I’m compiling a list of reading for both my kids. They’ll find Harry Potter and Twilight on their own. But they will also be
bribed encouraged to read from a list of books that their mother has hand-selected for their educational, emotional, moral and spiritual development. The first book on that list is My Beloved World, by Sonia Sotomayor. Both of my kids are going to read that before they get Smart phones, or get their ears pierced, or learn to make me chocolate crepes. We are starting with Justice Sotomayor’s memoir, in part because I am thoroughly obsessed with her, and also because I’ve got to warm my kids up before they read Willie Nelson’s spicy autobiography. Here are the top five of 408 reasons I want my kids to read MBW:
- Math. Justice Sotomayor makes clear early on that she possessed certain innate gifts, one of which was an aptitude for math. And you can tell from the way she tells all of the stories comprising her memoir that she’s an exceedingly logical thinker. Woven into her anecdotes are countless ways that being good at math made her life richer and easier. Calculating calories to manage her diabetes– a mathprotunity! Convincing family members to let her run the family business– must have been the mad math skills! Prosecuting murderers in New York or representing Fendi in trademark violation suits– all that required a little thing called math. The second I hear one of my kids hint that math is only for boys or that girls aren’t as good at math, we are starting this book.
- Overcoming Obstacles. My kids haven’t lived in the poverty that Justice Sotomayor so eloquently describes as the reality of her youth. Living in the projects in the Bronx and having few material possessions, she and her brother made do with what they had under circumstances that neither myself nor my children can imagine. I want my children to understand our advantages and all that we have to be grateful for, which is impossible without the generous glimpses of other realities that writers like Justice Sotomayor give us through their stories. Also? Diabetes has required her to give herself a shot everyday for decades. That level of discipline and self-care gives me chills. I can hardly put myself to bed on time!
- Alcoholism. I was blown away by the frank discussion of her father’s alcoholism. She named it, described its devastating effects on her life, but never blamed or wallowed in resentment that the disease of alcoholism took her father’s life when she was very young (and of course ripped at the harmony of her family prior to his death). My children have alcoholism in their family tree, and I want them to know other people who can discuss the alcoholic legacy without shame and without sugar-coating its reality.
- Rejection. For such a brilliant woman who garnered accolades at Princeton and Yale, she also had to deal with failure. I cried when I read that she failed to get an offer after working as a summer associate at Paul, Weiss, a top tier NY law firm. In her telling of that ego-deflating experience, she found a fan for life in Outlaw Mama. As impressive as all her many honors and achievements are, it was her failure that allowed me to be truly inspired by her. And it wasn’t just that she failed– it was how she handled it. She licked her wounds, regrouped, and found her way to a career path that suited her infinitely better than BigFirm law.
- Cheese Cubes. Second to her failure to secure employment after being a summer associate, I loved the passage where she described how she ended up as a DA when she graduated from Yale Law School. She opened that chapter with a seeming digression about how the ladies rooms at Yale were located far away from the main study areas. As she ambled through the halls looking for a place to relieve herself, she saw a tray of cheese cubes laid out for a presentation. She wanted a cheese cube, so she sat in on the presentation. Before she could pop a sweaty bit of cheddar in her mouth, she struck up a conversation with a big wig at the DA’s office. He liked her and told her to “come by” for an interview. From there, she launched her public service career that led her to the Supreme Court.
It’s these five things and so many more. She is the American Dream realized– young girl from an impoverished background makes it to the Ivy Leagues and applies every ounce of talent and energy to her pursuits. And while I’d prefer that both of my children also consider work-life balance and find time to make me some grandchildren, Justice Sotomayor’s story is full of lessons that I believe will inspire and motivate my children, whatever it is they decide to do. Once they’ve internalized the lessons from MBW, we’ll then have to read about the young boy from Abbott, Texas, who never finished his college degree, married four times and fathered seven kids. And then, we’ll talk about what it would be like if Sonia Sotomayor and Willie Nelson had a love child. If there heads don’t explode, I’ll know they can handle anything.