The nightly ritual when I get home from work is probably mirrored by many Dads around the country.
In the door, take a breath and then it’s the bath and bedtime routine.
I was reading my 3 year old a bedtime story the other night. It’s always a question of finding the right books to read. These are the ones that appeal both to her and me. She just loves books and always presents me with a pile that would take ‘til midnight to get through. I like the ones that allow me to go through my full range of character voices.
Oftentimes my 9 year old will suggest that I stop doing the silly voices and just read the story. The youngest probably doesn’t even notice the immense effort I put in, but she lets me indulge myself.
My personal favourites, probably for nostalgic reasons, are the Noddy stories because there are lots of weird characters and you can do great accents. My real favourite has to be Mr Wobbly Man.
I figure it’s about a dozen years since I started reading children’s bed time stories. I’d love to know how many times I’ve read The Very Hungry Caterpillar or The Little Yellow Digger.
The old faithfuls our son received brand new 13 years ago, have been recycled with our middle child and now those familiar characters are coming round again with the three year old. I could probably recite them word for word.
Sometimes I’m reading away only to discover one or both of the older children are sitting by the bedroom door listening and reliving fond memories created by these stories.
I read some research recently saying how much harder it is for kids today, as opposed to growing up in our generation. These days they have so many more after school commitments, hours of homework and they spend time on the computer or watching TV. They get driven to and from school and in a lot of ways their lives are not their own.
Contrast that with our childhoods. We biked to school, or ambled along with our mates. Because we had no electronic distractions, we had to make our own fun. This involved trees, bikes, backyard games and a bit of spelling and maths homework after tea.
The same study suggested that the only thing our children’s upbringing has in common with our own is reading children’s’ stories. Of course that is particularly relevant for younger kids, but apparently older children still like to be read to as well.
So I’m hoping that after all my efforts with Hairy McLairy, Five Minutes Peace, and The Tiger Who Came To Tea that these books will inspire my children to be readers.
It also mentioned that the best example for children when it comes to reading is, of course, to see their parents reading. And that is one of my regrets. I hardly ever make time to read for myself.
I have always loved newspapers and with my job on Auckland’s Breeze radio station I keep up to date with the happenings in a variety of magazines. But I don’t take time to just sit down and read for me.
This is a pity because it is such a great feeling when, every so often, a book really takes your fancy. There is something about the storyline that grabs you and you enjoy every page turn as you get to the end.
One such book for me was written by an American sports writer, Mitch Albom. Called Tuesdays With Morrie, the book told the true story of Mitch Albom’s former teacher Morrie Schwartz and the extraordinary weeks they spent together leading up to Morrie’s death.
So a couple of weeks ago when I heard that Albom, the author was speaking in Auckland I was keen to hear what he had to say. Apparently he just loves New Zealand and was very pleased to take the opportunity to promote his latest book One More Day as well as spend time with friends here.
I guess the main reason I’m talking about this American author is that he had so many pertinent things to say about families, about family histories and just talking with each other about stuff.
In our busy lives it can be easy to overlook the real meaning of family and love.
I speak for myself when I sometimes put off going to visit my elderly parents or relatives because I don’t have the time. I think we sometimes get so obsessed with paying the mortgage that we underestimate the value of simple things like going to the park with the kids or just sitting down for a chat together.
In Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch recounts how when he left college he remembers saying to his favourite teacher and mentor, Morrie Schwartz, that he would keep in touch. Best laid plans and all that, but of course as life got busier and as he travelled frequently with his job, he never seemed to have time to get in touch. Doesn’t that sound familiar.
Seventeen years later, by sheer coincidence, he saw a TV news report which featured his old teacher and revealed that he was dying of Motor Neurones Disease.
Mitch got in touch with Morrie and upon discovering his illness was terminal decided to visit him every Tuesday from that point on.
The book then details Morrie’s amazing acceptance of his impending death and his philosophies on life. In alternate chapters it also chronicled the deterioration in Morrie’s health as this brain disease took hold.
As he was going through this sad process Mitch recorded his old teacher’s thoughts. He decided to put it into a book when he discovered one of Morrie’s big fears was leaving his family in debt due to his medical bills.
So Mitch decided to write the book simply to raise funds for Morrie to pay his horrendous debts.
Eventually he found a publisher and the book sold a few thousand copies, mainly through word of mouth. It is the type of book you read and you tell someone else about it. They sold just enough copies to pay off Morrie’s debts.
As luck would have it, Oprah Winfrey was featuring a programme on how to face death with dignity and somehow she heard of Mitch Albom’s book and offered him 5 minutes at the end of her programme to talk about it.
He must have said something right because the next day book sales for Tuesdays With Morrie went through the roof and propelled him to # 1 in the New York Times Best Sellers list.
Oprah then ended up producing a movie of the book which starred Jack Lemmon, in his final performance.
So Tuesdays with Morrie is one of those lovely books. It inspires you to talk with your aging parents or relatives about their thoughts on life as they look back.
Mitch spoke of the necessity to talk to your family. Even better record their stories on a video camera. Your parents, brothers and sisters, Uncles and Aunties, all have great stories of family history and personal adventures, successes and failures.
But especially talk to your children, because your voice is the memory they will always have. For years to come and years after you’ve gone, your words will echo in their minds.
The photographs will fade but you will live on through the conversations you have with them now. It’s so true. I can vividly recall the sound of my Grandparents’ voices and they passed away more than 20 years ago.
When Morrie was very near the end of his life, Mitch asked him “who am I going to talk to when you’re gone?”
Morrie replied. “I want you to come to my graveside. I don’t want you to worry about the flowers or cleaning my headstone, but come along, bring a picnic and just chat to me.”
Mitch thought about this and said: “But when you’re dead you won’t be able to answer my questions.”
“No, but this time round I’ll be listening,” said Morrie “you’ll see”.
And to this day Mitch says he still talks to Morrie and finds it truly rewarding. Because of the special conversations they shared and the depth of their friendship Mitch reckons he can easily hear the answers to his questions.
A parenting lesson to be learned I think … you can never spend enough time chatting to your kids.