Books, Writing

That “Other Stuff” We Learn from Books…

 (Here’s a post from the archives that I thought was appropriate for this holiday week.  Happy Monday, all!)

Recently, my four kids and I were on a forty-five minute jaunt up to my sister’s place for a visit. It had been a peaceful trip — no arguing about what music to play, no incessant poking, no — I’m not whining!  You just did.  No, I didn’t, and so on.  It was one of those moments where I was perfectly happy and content to be a mother, and then…,

“THERE’S NO SANTA??!!” 

Screech!  This eruption (coming from my second-grader in the backseat) swooped down and annihilated all prior forms of contentment, setting off a chaotic chain of events ranging from hysteria to frenzy; me, swerving toward the sidewalk, my kindergartener screaming, “What?!  What did he say about Santa?”  Tears were flowing, teeth were gnashing, and at least one person (me?) started to hyperventilate. 

I righted the car and collected my thoughts, trying to decide if it was time to just ‘fess up.  Let’s see — no more special wrapping paper, no more checking NORAD for updates on Santa’s whereabouts, and no more tip-toeing around after the kids go to bed on Christmas Eve?  Hmmm…..?  My older daughters made the decision for me.

  “It’s just a book, buddy.” 
 “Yeah, don’t worry about it.” 

 

And, with those two sentences from two girls too old to believe, peace was restored just as we pulled into my sister’s driveway. 

Still, I couldn’t dismiss the fact that a book was the culprit for this outburst.  I glanced in my rearview mirror hoping to spy what evil piece of literature was tainting my seven-year-old’s innocence.  I expected to see a cover depicting a half-dressed floozy with eyes half-shut.  Instead, I saw a worn and familiar favorite — Superfudge, by Judy Blume.  My son had recently discovered, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and (until now) had been laughing his way through the rest of the “Fudge” books.  I had been so pleased that he was loving a book that I had loved, that, oops —  forgot about that Santa part.   

This is how it happens for many kids, I think.  They read a book, and discover something that maybe they’re not ready to learn, or, more accurately, that their parents aren’t ready for them to learn, yet.   Besides the usual mixture of knowledge that we gain from books, there’s a lot of that “other” stuff, too — “worldly” knowledge, I’ll call it.  The “Santa revelation” is one of the tamest examples.  

I know that I found out most of that “other stuff” from book pages rather than from my parents.  In my happy, Catholic, middle-class home, worldly discussions consisted of my mom saying, “If you ever do that, it will kill me!” as she pointed to the TV screen when her favorite soap opera was on.  Yes, I found out a lot of things from books.

I learned about bust increasing exercises and periods from Are you There God, It’s me Margaret?  (again, by Miss Blume).  About incest, and all things icky from Flowers in the Attic, and other works by V.C. Andrews.  About various undisclosed “activities” from a smartly funny and naughty book, Virgins (Caryl Rivers).  About drugs, and money, and the privileged life in Bret Easton Ellis’s, Less Than Zero.   And, probably the most important piece of worldly knowledge — that there is ALWAYS a smart twin and fun twin, and they’re always smokin’ hot (Sweet Valley High books).

Whether you agree with the whole Santa charade or not, I think most would concede that sometimes information gets into hands that aren’t quite mature enough to hold it.  Still, I would never begrudge that time of discovery, or a voracious appetite to read, and learn, and digest.  

After the shock wears off, we are enriched, indeed.

*Find me on Twitter @amandahoving

36 thoughts on “That “Other Stuff” We Learn from Books…”

  1. Oh, yeah, I have learned to check out the books first. Judy Blume is worse than playground information.

    Happy Holidays, you cool chick you.

    Happy to have met you this year. so truly am. xo

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  2. Ohhhh…I was about to mention Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret but you beat me to it.

    VC Andrews, Sweet Valley High…Oh my gosh, what a walk down the bumpy and litter-strewn path of pre-teen memory lane.

    I must commend your girls for their quick (and convincing) response. It takes real maturity to understand that childhood innocence trumps grown-up scoop every day of the week!

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    1. Thank you, Maura. We’re all a bunch of dreamers here, I think, so holding onto “magic” is something we do well. I won’t tell you how long I believed in the big bunny even after I was enlightened about the rest…frightening!

      Yep, I devoured those books, and actually wouldn’t mind taking a peek at some of them again now…

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  3. OMG, Sweet Valley High — how my feminist mother hated my obsession with those books. I really gotta wonder what Diablo Cody is going to do with the movie version. And I wish more kids would read Judy Blume these days. Much better than that $#@! vampire-based brainwashing.

    I always read far above my grade level, so yeah, I had some eye-opening reading experiences. There was a lot of sex and violence in Pillars of the Earth, but I don’t feel scarred by it or anything. And I can’t even remember my first reading intro to drugs — oh, wait, didn’t they sacrifice one of the Sweet Valley characters to an after-school-special type deal about cocaine?? Again, can’t be too scarred if I don’t remember, right?

    Coincidentally, I was just at an Xmas improv show, and when the performers solicited stories from the audience, one lady had this doozy: she was born and raised in now-Croatia (then Yugoslavia), where she learned that Santa didn’t exist in class, from one of her school textbooks! Apparently her siblings weren’t as quick-witted as your kids 🙂

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    1. I’m curious about the movie, too. People seem nervous that it’s going to lose almost all of the “sweet” part. I think I missed that after-school-special, BTW…and, I’m glad 😉

      Wow…the “textbook reveal” — that would take some tough explaining, I think. (Xmas improv show sounds fun)

      Happy holidays, WoPro!

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  4. Oh, yes. I remember everything everything about ‘Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret’ I almost felt sneaky reading it. My boyfriend’s name is Todd, so on a regular basis, I say, “Are You There Todd? It’s Me Margaret.” Of course, he wasn’t a girl in the 80’s, so he has no idea what I’m talking about.

    My favorite books when I was a child were the Trixie Belden mystery books. They used words like “jeepers”, “dungarees”, and “jalopies”. There was no talk of periods or breast enhancement. And certainly no Santa revelations.

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    1. Aahh…”jeepers” is a great word! I’m pretty sure I read the Trixie Belden books, too…they sound very familiar.

      It did feel sneaky reading some of those books, which is probably where some of the draw came from.

      Thanks for reading, Allison!

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  5. Hey there, A! So true. Books are the path to knowledge that no one wants to tell you about. And that you don’t want to ask about. If you even knew what to ask about.

    Man oh man. SVH. I freakin’ loved those books. And VC? So dirty, so awesomely dirty! Let us not forget Clan of the Cave Bear.

    I met Jean Auel in person once. Small. Old. Sweet. Changed the nature of the books for me.

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    1. Clan of the Cave Bear! Oh my…those just kept getting raunchier with each book in the series. But, the tidbit that stands out for me from those books is the way to bleach leather and get it super soft. Do you remember? Yuck!

      Can’t believe you met her, T — would have loved that opportunity.

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  6. Sometimes there are advantages to just having one child. I’m sure I wouldn’t have handled the situation as well as you did. My son knows that Santa isn’t real, he’s twelve after all, but he still kind of believes. Perhaps that’s to keep me happy, because he thinks I still believe. :-]

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  7. Oh my… Sweet Valley High. I was just thinking about those the other day. I think my first “book” was an angsty teenage romance in that vein…. I wrote it when I was a sophomore, I think. Wow, I’m old.

    My son read David Eddings’ Belgariad and Mallorean series a couple of years ago when he was 9 or so. He came to a part where the married couple went skinny dipping because they were trying to have a baby. Uh… oops. Forgot about that. It’s pretty tame and there are no anatomical references, but still…. I told him it was okay for married people to do that and he didn’t ask again. 🙂

    This is a great post. You have great kids. I have two who are in on the Santa secret and two who aren’t, and the older ones do their best to keep the other two in the dark. I’m thinking one more year and then the cat’s out of the bag. This might be our last Santa Christmas. Bittersweet….

    Merry Christmas!

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  8. Uh-oh. My son is reading Superfudge right now (just finished Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing last week). He’s on the fence of not believing, but a part of him is holding on…thanks for the heads up 🙂

    Sweet Valley High – I was so obsessed with those books when I was in junior high. I think I read them all (but thanks to me not having a memory, I can’t tell you anything about them now.)

    My son actually checked out a children’s book called “Drive By” last year. I’d hoped it wasn’t what I thought – but it was. I think that second grade is WAY too young for a book about an older brother killed in a drive-by shooting, but that’s just my opinion…

    Here’s hoping I can keep him believing for a little longer…I’m not ready for him not to 🙂

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    1. It’s just a line or two, so he may actually skip over it. Good luck~

      I would have to agree with your opinion on the drive-by book. But, there are so many other books that you think are going to be perfectly tame, and then…not so much. It’s always good to have willing readers in the house, though.

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  9. Great post, and yes, I’m hovering on the reveal with my kids, too, this year, doing my best to keep the magic going, as you say (which means late nights hovered over a sewing machine finishing that elf hat and an apron from Mrs. Claus).

    For me, I love books for kids like I love their teachers at school: sometimes my kids hear what they need to hear from other places and people – the same things I try to tell them but with little success 🙂

    Hope you have a festive Holiday with the family!

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