Traversing The Swiss Family Robinson – and use of the “A” Word – with my six-year-old

Time magazine’s July 22 cover story was “The case Against Summer Vacation,” an article that posed the argument that our romanticized notion of summer vacation can be blamed on Tom Sawyer and is merely the remnant of our vanished agrarian society. Kids had off in the summer hundreds of years ago because Ma and Pa needed them to work the fields. Now, enriched summer vacations are a privilege only bestowed to the middle and upper class, while inner-city kids run the risk of summer learning loss if they spend too much inside with TV and video games.  

I know how lucky we are that we can afford – barely – to send our kids to summer camp. It’s not just kids in lower economic brackets who tend to veg out before the plasma god in the summer. At the beginning of the summer, I feel it is my parental duty to program every art project, play date and forced nature hike. What happens if I take the laissez-faire approach?  Let’s just say I wish I had a quarter for every time I scream “TURN THE TV OFF!”

I know that kids can backslide during months of summer slacking. So I have really tried to get my kids into summer reading. I’ve enlisted them in our local library’s summer reading programs. I don’t know if my kids are reading while away at summer camp, but I know that my 11-year-old son voraciously plowed through four books before he packed up and left for sleep-a-way camp. My teen daughter? She put up a bit of resistance to reading this summer.  I will attempt to get her bit by the literacy bug before the summer is through.  Her school does have required reading book lists, after all, it’s not mom that wants her to read, it’s SCHOOL!

While the big kids are at their heavily-programmed, up-at-dawn sleep-a-way camp, my youngest child gets to be an only child for one solid month.  That means mom and dad are all his. With all this quality one-on-one bed-time reading time on our hands, I figured we would tackle a classic. No Captain Underpants for us! With visions of climbing that immense artificial treehouse at Disney World and bowls made of coconut shells dancing in my head, Toby and I cashed in a 10-month gift card at Barnes & Noble and bought The Swiss Family Robinson.

We get through a chapter each night. The language, let’s just say, was far more complex back then. I checked the year Swiss Family Robinson was written. 1812.

“I believe there was a war that year,” my husband jokingly said.

Yes. This book is almost 200 years old. And some of the sentences were as heavy as the sugar canes that Fritz and Father carried on their shoulders on their Voyage of Discovery in Chapter Three.

I’ll give you examples of how I offer my son modern interpretation as I read along.

“I awoke my wife, and we consulted together as to the occupations we should engage in.”

I woke up my wife, and we talked and made a to-do list of all the jobs we needed to get done for the day.

“When we had gone about two leagues…”

After walking two miles

“we entered a wood situated a little further from the sea…took out some provisions and refreshed ourselves.”

We went into a forest located further from the sea, got out some snacks and refreshments.

At one point, my son asked me to read the book exactly as it was written. Three sentences later, he again asked for my interpretation and complained, “mom, I have no idea what you are talking about!”

But, he urged me to read on. We got to the chapter about rescuing the animals off of the shipwreck, and the challenge faced by the father and the oldest son.

I read,”What a difficulty in making it! and how could we induce”

umm.. make

“a cow”

a cow

“a sow”

a pig

“and an ass”

…….ummm, a donkey

“either to get upon a raft, or when there , to remain motionless and quiet?”

At that point, my young son stopped me.

“Wait, Wait! Moooooom, you changed that word, the word for donkey!! You were going to say one word, but you said “donkey.” Does this book have — the A word — in it??” He had deliciously naughty grin on his face, both dimples showing. Reading a 200-year-old book cannot be all that boring if you might catch your mom saying the “A” word, after all.

Tonight, Chapter Seven: Second Journey of Discovery Performed by the Mother of the Family. I can’t wait.


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About stacylynngittleman

I have been a reporter and public relations professional for over 30 years, specializing in profile features and investigative longform writing. During my career I've profiled WWII Honor Flight Veterans, artists and musicians and have written on topics that range from environmental and gun control issues to Jewish culture. Click around on my writing samples plus read my blog on my personal life raising three kids over 27 years and three cities.

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