New and Improved

When our kids were really little – like, baby and toddler – I spoke loftily about how they would always share a room, how even if we lived in a place where they could have their own bedrooms they wouldn’t, that learning to compromise and share and work with another person was so important, and that sharing created a special bond between siblings even if they hated it sometimes.

Then, when they were about five and three and we were living in a house with four bedroom, I found myself putting them in separate rooms. Gracie had started a habit of whispering to her sister half the night, and Joy was getting cranky and miserable from never having a place to go where her sister couldn’t follow. The guest room was transformed into Joy’s room, and life became much happier for everyone.

Now we’re in a two-bedroom apartment, and not-sharing is not an option, though at this point all of us wish it was. Joy is deeply introverted and high sensitive, and is reaching the stage of wanting her space to be neat, tidy, organized, and open. Grace is a chatterbox with no sense of boundaries, and still likes everything she owns to be out all the time, scattered everywhere. Things get tense.

While we can’t give them their own room – and safety rules on campus mean we can’t even let Joy go outside to play by herself – Carl and I did put our heads together to come up with a plan for making life a little better for them.

Behold: desks.

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We cleared out probably half their toys and even some books (weep) and rearranged their room to be able to give them each their own desk, on opposite sides of the room. The desk is each girl’s own space, which the other one is not allowed to touch without permission. Eventually I plan to rearrange the books left in the crates so that the ones that are more Joy’s interest are with her desk, and the same with Gracie.

And we probably lost our security deposit with these, but I don’t even care:

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Above each desk are two shelves, also for that girl alone, for trinkets and special things. And books, of course. The shelves transform the feel of the entire room; I love them so much!

We also bought some rolling carts with drawers, and shallow boxes to go under the bed, and are in the process of organizing their remaining toys so that they are clearly labeled and separated. I’m also thinking of some decorating improvements – new curtains, maybe even an area rug to go over the nasty brown carpet everywhere in the apartment.

It’s not a perfect solution, but what ever is? It’s better than it was, and that’s enough for now. Hopefully, when the girls look back on their years here while Dad was in seminary, the good memories will be the ones that have stuck.

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Censorship VS Guidance

The Goosebumps books were at the entrance to the Children’s Room at the library growing up; you couldn’t help but see them whenever you went it. They were popular, too—very few of the books I loved were ever borrowed by anyone but me (this was back in the day when the patron’s name was written on the card in the back pocket, so you could see a book’s history whenever you picked it up. The nosy neighbor/author in me misses those days, when you could speculate about the other people whose names were on the card, especially if one name cropped up on several of the books you borrowed frequently. “I wonder who that person is,” you could muse. “I bet we’d be friends.” But I digress), but the Goosebumps books were always getting snatched up by kids about my age, and there were always gaping holes in the shelf.

“I don’t think so,” Mom said firmly when she saw me eying them speculatively. “Those are not a good idea with your nightmares.”

Saddened, but not wanting to mess with my nightmares—these were terrible, and plagued me well into my teens, and could be caused by nothing more than seeing a gruesome picture on a tabloid cover in the grocery store check-out line—I bypassed the Goosebumps books and went back to the delights of E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, Lloyd Alexander, and the like.

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An older friend of mine read and loved the Dark is Rising books, and lent them to me with a caveat that they might be scary in parts. So Dad read them first, and then handed them over to me saying that they did have some dark parts, but that he was pretty sure I could take it, and if I wanted to I could always talk to him about them. In fact, I loved them (as did he, and Susan Cooper remains one of our favorite authors to this day—I bought him King of Shadows for his birthday last year, in fact, and he was just as swept up as he’d ever been in one of her tales. But I digress again).

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My sister wasn’t much of a reader as a kid and teenager. While I would stay up late reading, she preferred to lull herself to sleep on logic problems. When she did read, she liked books such as Baby-Sitter’s Club, Sweet Valley Twins, and, as she got older, Sweet Valley High and Avalon romances. My parents called those “fluff” books—enjoyable but no substance to them—and the rule was you had to read a certain number of non-fluff books to the number of fluff books you were allowed. My sister grumbled a bit about this, more because she was the oldest and it was her job to complain about all of our parents’ rules than because she thought it was actually unfair, but she stuck with it. And a few years ago she was trying to convince me to give Dostoyevsky a try, because she’d read some of his books and thought they were awesome. She also still enjoys fluff books. And logic problems

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About a year ago, I was desperately trying to find books that Joy would want to read. Excited by her advanced abilities and unduly influenced by memories of the large tomes I enjoyed reading in kindergarten and first grade, I overdid a bit and overwhelmed her. While she was perfectly capable of reading the Little House books, she didn’t enjoy them, and her disillusionment with the “big” books I was giving her spread to reading in general.

Then we found the Rainbow Magic books at the library. Pumped out by computer, lame by any standards, they were nonetheless perfect for a six-year-old who enjoyed the thrill of reading “chapter books” but wasn’t ready mentally or emotionally for the themes in most MG writing. Despite the wrinkled noses of many of my friends, I cheerfully borrowed them by the armload each week for her, while at the same time giving her more picture books and other young readers (the Magic Tree House books were another big hit, which has worked out nicely with social studies, I must say—I never know when she’s going to pipe up over something we’re studying, “Oh! Jack and Annie went here.” Digressing again). I’m exceedingly thankful to have had them, especially now when I catch Joy happily curled up with any book from Ladybug Girl to the Frozen novelization to Winnie-the-Pooh to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. On the other hand, when this winter the library didn’t have the next one in the series, I deliberately did not suggest ILL or skipping that one to move on to the next. Thus far, she has plenty of other reading material, and she hasn’t seem to miss the Rainbow Magic too badly.

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There’s a lot of justified complaints about censorship out there. Including and especially parents censoring what their children read. Or what other people’s children read. But sometimes parental guidance gets lost or unfairly shuffled into the same category as censorship, and I think that’s a shame. Because gentle guidance and help with reading—whether it be in limiting the number of certain types of books your kids read, or reading books before letting them read them, or telling them to wait until they are older, or even swallowing your pride to let—even encourage!—them read books that are frankly crap (and then move on when said books have served their purpose), is something that I wish more parents would do. And it’s a far cry from censorship. It is, to be blunt, simply part of what being a parent is all about.

Clearly, Joy is much more comfortable with reading these days

Clearly, Joy is much more comfortable with reading these days

Thanks to Maureen, whose tweets on this subject got me thinking about my parents, and how grateful I am to them for the way they encouraged my sister and me to be readers, and then prompted this post.

Also, in case anyone is interested, the Little House picture books are well-loved by both Joy and Grace, and went a long way toward piquing Joy’s interest in the real books once she got a little older.