24 January 2008


I'm not sure why I resisted reading Harry Potter for so long. It was probably because of the commitment involved--7 books and who knows how many pages. But over Christmas I watched the fifth movie with Andrew's mom, and then started reading the first book... and the rest is history. I'm now midway through the third and I'm ready to go to Hogwarts with my fellow witches and wizards and learn Transfiguration, Divination, and the Care of Magical Creatures. I often find myself wondering what Harry and Hermione are up to or what the latest Quidditch scores are. I have entered a world and I'm convinced it exists.

Now, some may argue (and I must point out that you would be in the minority since Harry Potter readers comprise no small niche) that there may be other, more productive ways to spend one's time. After all, there are real world issues begging to be researched and contemplated: upcoming elections, tragic world events, a looming recession, etc. And if that weren't enough, we have a plethora of literature, classic and contemporary, that we've always been meaning to read. But Harry Potter is not to be disregarded as something outside the realm of important, relevant reading material. First of all, Rowling has truly created a phenomenon. The first six of the seven books have sold over 400 million copies and have been translated into over 64 languages, and combined with the unprecedented success of the seventh and final installment, the series has made Rowling the highest-earning novelist in history
(click here for previous musings on Rowling's achievement). Second of all, it engages the epic battle between good and evil (tell me that's not relevant). Third of all, it employs all the elements of high fantasy fiction, elevating it to the status of classic works such as The Lord of the Rings and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. And for all these reasons, I felt that I owed it to future generations to read these books and be familiar with the world they create. I'm convinced that our copies of Harry Potter will grace the bookshelves of generations to come until the bindings break and the pages rip. I'm not sure what kind of mother or grandmother I would be if I had to look my kids in the eye and said I never read those books when they were first published.

Most of all, I can't think of a better way to spend a cold, wintry Chicago day than to fix a cup of tea and escape into a world of danger, courage, defeat and triumph. It's even possible that we could learn a thing or two from Harry, a boy called by conviction to work for good despite the forces who would wish otherwise.

And if you need further proof of the weight of Rowling's sweeping success, she's scheduled to speak at Harvard's 2008 Commencement.

09 January 2008

Advice to a Big Sister

We spent a wonderful Christmas in New Hampshire and Connecticut feasting and celebrating with family and friends. One highlight was meeting our new nephew, Ian, and lest anyone forget, he has a big sister... Charlotte. Believe me, she is far from forgetting it. And so, my dear Charlotte, this is for you as you embark on big sisterhood.

To Charlotte, The Big Sister:

Charlotte, I too am a big sister. My brother is just 2 years younger than me, just like Ian is 2 years younger than you. So, I thought I’d share some words of wisdom, advice and tricks of the trade. It’s great being a big sister. You’ll experience a lot of things first (except for exclusively boy things, but I don’t think it’s our loss) and so Ian will be looking to you to pave the way. It’s great when little brothers are still little, because they’ll do just about anything you say. So feel free to ask him to help you clean up your toys, get you a glass of milk, change Darla’s diaper… you name it, he’ll probably do it. (But remember, he’s your little brother so you should always be nice!) When it comes to playing together, play his games too. Forts, cops and robbers, Legos, baseball in the back yard, and building tree houses are all great games that boys like to play. Of course, many girls like to play these games too, and if anyone tells you that they are boy games only, don’t believe them! It’s important for girls to know how to play these games and they are fun! And later on, boys will appreciate that you know how to play baseball. Plus, since little brothers will do just about anything you say, and since girls are so practical (boys can be too, of course), you can always make sure that your fort has a kitchen and a bed for Darla.

Now, I must warn you that there will come a time when little brothers will all of a sudden stop doing what you say. This usually happens around age 12 or 13. Believe me, it’s not fun and a complete blow to your ego. They will start saying things like: “You can’t tell me what to do!” and “You’re not my mom!” Unfortunately, this is all true and they are just now realizing it. As much as you may resent the fact that the tables have turned, and the little brother who once always looked to please you now seems to be looking for every opportunity to displease you, you must allow him his space and not get too upset. Try not to take it personally. And be honest, there were probably very few times you were willing to take orders from him, so shouldn't he be allowed the same independence you always had? I know, this is difficult to swallow and it took me a long time to get over it. But there are great rewards! Eventually, he will come to realize that you always had good advice and he will once again look to you for wisdom. (Be warned: this could take awhile… about 10 years in my case.) But just hang in there and remember that boys, on average, tend to mature slower than girls (of course there are exceptions). While this can be frustrating, and you’re wondering what in the world could be taking so long, remember that they were specially designed, just like you, and there is truly a reason for this (really, there is). And no matter how it may seem, he still loves you even if he won’t play Barbies anymore.

There are so many other things you will learn about being a big sister and having a little brother. But above all, remember that you will have a lifelong friend, someone to look after you and someone to look after, someone with whom to play, talk, fight and make up. Ian is a great gift to you, and you to him. So have fun and rejoice in the special role you have as The Big Sister!