Choose Your Adventure
I’ve been thinking a lot about the choose your adventure books that were popular when I was young. Remember those? You’d read a few pages, and then make a choice — turn to page 21 to search for the treasure in the mountain, skip to page 35 to search by the sea. Your choices determined whether the characters succeeded or failed.
The kids are growing up, and we’re facing choices these days. So much seems to hang in the balance. If we choose the ‘right’ school, pick the ‘right’ sport, steer them toward the ‘right’ peer group — will their story end the ‘right’ way, with a healthy and happy life? That’s the question that keeps me up at night.
The truth is, I never cared much for those adventure books. Being able to control the plot might have been exciting the first time, but the story never captured my imagination the way other books did. They were billed as stories to read again and again, but I only read them once and then gave them away. The books I turned to — The Hobbit, The Dark is Rising, The Chronicles of Narnia — might not have had huge plot points I could control, but each sentence was crafted with exquisite care. Strung together, page after page, they required patience from my 10-year-old self to decipher, but the whole added up to such a wonderful story I couldn’t help but read them again and again.
I tell myself it’s not the big plot points in my children’s lives that make them who they are. It’s not the choice of schools, of sports, of activities. It’s not who they hang out with (even though their friends are all lovely). It’s the smaller moments — the time we spend in the car together, the family movie nights, the trips to the beach. It’s reading on the couch together, the chore of feeding the Slobbering Beast, the times my husband and I choose to be their parents instead of their friends, no matter how often I wish it could be the other way. It’s a million tiny moments, strung together with as much care as we can muster, done as often as we can. Those are the moments that make up their story. Those are the moments upon which their ending depends.
I think it’s both. The books you mention having loved are books I loved (and love). While it’s true that “God is in the small thiings,” the authors also had a big vision or theme they were exploring. And each was grounded in a first-class education. All three went to Oxford, and as you probably know, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis taught there. Susan Cooper would certainly have heard their lectures and depending on which college she attended may have be tutored by one or both.
My mother was a proponent of a first-class education, by which she meant a school that teaches children to think independently. Not that she was fortunate in that aspect with her first choice for me–a boarding school I attended until I was 15 and failing (having arrived as a scholarship child at the age of 11). After that she put me into a small private day school where I thrived until a car accident that took me of the school system for a year. Still, I was lucky and managed to find my feet again…but not for a long time. The boarding school did its best to knock out my natural confidence in the good mind I’d been given that allowed me to think outside the box. The minds there were very narrow. It was completely the wrong place for the kind of child I was intellectually. So I think the right school at a formative age is very important. I could go on, but this is your blog post, not mine! 🙂
Sevigne, I had no idea that Susan Cooper might have studied under them — I knew the history behind Tolkien and Lewis, of course, but hadn’t learned that much about Cooper. Thanks for sharing this.
I’m sorry for your academic woes — the boarding school sounds awful. I fear that in the US, learning to think independently is taking a back seat to learning to score well on standardized tests. Not the fault of the teachers, either. But I suppose that’s a post for another day.
I love the sentiment of those little things that make the difference, and believe that they do. And I know how you cherish them, and I’m sure your kids sense it as well. I know that will make all the difference in the choices they make. Lovely post, Liz!
Some days they may sense that more than others, Vaughn! But thank you. I’m glad to know someone else who thinks the little things matter.
Is it bad for me to chuckle that you have a “Worry and Woe” category?
One thing that helps me is to remember that most of these life choices can be altered, if ultimately felt to be wrong. I took a long detour through medicine, and it was he** at times, but I can’t find it in myself to be sorry.
I take it you aren’t surprised by it though, Jan. : )
I always think of Steve Jobs and his comment (I’m paraphrasing) that if he hadn’t gotten sidetracked in college and taken classes on fonts and stuff, the Apple experience wouldn’t be as elegant. I’m trying to remind myself that experience is what you make of a situation.