My Mother’s Books

When I was a child, my mother owned just a few books that she had amassed during her girlhood and early adulthood. Having grown up during the Depression, neither she nor my father owned a lot of books despite being voracious readers. The public library was a godsend for them growing up, and that habit continued through their adult years.

From her college years, there was her textbook from her class on the Romantic poets as well as the complete works of Shakespeare and a dictionary that was old enough not to have the word “astronaut” in it. Amongst her small stash were two children’s books. One was “Eight Cousins” by Louisa May Alcott, whose name was familiar to me as the author of “Little Women”. The other was “Five Little Peppers and How They Grew” by Margaret Sidney. I was not familiar with this author’s name, but the title of the book delighted me.

My mother’s books were a source of endless fascination for me. They were a mark of my mother’s intellectual life before becoming our mother. They had no shiny book covers, just cloth binding. At one point, my older sister made construction paper covers for the two children’s books because their bindings were starting to age. Those covers themselves are now disintegrating more than 50 years later.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that my mother told me that she had saved those two favorite children’s books because she had hoped that her children would read them. I was so surprised to hear this. I don’t recall my mother ever expressing that wish. Perhaps she did and I just didn’t pay attention.

When my sister and I cleaned out my parents’ apartment after their deaths, I did not take much with me in the way of souvenirs. I did, however, take these two books. They have been sitting on my own shelf since 2015. During a recent sweep through my shelves, I put them front and center. While I may have disappointed my mother by never reading her favorite books, I am determined to rectify that oversight very soon.

This situation puts in mind one of my favorite expressions: “Unspoken expectations are disappointments waiting to happen.” I see a lot of clients saving things for their children, some small and some grown. Do your children know that you expect them to embrace your favorite things at the appropriate age? If you don’t make it clear to them, you may end up disappointed like my mother was. Perhaps your children will reject your favorites and you will be disappointed anyway, but at least it won’t be for lack of trying.

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