They Are Listening — A Tree Grows In Brooklyn Chapters 11-26

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.

Links:
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.[…]”

Schedule:
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.

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