Newsflash: Reading is Relaxing!

Gbot sets out breakfast and an audience, about a year ago. Would I look this stress-free if I read to myself over breakfast?

Overheard at the coffeeshop on Saturday:

“So, have you read Harry Potter?”

“Yeah.”

“What book are you on?”

The conversation wouldn’t have been noteworthy, except that the two conversationalists’ chins barely skimmed the table top as they sipped their hot chocolate. They were four years old–Mbot and his friend Mbug. She’s a bright kid whose mom had told me she wouldn’t sit still to listen to picture books. I loaned her the first Harry Potter. They were on chapter five; she was riveted.

The same day, the news over at the Huffington Post was that reading a good book lowers stress levels. HuffPo editors and bloggers chimed in on their reasons how and why in Turn the Page on Stress. 

The timing was interesting, as a few weeks ago, I picked up a book I’d had on a side table for a month. I was too tired to read, and too tired to sleep. I lay down on the sofa, listening for a bot to call me back for one more hug, and opened the book. I knew that one reason I felt so weary was that I hadn’t gotten–or given myself–a chance to read more than half a New Yorker article in over a month–probably two.

The book wasn’t fiction: recommended by a friend, it was Edward Hallowell and Peter Jensen’s Superparenting for ADD. The title might reveal one of the reasons I’m so tired, but it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story. A while back, Mbot was diagnosed with “very low level” Attention Deficit Disorder–a borderline case, a case that’s almost not a case, but I feel it’s something I needed to learn to manage more effectively than I was managing it. I dislike the label because so much ignorance surrounds it and it carries so many negative connotations. In learning more about ADD, I’m learning to change my own behavior, which helps him with his; the result is a happier bot and a happier household. Hallowell’s positive approach to the issue is delightful and his storytelling is instructive and amusing.

An hour after I started reading, I was thirty-eight pages in and feeling a much-missed feeling of lightness and optimism. I recognized I felt better partly because of the contents of the book, but partly due to the simple act of leaving my own drama to witness those of others. I was reminded, through narrative, that obstacles can be overcome for a happy conclusion, and that recognizing the truth and dealing with it is a source of power–and having control over a situation is a way to lower stress levels.

I am of course reminded often of the de-stressing powers of reading, but it is a constant source of amazement to me how thoroughly we can ignore things we know, or forget them. I am reminded of reading’s calming effect by Mbot himself. Every night at bedtime, and usually during the day, I read aloud, in addition to a few picture books, a chapter (usually more) of Harry Potter (we’re on book two), a chapter of Little House on the Prairie (we’re on book two), and a chapter of The Hardy Boys. (We jump around according to whatever’s on the library shelf). Mbot, who has shown little patience with learning the letters of the alphabet, and who is often pushing the boundaries of his environment, is completely absorbed by a long narrative. He often asks the meaning of unfamiliar words, but I am not sure how much he understands of the story arc. Yet he does understand there are characters to be concerned about, and that there is a story arc. He would sit listening until my voice gave out or I collapsed face down, drooling on the Heir of Slytherin.

On Saturday, in addition to coming across HuffPo’s article, I happened to read Flannery O’Connor‘s essay, “The Nature and Aim of Fiction,” in which she writes,

People without hope not only don’t write novels, but what is more to the point, they don’t read them. They don’t take long looks at anything, because they lack the courage. The way to despair is to refuse to have any kind of experience, and the novel, of course, is a way to have experience.

When I came across O’Connor’s observation, I realized I had put off reading (to myself) for that month or those months not simply because I was too tired or didn’t have time–but because I lacked the courage to take a long look at things. I was resisting entering a drama–anyone else’s drama–because I didn’t have enough emotional energy for their’s, too: I am a slow reader, and invest a lot in whatever I’m reading. But in those thirty-eight pages of Hallowell’s book, I was introduced to nearly a dozen people’s dramas, and instead of feeling oppressed by them, I felt uplifted. Since that night, I’ve been making time to read (to myself!) every day, even if it is just for a few minutes in the car before heading inside. In fact, I’m back to my old habit of reading several books at once–like I said, if only a few pages at a time.

And so stress-relief is even closer than the new gym with two hours of child-care per day. It’s as close at hand as my bookshelves. Now all I need to do is remember that.

Chipless Dale and Mini-Harry: A Photo Essay

It was a Halloween miracle, or several: Gbot’s brown turtleneck arrived via UPS at 3:45 p.m. Having forgotten to load up their pumpkin buckets, I bought the last $1.99 cauldron at the corner drugstore at 4:10 p.m. There was a $1.99 bat bag hanging above it. In spite of a still-coldy, sore-nosed Gbot (and after the application to the nostrils of Vaseline, which ingited a bout of wailing that only a piece of pizza could stop), we were all outfitted in time to take pictures. And Gbot wore his costume. All evening. The Great Pumpkin surely was watching over us.

I hope The Great Pumpkin was watching over you, too!

Trick or Treat! It’s Chip and Harry!

Finding time to write this week has been like looking for the Golden Snitch in a heavy fog with Draco Malfoy on my tail.

Gbot’s caught a cold, it’s his birthday week, with all the preparations that entails, and, of course, Halloween is coming at me like a bludger.

I don’t think I even got a chance to tell you what we were going to be for Halloween. Roughly in order, over the past couple of months, Mbot and Gbot were going to be:

the bad cockroach Spider-Man

Batman

Batgirl

the Bat Sisters

“a storming trooper”

Rapunzel

“the big guy not the color of snow what’s his name?” “Darth Vadar.”

Chip and Dale

“the shiny guy” (C3PO)

“the guy who beeps when he’s mad” (R2D2)

Harry Potter

Luke Skywalker

a kitty cat

Han Solo

You can understand why I hadn’t ordered or begun making their costumes until last week, when I made the executive decision that the bots would be Chip and Dale. I bought the necessary fabric and craft items in order to execute my bossy mommy plan. My plan this year was to make the costumes simple and quick. I don’t have time for anything but simple and quick.

Saturday morning, I began and nearly finished Mbot’s Chip and Dale costume. And Mbot was in tears, wailing at the top of his lungs, “I don’t WANT to be Chip and Dale!”

Normally this behavior doesn’t faze me, but it’s a Halloween costume, for heaven’s sake. Who really cares? Not me. Mbot. That’s who.

“What do you want to be?” I asked Mbot, and he announced that he was still vacillating between a storming trooper and Han Solo. We can make you a Han Solo costume, I said. Phew. Easy. We just had to turn his doggie rain boots into black boots. I could figure it out. Then he went to play with his favorite stuffed animal besides Junepy, an owl he calls Hedwig. “I want to be Harry Potter,” he said, and I jumped on that. A boy wizard trumps an Oozie-toting mercenary for the costume of a four-year-old any day.

So he’ll be wearing my black graduation robes, hemmed about eighteen inches. He’ll be carrying the makeshift broom I made from a half-price piece of decorative bamboo and another half-price piece of decorative fall foliage at Joann’s. He’ll be wearing glasses specially made to stay on a four-year-old’s face (earpieces made of pipecleaners stuffed through black-painted drinking straws affixed to elastic to go around the head):

and, in my favorite part of the costume, he will be carrying Hedwig….in the inner portion of my asparagus strainer:

Mbot is thrilled with this arrangement. The smile on his face when I showed him was one of pure satisfaction. He brought Hedwig to Grandma’s last night. He fed her Chex through the bars of her cage and supplied her with water in an empty Play-Doh cannister. He put his glasses on again first thing this morning and “played a fool on me” that he was really Harry Potter.

I was reminded instensely once again of why I love the age of four. Harry Potter’s magic is nothing compared to the magic of loving a bird cage made out of an asparagus strainer.

The Dursley’s Bathroom Decor

Could this be the Dursley’s bathroom? JK Rowling has kept it a mystery. But fans want to know. (uglyhousephotos.wordpress)

We have finished the first Harry Potter.

I’ve been reading it to Mbot (much to Gbot’s supreme boredom; we read picture books first, then his eyes usually roll back into his head as I intone the words “Dumledore,” “Hagrid,” and “stupid git,”), every night before bedtime. To alleviate scariness, I abridged final chapters. They even scare movie-going me, what with Ralph Fiennes outdoing himself in The English Patient to bring us something even “more gruesomer” (Mbot’s words) in He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

So tonight, because I can’t find the second or third books in the series (they are probably still in a box in the garage), we started the fourth (which, for some reason, I have two): HP and the Goblet of Fire. Started in the third chapter–that is, skipping the parts in which an old man is killed by a scary baby and a giant snake–we began where Harry tells Uncle Vernon that he’s going to the World Quidditch match. Half way through the scene, Mbot breaks in.

“What does the Dursley’s bathroom look like?”

I looked up from the text, stumped.

“It’s probably green,” I replied after a fat pause. “With a shaggy mustard-colored rug.”

“And slime coming out the sink,” added Mbot.

Absolutely right, I agreed.

I remembered why, as a kid myself, I preferred books with no pictures: I got to imagine it all. The pictures (like so many movies) just messed with the reality inside my head.

What do you think the Dursley’s bathroom looks like?