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LLTMN #6: Why Books Are Better

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“Knowing I loved my books, he furnish’d me from mine own library with volumes that I prize above my dukedom.” ~William Shakespeare (The Tempest, I, ii)

[This post is the sixth installment in the series I call “Life Letters to My Nephews,” or LLTMN.]

Hi Boys, Ant Kristi here again. How can it be that we’re nearing the end of yet another school year and that you’re all growing up so impossibly fast?  And yes I know how old that makes me sound, so hush.

(Today’s topic was spurred by my annual birthday shopping trip with Hudson, 11 years old already this year!  A few days ago we went to a local bookstore, as we do each year, to get the free Kids Club birthday cookie or cupcake they give away in their cafe.  On the drive over there, I’d asked him what he thought he wanted to get for his birthday gift this year; he rattled off a weird sci-fi sounding name of something I had no idea what was [it was a video game, or a Wii game, or some game of a system I’m not familiar with].

So I was extremely and pleasantly surprised when, after most of a peanut butter cup cookie had been consumed by his 11-year old sweet tooth, Hudson agreed to browse the books for a while to look for a bibliophile birthday gift instead an electronic whatever.  He’d told me about a book he’d read recently from the school library that he really liked (something about a secret underground world that’s always dark and a group of kids that had to rally around a cause to save their people from the bad guys and find more light for their city), and that it was first in a series of four; we found the series (The City of Ember series by Jeanne DuPrau) in the kids’ section and I offered to get the remaining three books for him for his birthday gift instead of the game.  I held my breath a little as he looked at the covers of each one and weighed his options; he finally agreed but only after some bargaining – he’d forget about the game but only if I’d also agree to get him a fourth book, a comic book novel.  We struck a deal and we were both very happy about it!

 

Hudson & his birthday books.

Hudson & his birthday books.

Some of the birthday shopping trip gifts Hudson has picked out in the last few years have included: plastic Wolverine claw glove-type contraptions; Lego sets (of course); and model dragons, horses and knights.  All had their appeal, but I was glad he picked something that would encourage a little more brain power this time.

Hudson immediately started reading the comic book novel on the ride home, and as we pulled up to the house, his 9 year old brother ran over to the car, anxiously peering through the window to see what his brother had brought home.  (Before we’d left, Truman had spouted off a few ideas of his own for video games that he thought Hudson should get.)  “What did you get?” he asked as Hudson opened the door; “Books,” said Hudson as he held them up.  “What??  Why?!”  Truman stomped off into the house with a scowl on his face.

Hudson disappeared into the house too and continued to read one of his books for the next half hour or so.  Then little brother Wyatt got home and the first question he asked was “Hudson, what did you get?!” “Books,” said Hudson from his reading perch on the stairs.  Wyatt’s 4-year old eyes got very wide & he threw his hands in the air. “JUST BOOKS?! Nothing else?!”  “Just books, and that’s OK,” I answered since Hudson was lost in his reading.  Wyatt couldn’t take it: “YOU DIDN’T GET ANY TOYS??!  Not even one?  That’s STUPID Hudson!” And he ran upstairs, on the verge of tears because his brother apparently wasted a perfectly good birthday shopping trip by only getting books…)

Ok boys, so now I’m going to tell you why books are better than toys or video games or phone apps.  Books are like Star Trek transporters for the brain – they can beam you to any place in the world, any world, as if by magic.  I’m pretty sure you already know this though – because pretty much each night of your life, starting from the time you were each very little, books at bedtime has been a regular ritual.  (It’s a good one to have, much better than playing a video game or watching an episode of a humdrum sitcom before bed.)  But books can take you anywhere you want to go: deep into space amongst the stars, back into medieval times of knights and round tables, or even into the world of wizards and warlocks.  The sky is not the limit, and you can go there as well.  I know you think games and apps can do this too, but the written word is always more powerful and meaningful than any game you might play.

Books make you smarter, not just by improving your reading and vocabulary skills, but because each time you read a story about another country or a past president or how the West was won, you’re learning about the ways of the world and putting power into your mind that you can use later.  There are many people out there who never learn to read during their life, which is very sad; can you imagine not being able to read your favorite stories and learn about new things all the time?  You’re very lucky that you know how to read and that you’re learning to read better all the time; maybe one day you can go help other people learn to read so you can help them discover all those other worlds too.

It’s sad to me that one day we might not have many more real, actual books to read; it’s very possible that by the time you’re all adults, all books in our society will be online and electronic.  And while progress will march on, I’m glad you’re getting to hold and experience real books right now; there’s just something about being able to hold that adventure in your hands and turn the paper pages yourself, or being able to take that book with you from place to place as a mini-treasure that’s yours and no one else’s.  I have a few books that I’ve held onto for a very long time now that are important to me, and I hope you get to do the same.  Go to libraries every chance you get, because they might not be around when you’re older; it’s fun to look for new books on the shelves that you didn’t even know existed.  It’s like a little library lottery each time you go, because you get to go home with something new and exciting.  It’s a shame they don’t have Bookmobiles anymore (Google it), I always used to get so excited when I’d see that big blue bus pull up to our school.

Books can make you laugh, and cry, and maybe even influence what you end up doing with your life at different times.  A line in a book was what made me decide to go to Africa with the Peace Corps and live there for two years; I read it while standing in a bookstore and I just knew right there and then that I had to go.  Reading books like “Where the Red Fern Grows” when I was a little girl (and “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” as an adult) made me love dogs as much as I do.  In seventh grade a teacher had us read “Rebecca” by Daphne DuMaurier; that may have been the actual moment I began to wonder about and be captivated by England and it’s scenery.  (“Rebecca” is still on my nightstand as I write this.)

Books will make you a better person.  When I was a little girl, books were always what I wanted first and foremost for every birthday and holiday…yes, stuffed animals and model horses also made the list, but it was books that made the best gifts for me.  I was proud to be a bookworm, and I will gladly support you if you want to be one too.

Always.

Love,

Ant Kristi

ant-with-flower

LLTMN #5: Courage

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“You are gentlemen of brave metal; you would lift the moon out of her sphere, if she would continue in it five weeks without changing.” ~William Shakespeare (The Tempest, II, i)

[This post is the fifth installment in the series I call “Life Letters to My Nephews,” or LLTMN.]

Hi boys!  I’m sorry it’s been so long since my last LLTMN post, time flies!  Anyway, today I want to talk to you about the concept of courage.  About what it means to face your fears and be brave even when you might be really scared or not sure about something.  Right now when you’re still really young, I suppose it’s pretty easy to be brave about a lot of things…the concept of consequences isn’t quite as daunting as it is when you start getting older.  Bravery and courage are masked by the badges of innocence and naivety when we’re young and for a while, it’s exhilarating.  

But as you start to get older, courage will probably start to become more complicated.  Grown-up feelings like doubt, worry and fear start to crowd out the room for courage sometimes.  And yet it’s those times when we feel worried and scared and doubtful that we most need to be courageous.  It’s not easy to be brave!

Luckily you have many examples of other courageous people in your life to follow.  Here’s one: just two weeks ago, your Dad (my brother) did a very brave and courageous thing that most people will never do – he ran for public office to try to make our city a better place.  For many months prior to election day, he bravely knocked on the doors of thousands of strangers and put himself out there in the public eye during untold numbers of candidate forums, interviews, and debates.  He had the courage to express his opinion on all different kinds of issues, knowing full well that many people might not agree with him.  This is not easy!

He did the best he could and worked really hard, but as you know he didn’t win the race.  We were proud of him but of course he was very disappointed; it’s really tough when you muster up all your courage and hopes into something and that something doesn’t happen.  And then it takes even more courage to pick up the pieces and keep going, which might be the most important part of the entire experience.  Let your courage carry you through a sad or bad situation; it will seem awful at the time, but how you react and what you do to get through it will help shape you for the future.

You have more family examples of courage too.  You have great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents who fought in actual wars – I guess that’s sort of the quintessential kind of courage that we all think of.  They fought in ground trenches and airplanes and traveled across oceans to be part of an effort to keep our country and the world safe and stable.  Their bravery took them away from their homes and their families and they didn’t know if they’d ever get to come back.

Sometimes the courage is a more quiet kind, but the battles are just as important; the courage to fight a serious disease (or help someone else who is), or move to a new city to start a new life, or just to try something new that will make you a happier person.  Even just being your own person takes courage – raising your hand in class when you know the answer (even though other kids may not think that’s cool), or standing up for someone who’s being bullied…that takes a LOT of courage.  Along the way, be sure to beware of courage’s crazy cousin: blind courage.  Blind courage is pretty much leaping before you look – it feels like courage but without the forethought of where you’ll be once you land…if you land.  Real courage has a behind-the-scenes parachute that comes with it – a feeling that you’re doing the right thing, whatever that may be.

Courage also comes in all different forms and shapes and time frames.  Sometimes you might have to muster up your courage for a very long time if you’re going through something really tough that lasts for what seems like forever; other times, you might only need it for a few minutes to just get through a particular fleeting moment.  How much courage you actually have inside you can be surprising…just when you think you might be out of courage, more appears as if by magic. 

Courage often seems to be a kind of magic, come to think of it.  It’s a very powerful thing, courage; sometimes people think that courage itself needs something extra, and so they do things that they believe will “help their courage along.”  But you yourself – the person you are and the strength inside you – is the most important determination of your courage factor.  And it’s also ok to be scared – everyone gets scared of something at some time.  There’s no shame in that – even for boys and men!  But when you feel like you’re too scared to do something that is really important – well, then that’s when you dig deep into that “suitcase of courage” to get you to the finish line (or just through the day!).

Twainquote

And if you ever need help with finding that courage, or just a shoulder to lean on while you’re looking for it, then know that I’ll be here for you during those times. 

Always.

Love,

Ant Kristi

ant-with-flower

LLTMN#4: It’s OK If You’re Not Perfect

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“But no perfection is so absolute, that some impurity doth not pollute.” ~William Shakespeare

[This post is the fourth installment in the series I call “Life Letters to My Nephews,” or LLTMN.]

My first and oldest nephew Hudson turned 10 last week – Happy Birthday Hudson!  Already.  Unbelievably.  I literally can’t fathom that an entire decade passed in the blink of an eye since I anxiously waited by the phone for news that you’d made your way into the world.  I didn’t get to see you until you in person until you were three months old, at which point you had this spiky charcoal hair and the cutest little furrowed-brow face when you would concentrate on something – you still do that, and it’s one of my favorite things about you.

babyH3 months cropped

I didn’t move to Austin until you were five and half years old, so I regrettably missed out on so much time during your “younger” years.  But since I have been here, I’ve really enjoyed going to all of your sports matches, spending holidays with you, watching movies with you during sleepovers at my house, and taking you on our yearly Ant Kristi/Hudson birthday shopping trips!  (I really look forward to all of my aunt/nephew birthday shopping trips each year, time with just me and that nephew on a special outing.)

blue butterfly bike

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it was like for me to be 10 years old.  And now that you’re into the double digits Hudson, I wanted to share a little life lesson with you that started way back when I was the same age you are now.  You see, it was around age 10 when I decided that I was going to be PERFECT.  Perfect at everything I did, all the time, no matter what it was:  getting perfect grades in school, being the perfect daughter, performing perfectly in dance class, even having perfect friends.  You name it, and my self-proclaimed job as a kid (and later as an adult) was to be as perfect at it as possible.

Which of course is ridiculous, because no one is perfect at anything much less everything, but you couldn’t have told me that at the time.  I wasn’t super-smart, but I knocked myself out for the next 15 years to strive for that 4.0 level of perfection in school; it took me a while, and I didn’t quite get there in middle or high school, but by the end of my academic pursuits, I was valedictorian of my Masters degree class, with the 4.0 to go along with it.  I’d finally made it to the top.  Which, by the way, did exactly nothing for my professional or personal life whatsoever (I can now say) in any realm: career, happiness, income, satisfaction.  That “top” was just a temporary stop on my never-ending pursuit of perfection.  And you know what happens after you reach the top don’t you…you can’t stay there forever, and eventually you start rolling downhill.

Don’t get me wrong, school is extremely important and you should do the best you can – but not at the sacrifice of all the other good things life has to offer along the way, and not to the point where you beat yourself up about it.  I remember being so mad at myself for getting a few “B’s” in high school, and the one and only “C” I got in college shocked and dismayed me.  It was in Genetics by the way, one of the most difficult classes taught by the reputed toughest professor at my university – I should have been thrilled that I passed the class when many didn’t, but instead, I felt sub par, below average – when technically a “C” means average, ok, satisfactory.  But I’d convinced myself that average – in any arena – was the same thing as failure, which of course isn’t true.  And average sure wasn’t perfect (in my eyes), and if I wasn’t achieving perfection, then I was failing.  It’s a dangerous roundabout, the pursuit of perfection, and very difficult to get out of once you’re in it…

I’m ashamed to admit I even quit being friends with some people because they weren’t perfect enough or they did things that I thought would affect my perfect life.  That’s sad.  I caused myself a LOT of stress over the years trying to make everything perfect around me, even if I didn’t have any control over a lot of it – sounds crazy right?  Things that I tried so hard to make perfect – weddings, marriages, jobs, friendships, my health – all ended up in shambles (and made me feel even more crazy).  Mostly because I couldn’t just let go and accept imperfection as a reality.

mmimperfectquote

You see, trying to be perfect all the time is a kind of self-torture, and I don’t want you (or any of my nephews) to have to go through that!  When you try to be perfect at something and you’re not, you start to feel bad because you didn’t reach the impossibly high standards you’ve set for yourself (or that others have set for you).  You begin to be unhappy and frown more than you smile, because you’re always thinking about how you’ve let yourself and others down by not being perfect.  But once you can realize that it’s ok to NOT be perfect all the time – or even ANY of the time – then you can start to really just be YOU!  Imperfect, quirky, beautiful you – good at some things, not so good at other things, but loved and cherished by so many people no matter what.

I hope you can learn from my mistakes better than I’ve been able to.  It’s still a struggle for me to not want to be perfect or to expect perfection in every aspect of my life, but I do know that I’m definitely more UNunhappy and more fulfilled when I just let those expectations go – and I want you to be happy and fulfilled too, no matter what you end up doing with your life. 

Four years ago when I moved to Austin and started cycling, I bought myself a Road ID bracelet that I know you’ve seen me wear every day.  The last sentence on the ID tag is reserved for a “personal motto” expression – and when I ordered mine, of course I picked the phrase I’d said over and over in my head my entire life:  PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT.

RoadIDPMP

I think it’s finally time to get a new tag, with a new personal motto…maybe “Pobody’s Nerfect?” I really like that one.

And just remember:imperfectAlways!

Love,

Ant Kristi

ant-with-flower

 

 

 

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