Dear Mom, I’m a Book Jacket Judger

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Dear Mom,

I confess that I often judge a book by its cover. A nice book jacket and cover art can easily sway my decision to read a book, just as a poorly designed cover can turn me away. I realize that a cover has little to do with what the pages hold. Even still I too often make decisions based on an outward impression.

By looking at the cover art, my subconscious quickly labels a book, putting it into a favorable or unfavorable category. The font and image relay whether the book is fluff or literary, romance or horror, worth my time or a waste of paper. As my eyes scan the shelves in search of my next read, I label and sort. Of course this method doesn’t always serve me well, but it is how my mind is programmed to organize what is before me. And sadly I realize that I do this with more than just books. Sometimes I also do this with my kids.

Dear Mom, Don't be a Book Jacket Judger

A few months ago, my eight-year-old son brought home a permission slip to join the school choir. As he handed me the paper, I quickly assumed he meant for it to be tossed into the recycle bin. After all, this was my shy, introverted child. This was the boy who during each Christmas performance at church looks like he is in agony every minute that he is forced to stand on stage in front of a crowd of people. I knew his story. I had already sorted and labeled him according to his past: shy, introverted, uncomfortable in front of crowds.

As my mind categorized him and placed him into his proper genre, he said to me, “Can you sign the permission slip?” Suddenly my labels began to crumble.

I had heard that the choir performance was coming up and I had joked that there was no way my son would take part. I remembered how terrified he looked on that stage at church, how I wanted to call him down from the risers and rescue him from his discomfort. I knew his past and the labels we’ve placed upon him, but I failed to see him as a three-dimensional, ever-changing person.

Before signing the permission slip, I wanted to ask him if he understood what it meant, if he knew that he would have to sing in front of a lot of people. Instead of asking, I simply signed the paper and handed it back to him.

On the night of the performance, I still saw those hints of shyness, but I also saw bravery. He may not have had the charisma of the mini-David Lee Roth (complete with similar hair style) who stood beside him, sang without abandon and eagerly waved to all of his peeps in the crowd. But that night I saw how limiting labels can be.

The thing about kids is that we often think we have them figured out. We think we know their personalities and preferences, so we call them the introvert or the extrovert, the funny one or the quiet one, the athlete or the drama queen. We give them names that we think identify them without harming or limiting them.

As I sat in that hard, metal folding chair and watched him sing along with his classmates, I saw how I had nearly limited him with a name. I thought I knew my quiet one, but all that I really knew was that judging a book by its cover rarely shows us the depth of what’s inside.

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{This article first appeared in The Family Magazine of Michiana. Photo credit: ©Les Cunliffe – Fotolia.com.}

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