Children’s Lit and Conversations with an Elder

On Saturday, we had dinner with G’s family. Some family members were visiting from out of state, so we got together to see them before they left. In attendance was his grandpa’s second wife Anabelle – a woman we do not see as often as we should.

After G’s grandma died in 1998, G and I moved in with him at his house. Everyone was trying to persuade him to sell everything and move into a retirement community.  I was quite annoyed at their tactics. Here was a man who lost his wife of 51 years after a horrible 3 year battle with cancer, and they are trying to get him to make this snap decision about what he’s going to do with his life now.  G and I were looking to move, so we went to visit him and asked if he would like some roommates.  After hearing our suggestion, he started telling us about what he really wanted to do – travel and see friends and family – spending the winter where it was warm, but come back when it was spring. He didn’t want to deal with his house yet, so our suggestion was his way of doing what he wanted.  And thumbing his nose at his family.

For 18 months, we lived with him as he traveled and started dating again.  We heard his stories. We helped him pack her stuff.  We enjoyed the time we had with him.  It was a great arrangement.  About the time we were getting ready to move into our current home, he met Anabelle, and he was amazingly happy – giddy – to have this loving woman in his life.   They were married when DJ was about 2 months old.

Anabelle brought reality into this troubled family. She brought unconditional love. She brought the idea of unconditional family support to this family. We love her very much because it was exactly what his grandpa needed – and the family.  We were happy he got this love from her during the last seven years of his life.

She was also at dinner. My MIL had commented that they were starting to watch the Harry Potter movies and were asking for the order of the books from DJ.  DJ left the table when she looked at me and asked if we had read the books.  We have – several times.  She had read some of them herself.

“I liked them, but was curious – were you concerned by the amount of the occult in those books?”

Anabelle is a Seventh Day Adventist.  She is quite devout which has brought into the family an interesting twist as G’s family is filled with mostly atheists – including my MIL.  You could see my MIL was unsure how to answer.  And Anabelle was doing what I love about her – she was honestly asking a question – one you could tell she had herself been grappling to answer.

“I can see how you could be concerned, ” I started, “but the books, at their heart are not about magic but about good versus evil. About how life is full of choices – just because you made one that took you down one path, does not mean you won’t have another choice later that puts you back on the good one.  The magic is secondary.”

She liked that answer, but you could tell she wasn’t totally sold by it.

So, I went further in explaining also that there is no religion around it. I think there is more religion on Star Wars with “The Force” being leveraged to lift things – guide missiles – etc.  Yes, magic is used – but they are using it as a tool. In fact, when the Wesley twins in Order of the Phoenix begin to use it for everything, they are scolded.

It was at this time when my MIL started changing the subject. She couldn’t participate because she stopped reading the books when they got long.  Yes, my well educated, look at the length of my books, MIL said that some children’s book is “too long”.  She did talk more about The Golden Compass where she was shocked at how the author took up the argument against church.  G has often used The Golden Compass as the book more devout people should be upset about given it is pretty clear about its beliefs.

The debate about which books are good for kids and which aren’t always fascinates me. I recently read an excerpt from Mark Twain’s soon to be released autobiography where he talks about censorship particularly around Huck Finn.  He would periodically walk into a library and ask to see the book. If he was told that the book was banned due to its content, he would inquire as to why.  “It urges kids to be defiant” or it gives examples of immoral behavior was one of the two answers usually cited.  He would ask if they had a copy of the Bible in the library.  “Of course” was the answer. He would go grabbed it from the shelves and start looking up passages where there were examples of immoral behavior.  “Do you let your children read this book?” They would also answer that they did.  “Do you just exclude those parts in the Bible?” This, as you guessed, made them uncomfortable, so Twain would conclude with “just as you did when you were their age, yet here you are – of good moral standing despite it all.”

I was happy that Anabelle was open minded enough to accept discussion. She wasn’t in the space of “those are just horrible stories”, and when she left, she really took away the fact that these books – like many fantasy books – is about good versus evil. That’s it.

As we drove home, I commented to G how amazing of a woman she is. At almost 90 years old, she still drives (safely), lives at home, manages a huge vegetable garden, still reads anything that comes out, sews, and plays golf on a regular basis.  I want to be her when I grow up.  I can only hope we can all be like her.

I should also mention that she was also very sexual too before and after the marriage to G’s grandpa.
But that, that is a different blog post.

What do you think?

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