We were only about five or 10 minutes into that free-for-all known as homeroom period when my homeroom teacher called me up to her desk. I uncrossed my ankles, replaced my bookmark between the pages of the book I was reading—probably a Dean Koontz or a Mary Higgins Clark—and shuffled over. I can't remember exactly what I was wearing, or the entire details of the conversation, but I can assume I walked up there with my head down, my shoulders slumped, my floral Keds (blame my mother) scuffling against the tiled floor as I passed the rows of desks and chairs where my classmates were gathered in clumps, talking about nail polish or that fight outside the school that morning or whatever it was that tweens talked about back then.
My teacher leaned over and spoke in a low voice. "You should read less and socialize more," she told me.
I was 11, and shy. So shy my parents used to clip articles out of newspapers and magazines on what to do when your child doesn't speak. I probably nodded at my teacher as my gut churned and my face and scalp grew hot, tingly. I can imagine it all so clearly because I'm still shy. I still have panic attacks in social settings. Then, as now, I retreated into books because it felt safer.
I retreated into books and I was shamed for it.
Reading was the big bad wolf back then in more ways than one, considered a detriment to more than just the social opportunities I might be missing. Sure, parents and teachers back then considered a love of reading to be a positive characteristic. Obviously. But at the same time, my mother repeatedly exhorted me to shut whatever book I was reading and "go outside and play! Get some fresh air!"
Why can't she enjoy screen time and book time? And face time, too?
I even read books in much the same way my peers later snuck cigarettes and dates with strange boys they'd met at the mall. I clearly remember sitting on my bed, stacking Stephen King paperbacks on top of my open textbooks when I was supposed to be doing homework. Once I heard footsteps coming up the stairs, however, I'd immediately fling my Stephen Kings under the bed, bending myself into a seemingly studious pose before my mother or father pushed open my bedroom door.
I recently wrote a post on all the bad habits my child will inevitably pick up from me. I have also previously written about the guilt I feel over allowing my daughter to see me planted in front of a screen so darn often (even though it's usually for work). But when I look back at my own past, seeing how much my parents tried to simultaneously nurture my love of reading while also limiting it, my angst over Em's interest in my iPhone seems ridiculous.
Why do I feel like such a failure when I think of my daughter succumbing to our culture's fascination with the screen? Why should I deny my daughter the sense of enjoyment I obviously get when I catch up on Twitter or binge watch Buffy? Why can't she enjoy screen time and book time? And face time, too?
Once upon a time, children were chastised for reading too much because it kept them from interacting with the world. Then television sets and video game consoles appeared, and they became the new boogeymen. Then we were introduced to the home computer, and we started hanging out in AOL chat rooms.
Is iPhone addict shaming just the new bookworm (or TV addict, or gamer geek) shaming?
Maybe I should chill the eff out.
Or I could just move on to scrutinizing my 8-month-old's next most worrisome behavior: her avid interest in beer bottles.