Book = Friend

I know I shouldn't be thinking about next year's first day of school and other social challenges; I should live in the moment. And I try, I really do. It's just I fail, that's all.

So I was feeling scared of the future, and to compound things I ended up thinking about the past. First grade, to be exact, which ended up fine but started out…tough. I was remembering dropping off then-6-year-old Diana at the cafeteria table, where a bunch of kids were sitting, but none she knew, and all boys. She sat there were her giant backpack in the noisy cafeteria looking so tiny and forlorn. And I said, "Well bye, have a good day," and she, who had always been one of the easiest kids to drop off in the world, turned to me with an anguished face and cried out, "Oh Mommy, you have no idea how lonely I am." And after a moment of panic and anguish myself,* I, always ready to encourage antisocial tendencies, said, "But you have a book in your backpack, right? A book is always a friend, it's there to be a friend when no one else is." And we fished out The Boxcar Children, or whatever it was, and everything seemed better, or at least bearable.

I don't know if this is the right thing to do. Probably it makes more sense to try to teach a kid to reach out to another kid in those moments, because they all have times when they are lonely and scared, and truly the  thing that helps, other than escaping into another world, is to try to help another person who is struggling. And probably their backpacks are overloaded anyway. But I think that when things are hard, when the next first day of school or camp or whatever comes along, a book in the backpack provides an essential source of comfort in this world.

*Yes, this was among the most agonizing moments I've faced as a parent, if only because everything was just so visible. It brought to mind the moment at the end of Portrait of a Lady when she cries out, "Ah Ralph, if only you knew how unhappy I am!" (not an exact quote, I do not have a copy near). Thinking of either of these almost always brings me to tears.

7 thoughts on “Book = Friend

  1. Oh man, that broke my heart a little. I have a 3 year old and already I think about this. But I was alone a good portion of my childhood and I never felt lonely so long as I had a book – it’s a great lesson to learn early on. My daughter is already excited about reading on her own. Hopefully by the time she goes to kindergarten (where she won’t know a soul the first day, either) she’ll be able to bring a friend with her.

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  2. Oh my goodness, this story brought me to tears. Undoubtedly I would have clutched her to me and taken her home where she would never have had to be lonely again! Or so I would hope anyway.
    In my own childhood I was never without a book and frequently the world in the pages was more real to me than my mere physical surroundings.

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  3. What an agonizing moment that must have been! But I agree with both your points: that a book will be your friend when no one else will, and that you sometimes gain the most when you help someone else through their tough time. But sometimes you need one to get to the other. In my later school years (junior high, high school) I became the person everyone else came to with their problems; I was able to listen and tell them I didn’t think they were insane, and that was about it. It was surprisingly empowering, and it’s something that I’ve taken with me into all my other endeavors. But you know, I was only able to be that person because I was so used to being by myself. When no one would talk to me, I would just whip out a book; it gave me somewhere else to go, plus it covered the shame of not being very popular. I once said that when I was tired of being me, I could just be Ramona Quimby, Age 8. When I didn’t like where I was, I could swim off the Island of the Blue Dolphins. When I was lonely, I could run with Julie of the Wolves. And though I admit that I used it (still do) to escape from life when it gets hard, it also has taught my real, genuine lessons that I’ve taken into my real, adult life. I hope my kids can do the same.

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  4. Portrait of a Lady saved me from making a disastrous marriage. It saved my life. I am thrilled to see that someone else is as moved by it as I am!

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  5. I actually don’t think that was bad advice at all! Really good advice actually!
    I am super-duper introverted (which btw there’s nothing wrong with that…), and telling me to “just go talk to those other kids!!” would have been like torture to me if I didn’t already know them. But by taking out a book, I can calm down, actually enjoy myself while reading it, and become more used to my surroundings.
    Plus hey, you never know, some other kid might come up to me and say “what are you reading?” and a new friendship is born. (Ok, maybe that was too after-school-special-ish, but u never know… 😉 ).

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