The Book Princess on Shakespeare

English: Title page of the second quarto editi...

English: Title page of the second quarto edition (Q2) of William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet printed by Thomas Creede in 1599. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My personal experience of parenthood has been one of sustained surprise. First, there was the fact that, in my first pregnancy, I was having twins. That was unexpected. When I heard the news, I had a moment or two of being completely overwhelmed, in response to which someone remarked, “Well, you knew this was a possibility, didn’t you?” Actually, it had never crossed my mind. Thus, the first surprise. But after a couple of moments of severe panic at the thought of being responsible for not one, but two tiny new human beings. I settled down and really enjoyed the twin thing. And the ones that followed, as well.

The parenthood surprises I think of more often now are the surprises that come to most of use when we discover what people our children are, independent thinkers, creative human beings, endlessly interesting and fascinating. One of many welcome surprises that way came for me when the Book Princess got too big for us to continue one of our favorite rituals – reading together at night. From the moment they could understand the spoken word, I loved reading to my kids, and the pleasure only grew as their understanding did. But by the time the Book Princess was eight or nine, she read so quickly I just couldn’t keep up. I missed our reading time together so much that when she was about 12, I came up with the idea of offering to read Shakespeare with her, working on the theory that, number one, as a confirmed book lover, she’d at least be curious, and number two, she wouldn’t be able to do it on her own.

To my delight, she said she’d like to try it, and I pulled Romeo and Juliet from the bookshelf. Having read plays with friends in college, I explained to her that we could assign ourselves roles, dividing up the speaking parts. I figured she’d love the drama of it, even with the difficulty presented by the language. And here came my surprise. She had no difficulty. As I was deciphering Elizabethan English in my own head, my 12-year-old dove into the story as if it were one of her YA novels! Not only did she love it, she seemed unaware that anyone would have any difficulty. When I stopped to ask whether she understood what was going on, she seemed bewildered, and asked me what I meant. “Well, the language is a little hard, isn’t it?” I asked her. “What’s hard about it?” she wanted to know. She then proceeded to tell me what was going on in the story . . . in detail. So what turned out to be the end of my reading to her turned into a whole new beginning. She took that thick book of Shakespeare and zoomed through it, reading most of the plays by the time she finished high school. She even did a tenth grade book report on Henry V.

In college, she wrote some incredible papers on Shakespeare that earned her notice by both students and professors. So I asked her, as a change of pace, if she would do some guest posts here on her favorite subject. And another surprise – she said yes. Now, not only do I get to talk about my daughter (a favorite pastime, as you’ve probably guessed), but anyone reading this can see for themselves why she really does deserve the name Book Princess.


Usain Bolt in celebration about 1 or 2 seconds...

Usain Bolt in celebration about 1 or 2 seconds after his 100m victory at Beijing Olympics 2008, breaking the world record. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently read an article in the New Yorker about the value of professional coaching. Written by a surgeon who wondered why more people in his profession didn’t employ coaches to help them keep honing their skills, he described two discrete attitudes about training: one found in sports, another in music. We expect athletes to have coaches because the understanding is that to sustain high athletic performance, you need someone who keeps you at your best. On the other hand, here’s what the author, Atul Gawande, says about how musicians train:

“The coaching model is different from the traditional conception of pedagogy, where there’s a presumption that, after a certain point, the student no longer needs instruction. You graduate. You’re done. You can go the rest of the way yourself. This is how élite musicians are taught. Barbara Lourie Sand’s book “Teaching Genius” describes the methods of the legendary Juilliard violin instructor Dorothy DeLay. DeLay was a Perkins-like figure who trained an amazing roster of late-twentieth-century virtuosos, including Itzhak Perlman, Nigel Kennedy, Midori, and Sarah Chang. They came to the Juilliard School at a young age—usually after they’d demonstrated talent but reached the limits of what local teachers could offer. They studied with DeLay for a number of years, and then they graduated, launched like ships leaving drydock. She saw her role as preparing them to make their way without her.”

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Now, as a writer, I see the benefits of coaching every day. Not only do I rely on a small group of colleagues to help me “hear myself” better, but there is of course my wonderful editor, who offers another great model of professional coaching. But what this article actually made me think of first was parenting, and whether it’s more of a coaching-style role, or, as with musicians, a launching effort, where you get in all the training you can for a precious few years, and then your little birds fly.

It seems to me that American society has a prejudice toward the musician style of training for parents. I’m always reading one article or another about kids who fail to launch, with some vague sense of blame for their overindulgent parents. But as I prepare for the wedding of my son this summer, I’ve been thinking about this question – what is the role of a parent of adults?

My parents were definitely coaches. Though my father died ten years ago, I still think of some of the best advice he gave me, long after I was married and raising kids of my own. It still works. As for my mother, who lives close by, I’ll refer to her here as the Wise Admiral, because she’s wise, obviously, but also because she’s always known how to run a tight ship. She continues to be a font of very practical coaching for me as a parent and as a human being. The crucial thing about good coaching is, you know when to step back. As my editor said to me recently – in the end, it’s your story.

In the end, each person writes his or her own story. But that doesn’t mean that when you hit eighteen, or go off to college, or graduate, or get married, it has to just be: well kid, it’s been swell. Goodbye and good luck.

We can all benefit from a couple good coaches in our lives.