral, it’s also making us stupid. Lent is a great time for all of us to cleanse our hearts and minds. While I do monitor what my kids listen to, totally blocking out the world isn’t really an option. But I am asking my children to take on more Christian music this Lenten season.
It’s tempting to see Lent an excellent time for the kids to kick some bad habits or to take on a few more household chores. Ya know, make a few sacrifices. They could pledge to keep their rooms clean for the entire 40 days of Lent or to quit leaving their junk in the car. After all, why not kill two birds with one religious stone. But that’s not really the point of Lent, so I refrain from asking my kids to do the things I think they ought to do for Lent. But I do encourage them to think of new and sacrificial ways to serve their family, friends, church, or community. And cleaning their own trash out of the car wouldn’t kill them.
SHOW SOME GRATITUDE
Again, I’m not trying to turn Lent into my personal to-do list for my kids, but I’d like to see them write more thank you notes. Thank you notes are a concrete way to express gratitude, often to someone who isn’t expecting it – a former teacher, an aging relative, an admired adult. One thank you note a week during Lent is a modest, but meaningful goal. And it has the power to touch the lives of both the sender and the receiver.
PUT DOWN YOUR PHONE
This one is pretty obvious. Lot’s of young people probably quit or limit social media for Lent. That’s great. I’m not asking my kids to give up all social media. And I don’t want them to give it up just to be able to say they gave up something in the Lent. I want them to make better use of their time in general. By limiting social media, they will have more time for prayer, spiritual reading, or just being quiet before God. What better way to grow closer to Him? How much should they limit? I think I’ll leave that up to each of them. My prayer is that they will make space for God.
COVER YOUR MIRROR
Apparently, this is an idea that is taking hold this Lenten season. Wow! I admire any young lady who can go a month without looking in the mirror. For those who aren’t quite ready to go to that extreme, I suggest looking in the mirror less – say only in the morning before leaving the house and not again the rest of the day.
FREE YOURSELF FROM SELFIES
Like looking too much in the mirror, the paradox of the selfies is that they are vain both pride (Hey! Look at me!) and their insecurity (Please, please, look at me). Spending 40 days not being overly concerned about what others think sounds like a great way to develop spiritually.
READ GOOD BOOKS
Obviously spiritual reading – the Bible, the lives of the Saints, stories from the mission field are a powerful addition to anyone’s Lenten disciplines, but I’d also like to see my children read some classic literature during Lent. I know. I know. Lent is not about getting them to do what I want them to do, but developing a taste for literature that draws our senses to what is true and beautiful is a worthwhile pursuit any time of the year. Why not make Lent a time to let God develop in us a taste for what is lovely and true in literature instead of what is ugly and common and popular. Haley who blogs at Carrots for Michaelmas suggests 10 Book to Read With Your Daughter So She Doesn’t Turn Out Like That Horrid Girl From Twilight.
IF YOU CAN’T SAY ANYTHING NICE, DON’T SAY ANYTHING AT ALL
Of course we should always avoid gossip and unkind talk, but sometimes we forget that this rule applies even when it’s people we don’t know. For some reason we feel totally free to make catty remarks about a stranger’s outfit or a celebrity’s weight. After all, we don’t know them and they don’t know us. What can it hurt? But poison is poison. Why put it out there?
I’m not sure which, if any, of the things on this list my children will choose. The point is not for them to make themselves miserable or the “accomplish” some Lenten chores. But Lent is a time set apart. Our lives should be different during these days to remind us that because of Him our lives are different. We are different. Yes, we are called to go with Christ into the desert. But if we come out smug in our own spiritual toughness (and 5 lbs thinner), we’ve missed the point. We go into the desert to be with our Lord. We do this through prayer but also by being willing to shed those things which we hold dear but that might (or might not) keep us from loving Him fully.
As a parent it is my job to guide my children to choose meaningful Lenten practices. It’s a big job. The grace’s offered to us during this time are boundless, and I don’t want my kids to miss out. Hey! I just thought of one more thing to add to my Lenten journey – praying for my children’s Lenten journey.
Yesterday I posted a little about YPS, today I wrote an entire post about it over at my other blog. Check it out!
Originally posted on Charming Farming:
Well, that is everyone except me. The sudden onset of warm weather and the realization of impending swimsuit season forced me to face a difficult reality. Charming Friends, I suffer from YPS. Yoga Pants Syndrome is a serious condition that affects millions of women each year. YPS primarily effects women over the age of 30. School teachers, stay-at-home moms, and women whose jobs are affected by the weather are most prone to YPS; however, it can strike at any age regardless of occupation. This heartbreaking problem is caused by wearing yoga pants, (not the same pair) instead of actual clothing day after day during snowy or wintry weather.
While experts aren’t entirely sure about the origins of YPS, (some believe it is a mutation of a now nearly eradicated condition known as VWUS,- Velour Warm-Up Syndrome) there are a number of factors known to contribute to YPS.
- Owning multiple pairs of yoga pants
- Frequent baking
- Failure to adjust exercise levels to compensate for baking
- Netflix or Amazon movie marathons
Today is the day! Seven Posts in Seven Days! When I read about Jen Fulwiler’s link up extravaganza, I was so excited! My blogging has been a bit sluggish lately, and I’m sure this seven day link-a-thon will be just what I need to get going. But the thing is, I’m not going. At least not on blog posts, at least not yet.
My weekend did not exactly go as I had envisioned it. After giving my family the heads up about my need for some one on one time with my computer, I had high expectations for a little ME time. (Their blank stares should have tipped me off.) In my mind I would spend the better part of the weekend indoors reading and writing, with the only the faint sounds of my children playing outside and the soft tapping of my fingers flying across my keyboard to keep me company. I envisioned take out food and and my husband peeking his head into the bedroom door every few hours to say, “How’s it going, Hon? Can I get you anything?” It was a nice dream.
But instead my weekend, as usual, was not my own. (If only I could have seen that coming.) As I lay awake last night trying to decide if should get up and write instead of just tossing and turning, I thought about what I did do all weekend. What really kept me from writing even a single post or reading more than a few pages from the book I hope to review? I once heard that people trying to lose weight keep of journal of everything they eat to try to track patterns and motivations for their eating habits. Maybe this same technique will work with distractions. Here are just a few of the high priority tasks that threw me off track this weekend.
I shopped for throw pillows. Don’t judge. At the time it seemed crucial. My daughters are 12 and 15, and about the only thing they agree on lately is that their room is boring and babyish. Fair enough. So when a little rearranging of the furniture and packing up the American Girl dolls and stuffed animals didn’t have the transformative effect they were hoping for, I agreed to buy them a few new accessories to punch up their room. I thought some funky new throw pillows would be an inexpensive and easy way to do the trick. I was so,so wrong. Have you shopped for throw pillows lately! Unless we wanted pillows that looked like we won them throwing darts at the county fair, I had to let go of a little more cash than I had planned and the girls had to break open their piggy banks. The girls also had to engage in their traditional arguing and bargaining before they could agree. Also, since the nearest cool pillow store is an hour away from our little farm town, this outing took the better part of the day. Oh well at least I was able to kill two errands with one 120 mile round trip.
So, I also shopped for crickets too. And I guess I did my good deed for the day too. Frank the Gecko will not die. Not on my watch!
I returned a goat. Several weeks ago we borrowed a goat. Without going into all the details, I will tell you, boy goats stink. They stink real bad. For this reason we don’t keep one on the farm – except for when our gals are, shall we say, receptive. In December when it seemed as though the time for romance was upon us, we borrowed Cosmo, the stinky boy goat, from some friends. Then it snowed and snowed and snowed and snowed. And we’ve been struck with Cosmo, the stinky boy goat, for weeks. On Sunday when it was sunny and warm, I jumped at the chance to return him to his rightful home and to try to start fumigating the goat barn.
I scoured Pinterest for low carb, healthy recipes. All that shopping I did with my daughters on Saturday was a grave reminder to me that swimsuit and sundress season are just around the corner. And I am unfortunately suffering from a condition known as YPS. YPS is a serious and debilitation condition caused by wearing yoga pants (not the same pair) during all of the 18 snow days we endured here in Arkansas. Yoga Pants Syndrome prevents its victims from realizing the effects of baking cookies and eating popcorn all winter. Within weeks sufferers from this condition find they can wear nothing but yoga pants. It’s time to change my ways. Past time actually.
I ate everyting in our house containing carbs, sugar, and excessive amounts of fat and calories. That’s what you’re supposed to do before starting a diet right? Purge.
I watched Downton Abbey. I CANNOT BELIEVE CARSON AND HUGHES HELD HANDS!!!
I looked for that quote by Saint Francis de Sales about how distractions and frustrations can make you a saint. I can’t find the quote, but, to paraphrase, he says that all of life’s little frustrations (a bore stops you, a child interrupts you, you burn dinner) do not require a saint, but they are certainly enough to create one. Lord, please let life’s minor snags make me a saint.
Well, what do you know! Day one of seven done, and with a couple of hours to spare. Of course tomorrow will have it’s own frustrations and interruptions, but with the help of Saint Francis de Sales, I hope to meet them with grace AND to get a second blog post finished.
Shared atThe Prairie Homestead Barn Hop
Recently I came across this article by Anthony Esolen in Crisis magazine. I was impressed with the author’s impassioned explanation of why we read to children. He shares with us a letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows, in which Roosevelt thanks Grahame for his delightful book. And that is the point. The book is a delight to the Roosevelt children and even to the president himself – which is, of course, exactly what a book should be. When my children were small, I sought out books that would be a pleasure to read, not only for them, but for me as well. That weeded out a lot of what early 20th century educator, Charlotte Mason called twaddle. However, we were left with a treasury of wonderful works of beautiful literature. Fortunately, the list of Common Core Exemplar Texts contains some of these great works (for the paltry 30% of fictional reading the standard allows).
Unfortunately, the CC approach to reading will likely make reading these great literary works a soul-sucking drudgery. Take for example the 3rd grade standards. They seem fairly simple and age-appropriate. Children are expected to recount stories and key detail of stories from a variety of genres and cultures. Among other things, they are expected to articulate the central idea or moral of a work and to describe characters and their actions. All of this sounds like it could be achieved by an engaging reading followed by a lively discussion and maybe some fun activities. But nooooooo. Here’s an exerpt from the website Achieve the Core. This is the objective for a 3rd grade (3rd grade!!!) lesson on Grimm’s The Fisherman and his Wife.
Learning Objective: The goal of this five-day exemplar is to explicitly model the process of searching for and interpreting intra-textual connections. In this lesson sequence, the teacher poses an analytic focusing question and then guides students in gathering and interpreting evidence from the text in order to come to a deeper understanding of the story. Simple word play and art activities give students practice in closely attending to language and word choice, and in visualizing and recording their interpretations. Discussion and a short writing exercise help students to synthesize what they have learned.
How’s that for psuedo-sophisticated language! But wait! There’s more! After five days of reading and re-reading the story and picking it apart to make intra-textual connections, students are asked to complete a writing assignment.
Writing Task: As a culminating activity, students synthesize their findings in an opinion paragraph, using specific references to the text. In this lesson, writing helps the children to organize and make sense of their thinking. For most third graders, writing is a relatively new tool for processing thought and one they will need to learn to use. Therefore, this task is highly guided and instructional, providing a model that can be used more independently on subsequent writing tasks.
Fun huh? I’m not suggesting that school children not be held in some way accountable for what they’ve read. But since 70% of their reading is what the CC calls “informational texts,” one would hope that what little fiction they are allowed not be ruined over-intellectualization and joy-killing assignments.
As Esolen so brilliantly points out, the whole point of reading should be for pleasure. When we rob children of that pleasure, we kill their love of reading. And when we kill their love of reading, any further attempts to encourage what Common Core calls a “close reading” will be fruitless. By high school, their eyes will glaze over, and they will see very little point in Shakespeare, Austen, Keats, or any of it. I know this because I see it now. Of course the current group of high school students wasn’t raised on Common Core, but they were No Child Left Behind kids. And where NCLB perhaps watered down their readings, the CCS hyper-intelleculizes them. Different standards, different vocabulary, different texts, but in the end, both NCLB and the CCS have the same goal – to create good test takers. The best way to insure children will score well on the test is to train them to get the right answer. Sadly, this training often comes at the expense of a greater outcome – a love of stories.
So in a perfect, untested, non data-driven world, what would else could children gain from stories besides pleasure? Well, nothing if pleasure is lost, but children, and people in general, who love books are graced with a world of gifts.
A LOVE OF LANGUAGE
Children who read The Jabberwocky or hear a heartfelt reading of it might not be able to tell you what a stanza is or identify the rhyme scheme, but they know that it is fun to say jubjub bird. They will shout, “Calhooh Callay Frabjous the day!” They will experience the joy of nonsense and the fun of things that mean nothing but sound funny. In time, when they write they will naturally want to use language that captures the imagination and delights the senses. And they will know how.
On the other hand children who study The Jabberwocky are apt to say things like, “This is stupid.” ”This doesn’t even make sense.” ”What’s the point of this, anyway?” How sad.
I never set out to teach my children about bull fighting in Madrid or about the life on the Yangtze River, but thanks to Ferdinand and Ping, they not only learned about these things, they wanted to know more about them. Johnny Tremain introduced them to our founding fathers, and Laura and Mary showed them what it was like to live off the land. Funny, we never did a single worksheet or critiqued a single passage.
Fairies. Knights. Dragon. Talking pigs. Little boys who never grow up. Little girls who grow to be the size of a house. Flying monkeys. Giants. Castles. Worlds of Ice. Wicked queens. Christmas Ghosts. Is there really anything Common Core could or should add to these wonders to make books any sweeter? Of course not.
I haven’t gathered any data to prove it, but I think I could walk into any 1st grade classroom at story time, and tell you, with a startling degree of accuracy, which children have been read to since birth and which have not. I could do it again in 10th grade.
Anyone who has ever been sucked into a story knows what it is to cheer with our heroes’ victories and cry at their defeats. I earnestly hope our school children aren’t so busy picking apart the “texts” that they don’t have time to make friends with the characters.
I have always read to my children and will continue to do so as long as they’ll let me. I won’t test them or require them to defend their opinions of a story in writing (although there is certainly a place for that in the upper grades). I will simply laugh with them and cry with them and wonder with them and pray that all children are given this same great pleasure in life - the pleasure of reading for the sheer joy of it.
Originally posted on What Kids Are Reading - A Parents' Guide:
Generally the books we review here are current, popular fiction. We review, not what we wish kids are reading, but what they’re actually reading. And while Lord of the Flies is certainly not pop fiction, if you have a child between 8th and 10th grade, there’s a good chance he or she is reading or will be reading it this classic. Recently at my school, a parent decided (some eight chapter in to this twelve chapter book) that the content was too disturbing for her child. That is a decision that every parent has the right to make, but perhaps if she had been a bit more informed, she could have made that call in time for the teacher to make an alternative assignment.
So, spoiler alert…this is a fairly detailed synopsis.
Welcome to Common Core Monday where each week we will take a look at a work of literature found in the Common Core Standards list of exemplar texts. Many of the works found on the list are beloved treasures from classic literature. Others, such as Cristina Garcia’s Dreaming in Cuban and Sherman Alexi’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, raise serious questions about what kids are reading.
AUTHOR: Sandra Cisneros
GENRE: Short story
GRADE LEVEL RECOMMENDED: 6-8
Eleven is the kind of story that makes you remember exactly what it is like to be in the 5th grade – on your worst day in the 5th grade. It’s Rachel’s birthday, but she doesn’t feel eleven. She knows that inside she is still 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, ,3, 2, and 1… Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one. That’s how being eleven years old is.
So, on her birthday when her teacher, Mrs. Price, insists that, not only does Rachel own, but that she must wear a ratty old sweater found in the coat closet, Rachel feels 3. And she cries in front of everyone like she is 3. Her birthday is ruined.
That’s it really. That is the basic plot of Eleven. It is a very simple yet very powerful story. It is powerful because Cisneros takes her readers back in time – back to a time when being forced to wear an ugly sweater in front of your entire class was unbearably humiliating. It is powerful because, through Mrs. Price, we see the devastating impact a seemingly meaningless and careless error can have on a child. Eleven is powerful because through Rachel, in only three short pages, we see that we are all eleven – at least sometimes.
My own daughters were not required to read Eleven in school, so I required it at home. Kids need stories like this one for two reasons. 1. It shows them that they arent’ the only ones who have felt 3 even when they were much older. 2. Eleven teaches empathy. We are allowed to glimpse inside someone else’s humiliation. We ache for Rachel.
Sometimes now when I look back on things that mortified me in middle school, I can laugh. The melodrama of it all is so funny. But every time I read Eleven, I cry. I cry even though I am 44. Because deep down I guess I’m also 43, 42, 41, 40,… well, you get the idea.
Note: To read Eleven, simply Google a free PDF copy of the story. You’ll be glad you did.