My friend, Pitter, posted a picture on Facebook of herself and her sweet daughter, Mo, headed to The Cloister. Mo was a student of mine this year, and they both became dear friends. In fact, Mo gave me the best Valentine ever this year!
Their adventure reminded me of one of my most favorite summer memories with my mother (HINT: it absolutely involves the Cloister!)
In 1993, the summer before my senior year in high school, I had been very busy. A mission trip and other opportunities had filled my calendar that summer. It was just over one week until the first day of school, and I still needed to read two more books for my upcoming AP Lit class with Mr. Charles Cope.
Our summer reading for his class included the following: Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome, Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, and Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. This was no light reading list. I had only read the first two selections on the list at that point, and the final two overwhelmed me. We read over 35 books that year with Mr. Cope. It prepared me more than any other class for later success in all literature classes. At that moment, however, my anxiety paralyzed me.
Anxiety plagued me for most of my life (cancer helped me overcome it, but that is another story for another blog). Orly, my maternal grandmother, remains the most brilliant woman I have ever known, and she suffered from it as well. During my childhood, I remember Orly reading at least a book a day. Mom would take me to visit Orly and Papa most every day, and she would sit with me in the kitchen and tell me about books. We never hurried at her house, and she held books in the highest regard and inspired me to devour books since I could hold one on my own. She used books to temper her worry, and I developed the same solution as well. Reading was my safest place.
In that moment of stress about the upcoming tests on the reading that would come on the first day of school, I broke down in tears. How would I ever finish? My mother, in her classic, whimsical way, declared, “Pack your books and your bathing suit!”
Mom and I jumped in her grey Cadillac in less than 20 minutes. Just us. No Dad, no Chris, no friends, no boyfriend. Just us. We headed to Sea Island to make a temporary home at The Cloister.
If my memory serves me correctly, we ran out of gas on the way down (another classic move by my mom). She told me to keep reading while she handled the entire fiasco. I am sure she charmed someone along I-75 to help us out of the mess. I did keep reading, and she transformed that madness into even more fun.
I am not sure how we made the reservation since we did not have a cellphone. Maybe my dad made the call? Maybe she walked up to the desk to convince them to squeeze us in? In any case, I just remember sitting in that fabulous foyer reading Madame Bovary.
We spent the next few days with toes in the sand, virgin daiquiris in hand, and our noses in a book. It. Was. Perfect.
In her moment of creative inspiration, my mom preserved in me my deep love affair with books. She would never allow my reading to become a chore. For me, reading held its place as my most treasured love. Even a fear of a super test on the first day of school could not kill that in me.
As expected, I finished the books. Those two books still sit on my bookshelf. I hope a few grains of stand are hidden in them.
This year, I taught English again. More than anything, I hope my students tasted that love of books. Our school redesigned summer work this year. We asked ourselves the dangerous question, “What is our purpose for giving this assignment?” As expected, it changed the product completely.
If your child is struggling this summer with summer reading this year, learn from my mother. Put their toes in the sand if at all possible. It is the ideal location for reading anything… even Dostoyevsky.