Children hear what you say and understand more than you know. And it’s not just words. They soak up the smiles, the disappointment, the tone, the indifference, the excitement. They are surrounded by your attitude and it becomes a part of who they are.
Yesterday was a bad day. It was a terrible horrible no good very bad day. When I’m having a bad day, I often find a way to blame my children. “They were so whiny and demanding today. Why do they have to fight all the time? Could they be quiet for one second?” By the end of the day, I was feeling low about everything and I was contentious and whiny and loud.
Today was a great day. The children were angels. They were affectionate and sweet and we spent a ton of time together reading, playing fetch (guess who did the fetching), and exploring in the back yard. I was in a great mood all day. The chicken or the egg?
In the book there’s a scene where Francie goes to the doctor for her immunization and the doctor and nurse talk about her like she isn’t even there. She is crushed by their words and they seem shocked that she even had a clue what they were talking about. She also experiences emotional highs and lows based on her parents’ language and behavior.
This got me thinking of just how staggering of an effect I have on my children. When I am feeling anxiety, sadness, or a sense of low self-esteem, they mirror my feelings and behaviors so closely that it scares me. When I don’t show them attention or when I spend the day talking on the phone about how hard the house hunting is or how fat I look in these jeans, the kids basically fall apart.
I feel a lot of pressure as a mother to be “on” all the time, to put on my happy face and act like everything’s okay, even when it’s really not. In the end, the kids can see through this and I also think it’s healthy for them to watch me face a range of challenges and emotions.
What I’d like to show them are positive actions, healthy ways to deal with those emotions. Do I want them to be wallowers and worry-warts? Not particularly.
Okay, other things that were striking about these chapters. I loved the transfer to the new school and the way Francie describes the old janitor as being the entire reason for the improved atmosphere there. It is one more example of a single person making a huge difference in many lives.
I also loved the end of chapter 26 where Teacher explains that Francie’s “embellishments” are not lies, just good storytelling. She teaches her the importance of telling the truth and writing the story, which is a fabulous scene to me as a writer.
I love when writers create characters who are writers because it means they are writing about what they know and Betty Smith’s voice is nothing if not authentic. You feel that she has lived so many of the experiences in this book, whether through her own eyes or through the eyes of the people she grew up with. Maybe she embellishes them a little, but that’s okay. She’s a writer.
Lauren writes from a New Yorker’s perspective about the ways our world has changed and how it remains the same.
Allysha says “[…]Often times it’s heartbreaking as Francie has to negotiate the world she has created in her mind with the reality she lives in.[…]”
Chapters 1-10 Saturday, August 12th
Chapters 11-26 Saturday, August 19th
Chapters 27-37 Saturday, August 26th
Chapters 38-45 Saturday, September 2nd
Chapters 46-End Saturday, September 9th
Please let me know if you’ve blogged about the book and I’ll add a link here. And remember, you don’t have to stick to the schedule. If you have something great to say about the first page, let us know.
“I love when writers create characters who are writers” … I do too. I like movies about writers and journalists too, and I hadn’t thought about why, until I read your post.
DYM, my friend thinks that the children directly reflect the mother’s mood. I know of incidents when this is totally true, but more often then not I think it is difficult to tell: chicken or egg? But I agree with you, when I feel guilt about that, I think I would rather teach my kids that it is ok to have emotion and ups and downs, then to be fake and clouded.
The scene with the new teacher is so great b/c one person saying one simple thing can change a childs life (for better or worse depending).
I can think of a few teachers along the way that I wasn’t particularly close to, who gave me a few sentences of advice and it changed the course of my life (in my profession and for the positive). And I had forgotten about this teacher, which is an interesting parallel for the second (different I hope) teacher scene towards the middle/end of the book. We also need to know how to weed out the bad advice!
Part 2, where I lement once again that I’m still waiting on the library where I have this on hold and I’m too cheap to buy it myself…sounds so good.
My post is up. And is kind of a downer. But I love what you had to say here….maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to Francie as a character, too.
Hey there, I totally understand your thoughts about your kids sensing your mood and reacting to it. I have been experiencing the same thing lately. For me, it largely boils down to lack of sleep. I stay up too late (to get some me-time) then I am grouchy and short with my kids the next day. I hate being in a funk like that.
I just picked this book up a few days ago and have only had time to read a few pages. I am already hooked and cant wait to finish it.
Can I say again how much I love this book? So much could be said about it! I do love where the teacher tells Francie she won’t punish her for having an imagination and then gently redirects her embellishements and stories. That’s the kind of parent I want to be, one who really understands the situation. (I’ve said a little bit more on my own blog.)
I just finished A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. My husband told me he saw you were all talking about it, and he said I should read what you were saying. I loved the book. Most of the books I read are good or just pretty good. But occasionally I happen across a book that is excellent, and this is one of them. I will be buying a copy for myself. I totally identified with Francie. I loved how REAL all the characters were, and how I felt like I was growing up with Francie in Brooklyn. I’ve never lived in a slum or anywhere near New York, but now it feels like part of me has. What an experience that books was! It was the first book to make me cry at the end in ages… I was just so sad to say good-bye. Hope you all enjoy the rest of the book as much as I did. 🙂