I used to talk up Chaucer and Steinbeck to teenagers every day. My official title may have been “English Teacher,” but really I was like a PR rep for the classics. “You’re going to love The Canterbury Tales, I swear,” I would say to a roomful of seniors. “They’re funny! And dirty! Chaucer really got people, you know?” And to my freshmen: “How far would you be willing to go to look out for your best friend? What if that friend is also super annoying and gets into trouble all the time? That, kiddos, is what Of Mice and Men is all about.”
A lot of my job was about helping kids to get something out of literature that they could identify with in their own lives. What I didn’t realize then was how much the literary classics have actually prepared me for my life now, as a mom. So without further ado, I give you:
How Six Literary Classics have Prepared me for Motherhood
1. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
A bunch of people are forced to hang out together on a long journey. Along the way, these travelers tell stories to pass the time. Some of the stories are hilarious, some of them are shocking, and some of them are long and rambling and maybe have animals as characters and you lose the point halfway through and wish you could just turn up the music and make it stop…
Sound familiar? It’s just like your last road trip with your kids, isn’t it?
2. A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
A husband and wife argue about a child. There are little people wearing fairy wings and waving glittery wands all over the place. A bunch of guys want to put on a play in which one character is a lion and one is a wall. They argue a lot and their play is completely disorganized, but everyone has to sit through it and pretend they’re enjoying it anyway. Teenagers think they’re in love, obsess over love, cry about love, and have sex in the woods under the influence of “magic potion.” Also they hate their parents.
This one really covers the whole parenting spectrum, from toddlers to teenagers.
3. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
Gulliver gets tied down by a group of little people who poke him a lot and argue about completely ridiculous, unimportant things. Then he spends time with horribly-mannered folks who make a huge mess with their food, relieve themselves wherever they happen to be standing, and walk around with no pants on all the damn time. Oh and they’re actually called yahoos.
This could not be a more accurate depiction of life with toddlers.
4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
A man thinks, What could be better than bringing a new life into this world? I’m going to create a human being and it’s going to make all my dreams come true. Of course, once he brings that new life into the world, he realizes that he has absolutely no control over it. Nothing in his life goes the way he thought it would. He doesn’t sleep. His health declines. His relationship with his wife is toast.
You thought you knew what it would be like to have kids back before you actually had any, didn’t you? Yeah. Me too. Excuse me while I go pour my sixth cup of coffee and hide from my little “creations” so I can eat three mini Kit-Kats for lunch.
5. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
George is forced to spend all his time with someone who wears overalls, can’t keep track of his stuff, and gets really worked up about ketchup. Also he keeps real, live mice in his pockets.
How does this not sound like every little boy everywhere?
6. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
This one is for the title alone. Because it’s exactly how my toddlers talk to me. Anytime, anywhere.
So that’s my list. I always knew it was important to read, but I never expected literature to be such a practical tutorial for motherhood. Maybe that insanely expensive master’s degree really is coming in handy after all.
What books would you add to the list?