Friday, May 13, 2011

Hanukah By The Book

as printed by the Palisadian Post in December 2010

Hanukah by the Book

We had a tradition when I was growing up that we would get a present each night of Hanukah. My Mother would ask us if we wanted a big, small or medium present. Nothing was extravagant, just enough giving to last 8 nights, like the oil that spawned the holiday.

So, one night, (I think I was seven), after we’d lit the candles, I asked for a medium sized gift. I remember unwrapping my flattish package and turning it over to see that it was a book. I quickly announced with childish agony, “THIS ISN’T A PRESENT. IT’S A BOOK!”. Oh, what had I done? After I was informed that my response was both ungracious and rude, I was sent to my room for the remainder of the evening. I think there might have been some yelling involved.

What thoughts must have gone through my parents’ minds that night! “Oy vey Naomi, we’re raising an illiterate,” my Father must have said to my Mother. “We take her to bookstores everywhere, we have over 7,000 volumes of every genre on our bookshelves. We read every night after dinner. We had her read “Eloise” and “Winnie the Pooh” to us. She CAN read. What does this mean?” I don’t think my mother could have consoled him. It was a tragedy in the making!

In my room, I ruminated. What had I done? Was it really so wrong? I didn’t like reading. I liked playing and swimming and Barbies and,,,,, TV. I didn’t even like that all my family ever wanted to do was sit around and read. It made me crazy that my older sister would sit in the chair right in front of the TV and read and not watch. I couldn’t talk to her about what Dr. Kildare had just done to his patient. She wasn’t paying attention.

As Mom always did, after sending me to my room, she eventually came in to talk to me. I wasn’t too open to conversation. She calmly explained that even if I hadn’t liked the present, I should have thanked them anyway. To reject it so instantly was the zenith of impoliteness. “Why don’t we read it together” she suggested, “and then you can decide if you like it or not.” I recall not agreeing, but obviously, I heard her.

Well, here we are some 40+ years later and I’ve come to terms with it all. I finally read “Mr. Poppers Penguins.” (I realize many of you will gasp to think I wouldn’t want to read that particular classic) when my oldest daughter was in a production of it at Pali Elementary. It was cute; the play and the book.

And, what do I find now in my youngest daughter? Lean in and I’m going to whisper this, she doesn’t like to read. You know what? That’s ok. It kills a little bit, but what can you do? You can’t force someone to like what they don’t like when they don’t like it.

Eventually, I learned to love reading. It started with a love of biographies. (Probably because I’m so nosy). That evolved into historical fiction, drama and the rest. I think the only kind of book I still don’t like is science fiction. And so it might be with my daughter. I still buy her books, for Hanukah. And I expect her to be polite, even if she has no plans to read them. I don’t have 7000 volumes in my house, but I have a lot. And one of them is the 47 year old copy of “Mr. Poppers Penguins”.

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