Humble suggestions for my adult children and anyone else who cares to read
My family is looking at a couple of milestones in 2016: our youngest will graduate from college in May, our oldest is getting married next September. These events have me thinking about life lessons I would like my adult children to absorb and consider.
I’m talking about the things I’ve learned since the kids graduated high school – or maybe some things I learned while they were in high school but they wouldn’t have listened to or believed at the time.
As parents know, our children are quite convinced we lose several IQ points during their teenage years. We regain them slowly. My mother is 79 and I now realize she is absolutely brilliant.
So I offer some motherly advice to my adult children. If the rest of you get something out of it, so much the better.
We’ll begin with a fact many adults don’t want to acknowledge: being an adult can be boring and talking to other adults can be even more boring, as in completely mind numbing.
When I went to college (Valparaiso University, class of 1979), I didn’t get the memo that it was supposed to be four years of bacchanalian excess. Instead I plunged into meeting other young women who wanted to talk about more than boys. We fueled our late-night discussions with chips and soda and trips to Donut Hut. We shared opinions; we worried about nuclear power and the environment. We talked about movies and books. Politics and religion were fair game. It was the early years after Roe v Wade made abortion legal. We were certain we could manage work, marriage and children.
I can’t remember the details of those conversations but I do remember the enjoyment of talking about substantive issues and I remember with great fondness the fun I had bantering with Alexis, Judy, Sam, Angie, Monte, Christy, Penny and Kathy.
Working, marriage and children followed the bachelor’s degree. Somewhere along the line adult conversation centered on what activities the kids were doing and what the adults were buying. By the end of my 30s, I labeled these “stuff” conversations and I stopped wanting to go to social gatherings because I couldn’t stand to hear about other people’s “stuff.”
I admit I was/am jealous. Most of the people we hang out with have really nice stuff while the linoleum on our kitchen floor is vintage 1950s and disgusting. We’re waiting for the stove and refrigerator to die before we upgrade to something this century.
Another thing I noticed was that in my 20s, I felt pretty free to share my opinions. As I matured, I slowly realized that sharing my views on everything was often not welcome at social gatherings. Heck, it wasn’t even welcome in the newsroom where I worked. Let’s just say it was made known to me that I can come off as intimidating.
|My current reading stack.|
Around the same time a local bookstore began hosting a monthly book group. I started attending. The bookstore closed but the book group is still going strong. At one time I was in four book groups, including one I dragged my youngest to in Ann Arbor. I’ve since maintained regular attendance in just two groups.
It is only a slight exaggeration to say those book groups saved my sanity. They have provided a monthly venue for good conversation. It starts with the assigned book and branches out into myriad topics, all substantial and enriching.
My book groups put everything on the table: politics, religion, racism, divorce, death, aging parents, illness, infidelity - anything and everything gets discussed.
Plus I’ve been given the opportunity to read books I never would have picked up on my own from “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline to “The Solace of Leaving Early” by Haven Kimmel. I’ve shared book club selections with my children and husband.
Even reading books I didn’t like has proved valuable. It forced me to hone my critical thinking skills and learn more about myself. I learned to go beyond saying I just don’t like something to recognizing what it is inside of me that is reacting negatively to the book. I’ve learned to value that people I respect can read the same material I despise and love it. I’ve learned that my enjoyment of a book is affected by where I am both physically and mentally when I am reading the book. I've learned to be still and listen when someone else is talking.
So here’s my humble suggestion: when you get to the point where you begin to notice that most of the adults you know spend most of their time talking about kids and stuff and it is starting to bother you – find a book club and join. Bookstores and libraries can help you connect with local book clubs. It is preferable to meet with a group in person on a regular basis, but you can check out the online book club Goodreads to get started.
It can’t hurt to start a family book club either. When the kids come home to visit, I notice they scan the shelves and sometimes depart with a book or two. They also arrive bearing books as gifts. It’s a wonderful way to stay connected.
As for me, I am looking forward to reading "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt and "Euphoria" by Lily King as the September selections of my two groups. I am also excited about facilitating a discussion about "The Painter" by Peter Heller at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts in November.
And the next time you get bored at a social gathering, ask around and see if you can find another reader. It's cheaper than having to buy new "stuff" to have something to talk about.