(This is a photo from Humans of New York. It melts my heart!)
My teenage son and I were standing outside an audition room earlier this month with another mom and son, waiting for orchestra placement. My boy was talking up a blue streak about what the audition had been like, what they'd asked him to do and how he'd bumbled through some parts and aced the others, and what he'd do if he made it and what he'd do if he didn't, and his words came out like this sentence, in long, unstopped, unpaused thoughts, and the mom looked over at me and said, "Does he always talk this much?"
I had to laugh, because the answer to that is yes. And I have two other kids that do the same. Talking on top of each other sometimes, so that I have to hold my hands up and say, "I know I have two ears but I can only make out one of you at a time!" There is a constant stream of conversation in our house that doesn't even end when I turn out the lights and say, "Goodnight! I'm going downstairs now!" Sometimes they keep talking, even louder, so I have to yell up the stairs, "I'm downstairs. I can't hear you anymore. Go to sleep!"
The mom sighed a bit and looked over at her not-a-word-said-yet son. "I can barely get anything but one word answers from him."
It's a blessing, I know. This conversation overload in our house from two teenagers and a pre-teen is not the usual fare in a lot of homes, and I soak up every minute of it.
There was a period where that wasn't as true. When my son was in fourth grade, something shifted in our relationship. It was no longer cool to be close to your mom, to hang out with her and act like you liked her. He developed more commonalities with my husband, and I could see the guy thing edging me out. While I knew that was normal, was indeed preferable, I didn't want to lose him altogether. So I handed him a Harry Potter book.
Harry Potter is my thing. My husband has kindly gone to the movie with me as they came out, but that was really an act of selfless love. He didn't read the books. He didn't care about the movies. When I gave my son the books, and he devoured them like I did, we had something in common no one else in the family did.
While I made dinner, he sat at the counter and talked about the books with me, excited about the triumphs, sad about the losses, in awe of the magic of it all. By the time the sixth movie came out, he'd finished the series and went to the movies with me in place of my husband. When the last movie came out, he was invited by a friend to go to the midnight opening show, and I heard him say on the phone to his friend, "That sounds awesome, but I want to see the last one with my mom. It's kind of our thing."
We've had lot of other books since. He skipped the YA books altogether and jumped into my old reading list: early Michael Crichton, the entirety of John Grisham, the Left Behind series, Animal Farm. Ender's Game. Fahrenheit 451. With each book, he sat at the counter at dinner and talked to me. When carpooling got quiet, I'd ask about what he was reading, and that would start a flood of conversations.We talk about the stories, but also the issues they bring up. Justice and politics and faith and science.
In middle school, my daughter entered that phase of "I don't really have much to say." I handed her Harry Potter. Then, The Hunger Games. To Kill a Mockingbird. Animal Farm. The Princess Bride. A Wrinkle in Time. And the same phenomenon happened. We talked. All the time. And even now, when she gets quiet and withdrawn into that 13-year-old self-conscious world, all I have to do is talk about a book, and she is back.
Once, in the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, I sat in a college room full of students from all over Virginia discussing why we read. And one person said something I'll never forget: "We all come from different backgrounds, different schools. We love different things. But we ALL read Romeo and Juliet in ninth grade. That is something we all have in common."
There are a lot of reasons why we should read, but this is my favorite. To connect to others.
I worry sometimes that if I take time to just sit and read, I am neglecting more important things that need to be done. The laundry, the dishes, meals, shopping, volunteering at the schools, cleaning. But then I remember how books saved my relationship with my growing kids, and I think, What could be more important than that?