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Few things in life surpass the delight of being mostly asleep and feeling someone lay a blanket over you to keep you warm. It is a magically cozy feeling, a coziness that starts way inside the heart and through dreams. It is one of those simple gestures of love that one person makes to another.  A way to say: I am loving and thinking about you and your comfort; I am protecting you while you sleep. To cover someone with warmth and love is to give a true gift. So simple, and it costs nothing: the glow of coziness.

The kiddos and I had a busy morning: we took a long walk and played at a nearby park. When we got home, Eric was sleepy. Katie went to get one of their blankets, and she gently covered him after he had already fallen asleep.

Big Sister tucks in her little brother for a small nap.

 

She tucked him in, saying, “Swaddle him, swaddle him.” Such sweetness…

While he napped, we made lemon bars from some lemons my mom and dad brought back from my grandpa’s land. We talked about how the scent of the lemon zest reminds us of his land and of him.

Using the pastry cutter, Katie helps to make the shortbread crust for the bars.

We also worked on today’s craft/lesson: wax paper “stained glass” hearts. We shaved crayons onto wax paper, folded over the paper, ironed, and then cut out heart shapes. Pictures of the final product still need to be taken, as we have yet to hang them up. That will be tomorrow…

Katie said this project was “the best one we’ve ever done!” (And that’s really saying something, because we have done many, many art projects together. She loved choosing the crayons and color blends. I also let her help with the ironing (carefully).

Katie works on making crayon shavings.

I love my two little people so much. My wish for them is that they will always be the kind of brother and sister to cover one another with a blanket when the air is cold, that their bond will triumph over any test life brings. I see in Katie the loyalty of a big sister and in Eric his totally adoring and trusting eyes. Because one is three and one is 5.5 months, I am often bouncing from one’s needs to the next—and it can get hectic to have them so close in age and still so young. Yet then there are a great many magical moments like today, when I am beyond thankful that they are so close in age and will travel through many of the same life phases together.

And there is so much joy for me, as a mother, to watch my daughter gently tuck in her brother the way I have done for her so many times. It means that she knows, at some deep level that she cannot verbally express, just how much I love her.

The beauty of this springlike January weather is that we have plenty of opportunity to exercise outdoors and soak up the sunshine. There was a bit of a chill early this morning, but by the time we started walking, it was definitely much warmer. Katie took off her sweater and jogged and walked the last full mile of our walk. We talked about how important exercise is to keeping our hearts and lungs healthy—I want to give her some of the good habits that I struggle to abide, such as daily exercise. Brother ended up falling asleep, though he enjoyed sitting up and looking around for awhile.

Here are the kiddos as we leave for our walk.

Home again, Katie asked if we could do another project out of her Giant Busy Box. Oh, yes! She decided to work on the chicken project. After coloring it, attaching feathers, and trimming it with various accessories, she decided—totally unprompted and out of the blue—to give it to her little brother as a gift! What a sweetheart! She was so excited, too, and Eric was delighted about the chicken, as well. Katie wanted to write on the back: “For Eric, Love Katie.” She told him it was for Valentine’s Day, and she said, “It is a girl chicken so that you will always remember your sister.” Wow!

 

Katie was excited to give the chicken to Eric!

 

Eric loved his first homemade gift from his big sister. After we cleaned up, Katie wanted us to hang it up in his room for him. She chose to hang it on his bookshelf so that he could see it from his crib when he wakes up. The love between the two of them makes my heart purr.

We also spent time playing with some insect puppets that Uncle Chet and Aunt Irma gave Katie for her 2nd birthday. The kiddos were BOTH laughing as I had the insects devour Katie’s princesses for lunch. Really, both of them were cracking up. I love playing with them and watching them laugh together.

Joy is watching Katie and Eric delight in one another. I am so grateful that they have each other.

With my mom not feeling well this morning and unable to watch Katie and Eric, I had to skip our Toastmaster’s meeting to have fun at home instead. We had a leisurely morning in our pajamas, and during Eric’s morning nap, Katie and I savored some one-on-one time together that we have both been craving. We worked several puzzles (one of her favorites is our United States puzzle—she loves maps and globes), and read some of our longer books that do not quite captivate Eric yet.

When it was time to pick up some of our toys, Katie asked the question mothers long to hear, “What would you like me to pick up?” Woo hoo! This is the first time she has ever asked this, and we celebrated together. I made a big happy deal of it. Clean-up went very smoothly this morning, and I was grateful.

The rest of the day we worked on art projects and with this beautiful, glorious weather, we spent most of the afternoon outside. Oh, how I love outdoor days. We ate lunch, did some art, played in the yard, watched the sky, and visited with my dad. Soaking up that lovely sunshine…

Here are some of our joyful moments today:

Katie tried on my wedding shoes this morning. She chose her whole outfit today (clothes, accessories, hair), and it is clear that she loves, loves being a girl. She was pretending to be a fairy princess with a red flower necklace of mine that I got long ago in Little Italy in New York. When I let her borrow it, I thought about how when I bought it, I had no idea that such a beloved daughter would be in my life…amazing and beautiful how life works out. We pretended the necklace was magic, and we made up a little song to go with it: “Little flower necklace/Close to my heart/All of your goodness/Please impart.” (We learned what “impart” means). It helps to have a pretend narrative going when we’re getting dressed.

Oh my goodness, my cousin Jed gave us one of the best gifts EVER! My Giant Busy Box by Alex Toys. I would give this gift in a heartbeat. There are sixteen different crafts all prepped and ready for doing—so perfect for a busy mom with a child who loves art!!! Since all the materials are present and ready for use, I get to do the fun part of teaching (makes me miss my classroom sometimes!), and Katie gets to dive in immediately. We opened the box today and were just so thrilled… We made a dog project and a tissue paper fish, enjoying the sunshine. Easy clean-up, too—since it all fits in the box. Glue is also provided, and everything is pre-cut and ready to punch out, so no scissors are necessary. Awesome, awesome gift.

Katie explains to Eric what she is making.

Katie’s tissue paper fish. So much fun for both of us (fun for me to instruct and lead, and fun for her to do on her own).

 

Then it was time for the swings… Eric’s first official swing (I had suggested it once to him a couple of months ago, but he didn’t want to be in it back then). Today he really enjoyed himself!

Katie gently swings her brother. I love that they are so close in age…I can see the magic between them, even in how they look at each other.

The swing is yummy!! Mmmmmm!

Boppa gave Eric his first taste of apple, and Eric found the food he likes best so far. Apples….yummmmmmy! Boppa cut a big piece from his apple for Eric to suck on and gum a bit, and Eric did not want to relinquish it. I had some applesauce on hand…oh my! Eric had just finished a big bowl of oatmeal, but when he tried the applesauce, he gobbled it!

All tired out…Eric is napping at this moment. He loves his giraffe, especially today. He fell asleep while we three were sitting all in a row and reading books. Joy is often so simple…

 

It was time for a family adventure, and so last night Bill and I talked about ideas for a day-trip or something fun to do with our kiddos today. Since Katie has been asking to visit the snow again, and since she routinely points out the snow on the mountains we can see in the distance from Temecula, we decided last night to head toward the mountains in search of snow. Right before she fell asleep last night, Katie listened as I told her, “In the morning, Daddy and I have a surprise for you. We are going to do something very fun tomorrow! It will be a surprise!” She was so excited, and she woke up wondering what the day would bring. Isn’t it neat how easy it is to create delightful anticipation in our children? To turn an ordinary day into an extra-special day?

We weren’t sure if Idyllwild would still have snow since it hasn’t rained for a couple of weeks. It seemed possible, though, and since Idyllwild is a special place for our family, we decided to head up there today. Sure enough, we got lucky with patches of snow along Strawberry Creek, right by the inn Bill and I try to visit yearly for our Anniversarymoon.

This was Eric’s first time to visit Strawberry Creek out of the womb. He actually has been twice already (last year’s snow day in February and our Anniversarymoon this past May). Katie burbled over with memories of last year’s snow trip, and she is starting to know some of the special spots at the inn: the chairs Bill and I sat in to talk about what to name her when I was pregnant with her, for example. She feels connected to this beautiful place in some of the ways we do.

Eric was delighted. I hiked with him in the Bjorn carrier (I wish I’d had this carrier for Katie), and he bobbed around making happy noises at everything. He especially loved the chickens, and he was so curious to touch the snow. Both Katie and Eric come alive in nature, and we all loved the scent of pine needles around us. Although last year’s trip to Strawberry Creek was the discovery of a winter wonderland swath of snow all along the creek, we really found only a few patches this year. But no matter. The point was for all four of us to be together, to make a memory, to have an adventure, to see what we could find and celebrate the beauty there was.

After playing and hiking by the creek, we drove more into town, went to the restaurant Bill and I ate at our first honeymoon night several years ago, then found a candy and toy store and poked around a bit. We had a nice day together.

Some pictures from today:

Today was a beautiful day in Southern California—warm, clear, fragrant with the promise of springtime. The perfect day, in fact, to celebrate Christmas with my Nana and our family.

Originally, Bill and I thought we might surprise Nana on Christmas Eve on our way to dinner that night. There has never been a Christmas when I have not spent at least part of it with Nana. When we received the call, though, telling us that Grandpa Yoder had taken a turn for the worse, we drove immediately to the hospital and knew that Christmas with Nana would need to be shared on a different day.

She left her tree decorated, and we could see it through the slider window as we all ate lunch outside by the pool today. Aunt Jenny and Aunt Anna set up the ping pong table and found a new model of the old Toss Across game, which we set up for Violet and Katie. We all enjoyed the time outside, time with family. It was still Christmas, because we were all together. Yes, the kiddos may have been in rompers. Yes, we ate sandwiches instead of prime rib. Yes, we all broke a sweat in the hot sun playing ping pong. Yet, it was just as full of the Christmas spirit as any time we’ve been together on the holiday. What a blessing to know that Christmas can truly last all year in the heart, and in the gathering of family.

Eric was able to take his first “generations” picture. The four of us have been together before, but we had yet to all be pictured together. I remember on that last visit with Grandpa Yoder at his home in November, it crossed my mind to take a “generations” picture…but I didn’t get around to it that day, and I thought “We’ll have another chance soon.” I wish we had one of all four of us, like we do for Katie.

Eric met Great-Aunt Jenny today. If Eric had been a girl, we had decided that he was going to be named “Jennifer” after her.

Eric and his great-grandmother, June Mitchell.

Learning how to play Toss Across.

How fortunate we are to have had this day together, to make these memories. In a life where we must say goodbye to those we love all too often, happiness is taking time with one another while we have each other here.

Gather your joy in your family, and celebrate the love that spans generations and years.

My two little birds have been patient all day, as today we have spent most of our time on chores…you know, those little things that just need to be done. Some of it was fun: Katie helped me to change entirely the bedding in the master bedroom, and we had fun cooking together. Some of it was not fun: while Eric napped, Katie had to play patiently on her own while I collected laundry and finished assorted tasks.

Although we began the day with some reading and playtime, when it came time to do work, parts of it were difficult for my children. Their little mouths were open—not for food, but hungry for play and attention.

I’ve had to make choices about my time tonight. Instead of blogging and working on my photograph projects as much as I normally do, I am choosing to spend the balance of time reading to Katie and filling up her little heart. All day she has wanted to read, and we’ve hardly had a moment. It is time to put her first today.

Sometimes we need to gather joy in making choices that fill up someone else, and that can be the best kind of joy there is.

Okay, I am keeping it short for today. 🙂 A combination of teething and moderate reaction to his vaccinations yesterday meant that Eric and I were up for most of the night. Katie never reacted to her immunizations, but the past two times Eric has developed a low-grade fever to accompany them. It’s not too big a deal, because I would much rather comfort him through a little warmth (which means he is developing his antibodies) than to take the risk that he might contract an illness that is many magnitudes more serious. However, it meant a wakeful night for us, because he was restless. Even though his fever was never extreme, he was much more comfortable with palliative care so I used cold washcloths to bring his temperature down for him so we could both get a couple hours sleep in between. With changing, feeding, and the cold compresses, we were awake for about an hour each of the three times he woke up… But, that’s how it is a mom. It’s just that he has spoiled me, because he sleeps like a champ—I am not used to waking up so, so, so much anymore!

I am sleepy today.

Yet this morning when I finally had to peel my eyeballs open, when both kiddos were as awake as could be, I really had to have a talk with myself for one minute…and I made the decision to CHOOSE thankfulness. Thank you, for my children. Thank you for letting them be safe and healthy with me. A night of wakefulness? That’s part of my job. I really can’t complain, except that at 6:00 this morning, I really felt for a split second like grumbling…a lot.

Then the Matics and Yoder farm values kicked in. Get up. Do the actions. The heart will follow. Make the oatmeal. Cut up grapefruit. Dress the children. Dress yourself. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps…and get going. Do I really think my ancestors had time to complain? And look how much easier I really have it. A microwave. Gas burning stove to make tea. A heater to keep the house warm.

Yes, readers, it was that basic this morning. Get back to the fundamentals of gratitude. Be glad I don’t have to walk ten miles in the snow. I had to remind myself of my basic thanks. That’s how tired I was. Tired, but not too tired to forget that I have so much to celebrate everyday. I am lucky.

So we ate, dressed, and went for a walk. It is almost counter-intuitive, but when I am most tired, I try to exercise. Exercise gives me energy when I feel I have none. We went to a park and played. I pretended that my eyes and head and back did not hurt, chose not to dwell, and eventually I tricked myself into feeling more awake.

The morning got better. Dad and I went to our Toastmasters meeting. I was a little tired there, but managed to win Best Table Topics (despite truly believing that it should have been someone else). When I am tired, I guess I worry less about what I will say and so I am not as nervous as I normally am.

The best part? I got to watch my dad win Most Valuable Member of 2010 for our club. I thought that honor was well-deserved. I know it might seem biased, but my main criteria for the Most Valuable Member includes attendance (as there would be no club if people didn’t attend regularly). Record showed that my dad had the best attendance of the year. He also completed his CC, to help the club meet one of its goals. Too, he has been serving  as an officer and has done some extra little things, like make new name cards, purchase materials to share without reimbursement, etc. He really loves being a part of Toast of the Valley.

Also, I know he would never vote for himself or even think he would ever be considered—that kind of humility is also appealing to me when it comes to awards like this.

So the tiredness is catching up with me this afternoon, but I am truly thankful for the joys I got to witness today, even with only one eye open. My children laughed and played and learned, and I got to watch my dad win an award that is meaningful to him, one that he did not expect.

Gather your joy by celebrating the triumphs of your family, of those you love. When we are really glad for others, and to have them in our lives, then we have all the heart-energy in the world, even if our bodies are begging for our beds.

Rooting around in the garage this afternoon, Eric harnessed to my front and Katie painting with watercolors, I found in a box of my old playthings a snow globe I’d once received from Grandma and Grandpa Yoder for Christmas. Gosh, it must have been a Christmas as long ago as 1986 or even 1987 or 1988. A Christmas back when we all were here: Aunt Lark, Uncle Eric, my grandparents, my young parents.  I wasn’t much older than seven or eight years old when I received it, and it was before we moved to Temecula, I know. I remember being little and holding it in my Yorba Linda room and watching it for hours, of being an age when the world was perfect, an age when my parents could still protect me from almost everything.

It is no longer really a snow globe (the glass broke long, long ago, maybe in the move), but the music box part of it still works fine. There is a clown holding three balloons, and the tune it plays is Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns”—more of an up-tempo version.

Dusting it off, bending the wired balloons back to standing, I placed it on our family room bookshelves. As I thought about the song it plays—a poignant song originally, full of regret and disappointment and the irony of missed timing (the Judy Collins cover always makes me feel weepy)—I also pondered how much it draws our attention, really, to finding and celebrating all the moments when timing is right, all the times when we aren’t the fools, or clowns,  that Shakespeare warns us mortals about.

So there were blessings today.

Eric had a check-up and vaccinations with his pediatrician this morning. My brave little boy. He is “long and lean” in Dr. Camacho’s words, at 26.5 inches in length, and 15 lbs., 6 oz. A good check-up is always a blessing. My mom came to help, and that is always welcome. Katie entertained her brother while we waited, by jumping and making up funny things to say. He laughs and laughs at his sister—I love it!

Later, my dad came over to help with a couple of things around the house. He took Katie for a walk and to lunch while Eric napped, so I had a little personal time this afternoon and time to work on my editing. I held and cuddled Eric as he went to sleep and just savored holding him for awhile while I read through some new recipes I’ve been wanting to try. I spent time studying his little baby face, marveling that I have him here with me now—as he was always meant to be. I began to ponder: what if the timing of Bill and I deciding to have a second child had been just the tiniest bit off? Would I not have had Eric? Impossible to fathom. He is as much a part of my destiny as is Katie.

Eric was still napping when Katie returned home, and she saw that I had put him down on her bed (a little closer to where I wanted to work). I asked her if she minded that he was on her bed, and she said, “No, he can be there; he’s my little brother!” She is so generous with her heart and her love for Eric. She is beautiful in her big sister role. And he adores her, too. I hope they always will love each other as much and as purely as they do right now. It is beautiful to witness.

And it is beautiful that, after so many years, my snow-globe-turned-music-box returned to my life just when I needed it, right at the time it would be most meaningful. While it reminds me of times that I miss and long almost too much to return to for just a moment, it becomes a talisman of childhood, a symbol of protection for an age I hold dear. It symbolizes what I most long to protect in my own children: innocent joy, free of worry, a joy of life.

Bill gave me a beautiful gift: The Complete Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II (published 2008). Many of you probably know that I am an absolute nut over musicals, especially those from Rodgers and Hammerstein (although several others, as well). Just today we filled the house with the score from Oklahoma! (“Oh what a beautiful morning/Oh what a beautiful day…”). In fact, my life is often a musical. I am happier when I sing, the children too, so I tend to sing all the time. I don’t claim to be a really great singer or anything like that, but I can hold a tune—and I sure love it. In my fantasy life, I am always a singer, sometimes on Broadway or sometimes I imagine being Stevie Nicks.

It is difficult not to sing. I find myself singing before I even realize that I ought probably to be talking. I sing to Eric about the snaps on his onesies; I sing to Katie about putting on her shoes. It helps to keep the mood calm if we are trying to get out of the house to go somewhere, and it is fun to sing when we cook, play, or dance. Most of the time, I fear that my children will think we live in an operetta. I am not comfortable singing around everybody, but Bill has always made me feel that he loves my singing and that he isn’t judging it. I figure Katie and Eric are too little to judge it and just soak up the mommy-love it represents. The music class that the children and I take has helped me to feel more comfortable singing (especially to or with my children) in public, but if I really could get away with it, I probably would sing everything instead of talk…at the grocery store, in the bank, at Starbucks ordering lattes. Singing feels like an absence of stress, to me.

So I love Rodgers and Hammerstein, naturally. Friends who have been reading my blogs for awhile, you know already that one of my favorite musicals ever is The Sound of Music. I have a dream someday to take the Sound of Music tour in Salzburg. The first song I ever sang to Katie the night she was born was “My Favorite Things.” We sing it daily, and her first birthday had a “My Favorite Things” theme. (For example, both of us wore “white dresses with blue satin sashes”). I love, love, love the lyrics to that song because we are reminded to look for the blessings “when the dog bites/when the bee stings,” and when we feel sad. If there is one message I hope to impart to my children in life it is to look for the good even when it is hard to find.

I pondered Eric’s special song for most of my pregnancy. What to choose? There were many options, but in the end I wanted to connect it as much as possible to Katie’s special song, and I chose “The Sound of Music.”I sing it to Eric every night as I tuck him in, just as I still sing Katie’s to her when I tuck her in.

The hills are alive/With the sound of music,/With songs they have sung/For a thousand years./The hills fill my heart/With the sound of music—/My heart wants to sing/Ev’ry song it hears/My heart wants to beat/Like the wings of the birds that rise/From the lake to the trees./My heart wants to sigh/Like a chime that flies/From the church on a breeze,/To laugh like a brook/When it trips and falls/Over stones on its way/To sing through the night/Like a lark who is learning to pray!/I go to the hills/When my heart is lonely;/I know I will hear/What I’ve heard before—/My heart will be blessed/With the sound of music,/And I’ll sing once more.

Reading my book about Hammerstein’s lyrics, though, I learned something interesting. The actual lyrics are still officially written in the published libretto as “To laugh like a brook/When it trips and falls/Over stones in its way/…”

Julie Andrews, in the movie soundtrack, was the one to sing it as “Over stones on its way.”

One slight preposition of a difference. In vs. on.

It probably doesn’t really matter too much, but I’ve given it some thought—being a total fan and absolutely gaga over word choice in any case.

I prefer Julie Andrews’ way. In her version, the brook (representing the spirit of a person) is still the primary agent; the stones merely are there, doing nothing of notice, or, if they are impeding the flow of water, it is implied that the symbolic mirth of the brook is much more powerful and superseding. Obstacles may be on our path, but they are never totally in the way.

If the stones are “in the way” it is implied that the impediments have much more power and potential to divert the happiness of the brook, of the singer, of the ability to find goodness.

At least, that is how I read it. A lyrical Rorschach.

I am reminded of how much perception influences how we view the obstacles we face. Do we acknowledge and pass by them on our own way, on our own terms? Or do they sometimes stand in our way, head on? What is the role of our joy? The sound of our music that we sing to shore up our hearts?

A little bit to ponder!

A good friend of mine (and my former 10th grade English teacher) Donna Dutton, another lovely spirit full of light, posed an thoughtful question to me in an e-mail this morning: What do I think of the revisions to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

To catch up, an Alabama publisher, NewSouth Books, is going to publish a new version of Huck Finn (as we call it in English-teacher shorthand) with all instances of the n-word replaced. NPR reports that there are other words that will be changed, as well. For example, “half-breed” will be revised to read “half-blood” and so on.

It is fair to say that, as I have grown older, my views with respect to censorship have grown more complex. As a young student, a young scholar of English at a liberal arts university, and a new first-year teacher I was loud with my trumpet that no literature or art should be off limits, censored, or banned. Yet with experience and motherhood has come the understanding that not all “art” has inherent value, simply because it was produced. There are a great many films, for example, that I would never allow to come into our home. There are several I have turned off mid-watch (even before children) because the language offends me. Why should my criteria be different with written material?

Few would dispute that Twain is one of the greatest American novelists and artists of his age, or of any age. I do think that both The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer constitute valuable, worthwhile, thought-provoking artistry. Even more to my personal liking is J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, which I wrote about on the day last year of Salinger’s passing. Catcher is filled with cursing, and yet I do believe they have a purpose. I believe that Twain’s use of extremely culturally charged words also had a purpose—a purpose that is still relevant today.

I weigh this idea, though, with how I feel about more and more expletives being permitted on TV. It has become so rampant and permissive that watching prime time TV with Katie present (even recorded, since she goes to bed near 8:00 PM) is out of the question. Bill and I have a personal philosophy that cursing or, obviously, using hurtful names to disparage others is never okay. We do not teach our children those words, and if they ever hear them elsewhere and start using them, they will be corrected. Yes, intellectually we understand that words are just words—human beings give them arbitrary values and emotional tones. We have both read Stephen Pinker’s work on the subject. Intellectualism, however, is only one facet of our experience as human beings. Whether we like it or not, the words we choose to use do define us. For better or worse, I always wince when I hear someone use a curse word (just as I cringe when one comes into my head in frustration), and I always wonder why that person has chosen not to express himself or herself in a more positive and polite way. Often, I can’t help being offended by those words, depending a little on context. That’s just…me. For better or worse. Perhaps I am a little too subject to my upbringing and cannot look enough outside my own box, it may be argued, but I was raised to use more polite word choice. It’s that Mennonite blood in me, I think.

For me the words I use or don’t use are a way to honor my family, my husband and children now, and my parents and extended family, my elders. We would never dream about using such words in front of my Nana or my grandfathers, so why should I use them any other time?

I step away from myself, though, and I realize that sometimes, the artful use of curse words can be amusing. Satire, farce, social commentary: wielded with skill, even the most powerfully negative words in our culture can be illuminating. I think there must be some part of me that distinguishes between using a curse word simply because we stub our toes and using a curse word to elucidate the human condition as a call for edifying, positive change. Intent?

We can see why this issue is so complicated. My intellectual side pulls me one direction, but my experience with the world and human nature guides me in another.

It would be easier to take an entirely intellectual approach and argue that anything should be permitted in art or expression at any time, and everyone should just “get over it.” I’ve been down that road of thinking before…but then, what about “art” that exploits women, or even children? What happens in a world where there are no boundaries of taste—whatever taste is? Or parameters of right and wrong? It often seems like one of our more logical choices is to choose to celebrate a language, and an art, that revolves around goodness and love. Sure, words may be just words, but they are powerful and impossible to divorce from sociocultural baggage…so why not choose to fill our minds and hearts with good ones?

But back to Twain. Ultimately, do I think he should be bowdlerized? No. Absolutely not. The choice to read his words or not must remain with the individual. Do I think that he would be an easy read for a less mature or experienced reader? No. His humor is sometimes subtle, his writing complex. It might be tempting for some readers to take him at face value—and there is one of the problems. I also taught To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my favorite novels of all time. Harper Lee used the n-word, too, but she was more straightforward about her message: it is easier for young students to see that the only characters who use that word are utterly uneducated buffoons, including the antagonist of the novel. It is easier to teach students the context, for them to see how she uses the word in the mouths of the villains to make a point about racism. Twain is not always as clear, even though his point is similar. With my own children, I will teach them these novels when I am convinced that their reading comprehension is sophisticated enough to deal with the cultural weight of it.

Other films and novels they will have to choose on their own, when they are adults—and that is the point of all that Bill and I seek to teach them. How to make good choices… What to put in their minds and hearts, and above all, why.

I think much would be lost if, in the revision of Twain’s works, we lose the ability as Americans, as people, to have this discussion.

When I taught To Kill a Mockingbird (TKAM), I often read certain passages aloud to my students. We would have a discussion about the n-word. I told them that my choice, as a human being, was that I would not be saying the word when we read. I know that probably offended a handful, and rightfully—it was my own form of personal censorship I guess. Except: they could still read and see the word as it was printed on the page. Each of us has to make her own choices. I supported my colleagues who would read those words aloud, and I respected the logic that led them to do so. It came from a caring, loving place, just as my choices did. Those colleagues were just as important to the freedom of our literature, if not moreso, than I was to the cause of individual choice. All American high school English teachers deal with this issue, and many of us fret about it late at night. I will always maintain that students needed to see how all of us dealt with those words, to know that one day they would have to choose, and that there were good arguments on both sides.

One of the joys of our glorious freedom in this country is that we can still debate this subject in a meaningful way. Gather your joy in thoughtful freedom today!