1 Scene, Many Readings

A while back baby & I wandered to the library on a Saturday to return some books. Turns out it was the anniversary celebration for the library – speeches, cake and prizes. I entered both our names in the draw and my name was pulled! I could pick from a number of sets of books. There was a complete works of Jane Austen collection which I really wanted. But instead I chose a small pile of baby books. When I got them home I realized that one played an electronic song on the last page, one was a nice story about parental love, and the third was a generic baby-learning book about colours, not really educationally appropriate from my perspective.
I wallowed in this situation for the next 12 hours. Here are some of the perspectives I used to approach it.

1) Selfishness and sacrifice. I thought I was sacrificing my own desires to provide something for my child. Sounds like a good mom, right? But in reality, I denied myself something I really wanted, that I reasonably could have had, and got instead something completely marginal for my child which we have barely used since then. And I deeply regretted not having the book set since it was something I would have loved but would not purchase for myself. Are there times to sacrifice for your child? Sure, all the time. Like waking for on-demand nursing, for example. But sacrifice means to give up something lower for something higher, and I don’t think that applies in this case.

2) Minimalism. We were in the midst of an on-going attempt to minimize our possessions. I thought, why add a collection of books to our shelves when our goal is to have less? But is that really the goal? I think it’s more like, to have only things we love and use. From that perspective, the Jane Austen set might have been better. I would have loved it for years. But again with the other hand: I have copies of the 3 Austen books I love (P&P, Emma and Mansfield Park), and GAVE AWAY my copies of her other books as they weren’t my favourites. And if I added a full set of matching books to our shelves, it would be very hard for me to break the set up and give away individual books I didn’t love. Still not completely sure what side I come down on with this interpretation.

3) Consumer culture and choice. Choice theory has it that we are happier with fewer choices. Choosing between 4 – 6 types of jam, we’re happy with our choice. Faced with 30 types, we are less happy, regardless of what we walk away with. Before the library, I didn’t have the Jane Austen books or new books for baby. After the library, I had 3 new books for baby plus the fun of winning something. And yet I was significantly less happy because I thought I’d made a poor choice. If someone had just given us the books – or I’d had fewer choices – I might have been happier.

4) Personal growth and the meaning of life. The situation pushed me to grapple with why I was so frustrated and regretful: because of the absence of a few material objects. Not a proud moment! Nonetheless, my emotional response provided the opportunity to look inside myself, understand myself, remove myself from the material realities of the situation and consider the bigger question of what I could learn from this and how I could respond more appropriately next time. From that perspective, my frustration was a gift that allowed me to know myself better.

Conclusion: Anything that happens to us can twig off multiple interpretations. If we let ourselves feel through them without denying our emotions there are things to learn. And next time, take the books.

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