A Mother’s Greatest Gifts to Her Children
May 7, 2015 § 4 Comments
In this age, where our self-worth seems increasingly defined by how busy we are, I find that one of my greatest challenges as a mother is quieting the “to do” list in my head when I am around my children. I’m not talking about simply spending time with them. I’m talking about being in the moment with them. I might be on the floor playing Candy Land, but I’m secretly fretting over when I should start dinner. I might be throwing a ball in the backyard, but I’m all the while thinking about the mountain of weeding that needs to get done.
My children know I love them. But how often do they feel the gift of my time?
This winter, I fell in love with a picture book by the lovely Scottish author-illustrator, Debi Gliori, titled Dragon’s Extraordinary Egg (Ages 4-8). It’s about dragons, yes, but it’s also about penguins and a landscape of ice and snow, so by all accounts, I should have shared it with you in the height of snow days and sub-zero temperatures. Except that it’s also one of the most beautiful portraits of motherhood that I’ve ever come across in a children’s book (it’s right up there with this one). So, I’ve been saving telling you about it until Mother’s Day, a time for celebrating those who are trying so hard every day to do right by the little ones we love.
Dragon’s Extraordinary Egg is, if we’re being literal, a multi-generational adoption story. But get it out of your head right now that just because my or your child wasn’t adopted, that this story won’t resonate through every inch of their being. More than anything, Dragon’s Extraordinary Egg is about the power of maternal love to transcend differences, to transcend convention, to transcend the occasional ugliness of life.
The story begins with a dragon who finds herself the only one of her kind without a spotted, striped, or bumpy egg of her own; a heartbroken dragon who “went off to be alone for a while” and in the process stumbles across a small, abandoned egg on a sheet of ice. “Yes, that egg needed a mommy. And that dragon needed an egg. It was a perfect fit.”
When the egg hatches to reveal “Little One,” a black, fuzzy, round baby who looks nothing like the other dragon children, we as readers immediately recognize her as a penguin chick (although, in perfect keeping with the story’s message, she is never labeled as such). For each way that Little One is different from the other children, her dragon mother makes sure that she has exactly what she needs.
All the other eggs grew big and strong.
They grew long necks and wide wings
and hard scales all over.
But Little One, being small and fluffy,
grew courage instead.
All the other eggs were given endless gifts:
fast toys; vast toys; flashing,
clattering things that made a noise.
But Little One was given
love and time, the greatest gifts of all.
“Love and time, the greatest gifts of all.” (Can you hear my sobbing? Is this not the most beautiful thing ever? OK, OK, let me continue.)
As Little One grows up with the dragons, who live “on top of a mountain with a fire in its heart,” she is often picked on by the others for her inferior size, her inability to breathe fire, her failure to fly. Her feathers may keep her warm, she quickly learns, but “they can’t keep cold words out.” However, a real dragon’s skin is “too scaly to feel the heat,” and it’s Little One who perceives the volcano roaring to life beneath her and sounds the warning for the other dragons to fly away and save themselves.
In possession of courage and the will to survive, which her dragon mommy has so lovingly bestowed on her, Little One discovers that she can fly on her own to escape the flames—that is, on her belly down the snowy mountain.
At the bottom of the mountain, Little One—like her mother before her—finds an egg that’s in need of someone to love it.
Beyond the soft, warmhearted illustrations; beyond the beautiful blending of two species to create an enduring familial bond; beyond the impressive aerodynamics of the dragons and the grounded sweetness of the roly poly penguins—is something even better: a narrative twist that’s hinted at in the story’s beginning, but gets a big, surprising reveal at the end. As it turns out, the story I’ve just told you is a story within a story, a story that happened three generations ago. In the present, Little One is now grown up, her egg now a rambunctious young penguin named Pip. Pip is requesting his favorite bedtime story, the story about his grandmother—a dragon—who took a chance on an abandoned egg and gave it all the love and time she could. In the warm, secure embrace of his mother, a son is reminded of what matters most.
I recently took a yoga class where the teacher ended by sharing a personal story about attending an outdoor concert with her husband and children. She admitted that, even with the electrifying music, even with the beautiful sky above them, her thoughts kept returning to the work waiting for her back home. Then, one of her children needed to go to the bathroom—and afterwards, on the way back to their seats, she and the child discovered that they were locked out of the concert. For the next hour, the two sat together on a fence, listening to the distant music and laughing about the unexpected turn of events. Throughout that hour, she felt completely grounded in the present and acutely aware of the palpable love between her and her son.
As I listened to that story, it hit me that this is precisely why I choose to read aloud to my children so often. When I read to my kids, my heart and my mind are equally focused on what’s directly in front of me. Thanks to how picky I am about what we read and to how exceptional today’s offerings are, I’m usually just as enthralled in the story or pictures as my children are. I can ignore my beeping phone; I can forgo the distraction of Facebook; I can quiet the “to do”s.
When I’m reading to my children, every one of my senses is engaged. I feel their soft limbs pressing against me. I inhale the musty smell of a library book or the inky crispness of newly-purchased pages. I discover things I might otherwise miss, when little fingers point something out on a page. I’m astonished and proud and moved by what they say or ask when we finish a final chapter. Reading to my children is one of the few times (I’d have to add impromptu dance parties and family bike rides) when I can shut out everything else and just be with them.
When I can give my children, not only my love, but also my time.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the mommies out there—getting up each day to do what we do—and may we all clear more mental space for ourselves and for our loved ones in the days and years ahead.
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