December 4, 2018 § Leave a comment
For the next few weeks (or until I keel over), I’ll be running a series of daily mini-posts, each highlighting a different book from 2018 which I love, which has mad gift potential, and which I have not had occasion to write about…yet. A range of ages and interests and formats. Be sure to subscribe with your email address if you want to be guaranteed to see each one. Otherwise, take your chances on Facebook (What To Read To Your Kids) or Twitter (@thebookmommy); I kindly implore you to “like” as many posts as you can to increase the chances that others see them.
On the list of books published this year which make me wish my children were little(r), Grace Lin’s A Big Mooncake for Little Star (Ages 2-5) is at the top. How I used to love reading stories about the moon to my kids (like this, this, and this). For our littlest ones, the world outside their windows is big and new and constantly changing. When they tuck inside the crooks of our arms and listen to us read, they’re seeking reassurance as much as understanding. In that vain, perhaps it’s not surprising that the ever-shifting moon is such a popular subject for children’s book creators, representing as it does the mystery, vastness, and allurement of the universe.
A Big Mooncake for Little Star is a captivating juxtaposition of warm and cold, of the intimacy of a mother and child’s bond and the starkness of the universe. Told in remarkably few words, the story begins without any words at all, on the book’s endpapers, where a mama and her daughter are baking a Giant Mooncake. The mama sneaks a peek at her daughter, who perches on a chair, proudly sprinkling sugar (or is it stardust?) into the bowl. (An Author’s Note explains that the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, the time when these Chinese pastries are traditionally baked and enjoyed, was Lin’s favorite Asian holiday as a child.)
While Mama takes the flat, golden mooncake out of the oven and “laid [it] onto the night sky to cool,” she asks her daughter for something that’s typically in short supply in our little ones: patience. “Now, Little Star…your Mooncake took us a long time to bake, so let’s see if you can make it last awhile. Can you remember not to touch this Big Mooncake until I tell you to?” Little Star has every intention of honoring her mother’s wishes, as she gets ready for bed and falls asleep. But when she awakens in the night, the glint of mischief in her eye can only mean one thing.
For the next several nights, Little Star, with her stuffed bunny as companion, softly pitter-patters out of her bedroom and up to the Big Mooncake, which perches warm and luminous against the jet black sky. “Would her mama notice if she took a tiny nibble?” She takes a bite, “so sweet and tasty.” “Would her mother notice if she took another tiny nibble?”
Then, each night, Little Star flies—crumbs flying off her face like moon dust—back to the warmth of her bed.
Of course, for our little listeners, Little Star’s nighttime snacking is meant to correlate with the phases of the moon. On the last night of the story, Mama goes to look for the Mooncake and all that is left is a “trail of twinkling crumbs.”
What Mama does find is Little Star’s plush bunny, dropped and forgotten during her final nighttime escapade, a sign of Little Star’s blossoming confidence. But just because our young children may flirt with independence, doesn’t mean they’re entirely ready for its consequences. At the story’s conclusion, Mama offers Little Star both her bunny and her forgiveness, and the two share an affectionate moment of reassurance. “Little Star looked up, her grin reflecting her mama’s smile…‘Now let’s go make another one!’”
Review copy by Little Brown. All opinions are my own. Amazon.com affiliate links support my book-buying habit and contribute to my being able to share more great books with you–although I prefer that we all shop local when we can!
May 11, 2017 § 8 Comments
Last week, I was at Trader Joe’s buying flowers for my daughter, who would have the unique opportunity of performing at the Kennedy Center that evening with her community choir. My head was spinning while I was waiting in line to pay, going down the mental checklist of what needed to happen before heading to the concert hall (iron Emily’s uniform, print the parking pass, get the snacks together, etc.). Suddenly, the checkout woman interrupted my train of thought. “These flowers are such a gorgeous orange,” she remarked. I halfheartedly explained that the flowers were for my daughter, that she had a performance that night, and that orange was her favorite color. “These little joys make parenting so worth it,” she mused. “Yes,” I agreed, assuming she was talking about my being in the audience in a few hours. “It’s going to be so exciting.”
“Oh, I’m sure the performance will be great,” she replied, “but I was talking about getting to pick out flowers for your little girl.”
Once again, as a mother, I had found myself at the bottom of that all-too-tempting rabbit hole, of letting my “to do” list eclipse any opportunities for joy in the moment. What could have been a moment of delicious anticipation—and, really, I had deliberated over my flower choice at length—had quickly turned into checking off one more task before the minutes ran out and I had to pick up my kids from school. What could have been a moment of gratitude—to have the occasion to buy these flowers, the time to do so, the money to do so—was lost in a feeling of obligation. What could have been a moment of love and pride and affection was lost in a flurry of distraction.
As I was driving away from the store with my flowers, I caught the tail end of a rebroadcasted Ted Talk by a man who undertook a daring 1,800-mile journey on foot to the South Pole. To Ben Saunders’ surprise—and after nearly starving to death—he came to realize that his own personal reward came less from the completion of his goal than from the journey itself. “Happiness is not a finish line,” he says in the talk. “And if we can’t feel content on our journeys, amid the mess and the striving, then we might never feel it.”
If happiness isn’t a finish line, then neither is parenting. And yet, too often—amid the sleep deprivation, the academic struggles, the phases which seem to start and stop faster than we can count and yet feel terrifyingly permanent when they’re happening—we experience parenting as if it were one giant race. We may inherently understand that our time with our young children is short (and if we don’t, Facebook will remind us), but each time we find ourselves running to Target to replace some article of clothing which is suddenly too short, we’re too busy to realize we’re chasing after something we’ll never overtake.
Included in a short but I hope ever-growing list, there are two things I can almost always count on as a mother to return me to the moment. The first, you will not be surprised to learn, is reading aloud. When I’m reading to my children (something great, that is), time stands still, my mental checklist falls away, and the only thing that matters is delighting together in the words as they come off the page and enfold us in their spell.
The second is snuggling. My firstborn is not by nature a cuddler (though he has warmed to it over time), so perhaps the universe knew I needed a second child in order to get my cuddling fix. In this, Emily has never disappointed. I can be mentally a thousand miles away, but when she climbs in next to me in bed in the early morning, when she puts the back of her soft little hand against my cheek and places her nose where I can’t resist kissing those five tiny freckles, there is no place I’d rather be.
This is all to say that I can relate to each of the animal mothers in the darling new picture book, Mama’s Kisses (Ages 1-4), who are eager and ready to bestow kisses and cuddles on their young brood at bedtime. My kids may be too old for this book (stop it, just stop it!), but it nevertheless charmed every ounce of my maternal being. With spot-on rhyming by Kate McMullan (whose I Stink will forever be imprinted on JP’s second year of life) and whimsically but unsentimentally illustrated by Tao Nyeu (whose abstract orchestration of orange and blue began in this favorite), Mama’s Kisses is a rollicking seek-and-find jungle adventure.
When Mama’s Kisses opens, four mama animals are conversing (and sewing and knitting) in the foreground, while their little ones make mischief in the background. All the words in the book are spoken by the mothers. “Sun’s going down./ Moon’s on the rise./ Let’s find our babies./ And sing lullabies./ They must be yawning./ Sweet sleepyheads./ Our tired babies!/ We’ll put them to bed.”
The joke’s on the mamas (although older children will quickly realize they’ve been in on it the whole time), because the presupposed sleepy little leopard, panda, orangutan, and elephant are in fact frolicking, singing, and marching about with wild abandon. Even more, when they hear the STOMP STOMP STOMP STOMP of their mamas, the young animals quickly sneak off under giant banyan leaves, take playful plunges into the nearby water hole, and then don feathered disguises.
One by one, each mama delivers a soft, sweet invocation to her child (I should be so eloquent when I try to get my own children to leave the park).
Come now, my leopard,
All spotted and pepperered,
Tomorrow you’ll pounce,
You’ll roar and you’ll race.
These invocations don’t exactly have the desired effect (McMullan understands what it’s like to be a parent), so the mamas have to do some playful pouncing of their own—in the form of a good-humored Sneak Attack.
My favorite part of the story then arrives, as each mama curls up with her little one. Four more invocations follow—each given its due in beautiful double page spreads—and these rhymes at last prove irresistible in their power to make sleepyheads submit to mama’s kisses.
Rock-a-bye bear cub,
Come closer now, scootch
So Mama can land
A Panda bear smooch.
Don’t squirm like a bug.
Here comes a great big
Watching my daughter sing on stage last week was wonderful, but it wasn’t even the best part of the night. Still thinking about my exchange at Trader Joe’s earlier in the day, I tried my darndest to soak up every moment of the before and after. I delighted in the way Emily ran up and down the terrace under an enormous blue sky in her break between rehearsing and performing; I snuck peaks at her serious face doing breathing warmups with her fellow choristers; and I gathered her up in the biggest, smoochiest, longest hug when, after it was all over (even though it was well past bedtime, and I was eager to take up my post in front of some adult TV), we walked into her bedroom together and she squealed as she saw the vase of bright orange gerber daisies on her dresser.
Happy Mother’s Day to my fellow mamas, my fellow runners of the Great Race that we can’t be faulted for sometimes mistaking for motherhood. May we all just remember to spend a little more time smelling the roses along the way.
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Review copy from Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin Young Readers Group. All opinions are my own. Amazon.com affiliate links support my book-buying habit and contribute to my being able to share more great books with you–although I prefer that we all shop local when we can!
May 5, 2016 § 1 Comment
“Mommy, I wish this day would last forever,” my daughter said into my eyes last Saturday, in our third hour of watching street performers under a brilliant blue sky in Washington Square Park. It was our annual trip to New York City, something I’m lucky enough to do every fall with my son and every spring with my daughter. We had just spent an action-filled few days looking at art, making art, dining in style and dining at street vendors—but there was something about these unstructured hours in the park, the sun finally making itself felt, where I watched my daughter become totally and completely entranced by her surroundings.
There was a woman with hot pink hair on one side of her; a woman with a brilliant purple head wrap on the other. Emily sat on the rounded edge of a fountain that wasn’t in use, watching shirtless men in baggy blue sweatpants flip backwards and spin on their heads where the water would normally flow. In the distance, she could still keep her eyes on the creepy but fascinating human sculpture—a bald man (woman?) adorned in chalky gold body paint, who stood frozen atop a slim pedestal, waiting for someone to drop a dollar into his bucket, at which point he would slowly come out of the pose and strike another.
I was thoroughly enjoying myself as well, but the moment might not have stayed with me if Emily hadn’t called it out, and I was grateful that she did. It has been a tough few months for me. I’ve been nursing a shoulder injury, and the near constant physical pain of my body has meant that all too often my children’s voices have reverberated like nails on a chalkboard in my ears. It took a few days in a different environment (and a welcome shot of cortisone) to bring me back to myself and to remind me that motherhood brings with it the greatest joys, both big and small.
Maybe it’s because Emily is my second child—and will be my last—that I am continually fixated on her age. This is my favorite age, I think. I long to hold onto the age before me with desperate fervor. And then, without fail, the next age comes along and it’s even better. I may mourn her soft baby curls, or the bullish way she once used her stubby legs to propel her scooter down the sidewalk, but these memories have given way to a myriad of others that are equally poignant. I only hope I will continue to feel this way.
Still, right now, Emily is five and a half and, THIS, I’m convinced, really IS the best age. It was her fourth time in New York, but it was as if she was seeing the buildings and the subways and the people with fresh eyes—through the lens of this sweet spot of five and a half, where innocence meets knowledge, where outside stimulation is eagerly embraced and picked apart and digested right there on the face and in the eyes and in the voice for the whole world to see.
But especially for me to see. Because “I wish this day would last forever” wasn’t just about the sun and the sights; it was also about the bond we had nurtured so beautifully over the past few days. It was that push-pull dance that our children do with us, that not mutually exclusive desire for independence and closeness.
A few years ago, on these very pages, I swore to you my disdain for overt, sentimentalized, pastel displays of maternal love, books that feel like they are cooked up by publishers to prey on the hormones and generally unbalanced states of us mothers. Well, this is where I eat my words. Because I need you to make an exception for a new picture book, titled You Made Me a Mother (Ages 1-6), written by Laurenne Sala and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser (many of you will know her as the illustrator of the bestselling Fancy Nancy series). I need you to give this book to yourself and then to every mother of young children that you know. And then I need you to get your box of tissues ready. And, if you don’t believe me, you can watch this video, which was scripted by Sala for an ad campaign before she put down a version of it on paper—and before Glasser got involved and turned it into something lovely to share with young children.
My kids love hearing stories about themselves as babies. About where they were born, whether they cried, how long I held them and gazed into their eyes after they took their first breath. “Did you always know you would love me?” is a favorite question of my daughter. You Made Me a Mother facilitates these precious conversations. It also reminds us—as we sometimes need to hear—why we do what we do.
An homage to motherhood, the book reads as a mother’s monologue to her young child. It opens with a memory of the mother’s changing belly—“I felt you. You were a pea. Then a lemon. Then an eggplant.”—and goes on to mention some of the ways that the mother prepared for baby’s arrival, like eating spinach and reading books. “Can you tell I was nervous?” the mother asks. (“Yes!” my own daughter always responds at this part, basking in the revelation that grown-ups have vulnerabilities, too.)
And then there’s the baby’s birth—“Love. Big fat love.”—followed by sweet depictions of cuddling and rocking and, as the baby becomes a toddler, splashing and spinning.
No homage to motherhood would feel genuine without mention of the bumps in the road. Nervousness continues to surface: the mom is pictured hovering over an upset child, who might be sick (my children’s guess) or might be tantrumming (my guess). We also register exasperation on the mother’s face, when another time the child wanders (I’m guessing not for the first time) into her room in the middle of the night. (Personally, I think a bit of time could have been devoted to the drudgery of dishes and laundry that also accompanies the territory of parenthood.)
But then, a new day dawns, the sun comes up, mother and child are at the park, and:
…you smile. And you say my name. You grab my hand with those little fingers. And I remember that everything is magic.
PLEASE, Universe, don’t let my daughter ever stop holding my hand! Don’t let her deliciously soft skin develop even the tiniest roughness! Don’t let the light stop dancing in her eyes! Because these are the Band-aids that every mommy needs on her worn out body.
I’ve heard it said that having a child is like watching your heart run around outside your body. I might like this variation even better:
If I could, I would open my heart, and love would rain down all over you. And you would giggle. And I’d do it all over again.
Despite our hearts swelling to bursting inside our bodies, we all know that we cannot stave off the day—even if they can’t fathom it now—when our little ones won’t be so little anymore, when they will detach from our hands and seize the world with their own. When they won’t share every discovery, mourn every disappointment, with us. And we would walk, hand in hand. Until you let go.
I already see it in my eight and a half year old. The way he runs into school with scarcely a glance behind him. The way the other day, in response to my telling him that I loved him, he responded, “OK,” and glanced longingly at his friends. And yet, admittedly, this makes the moments when he does expose his vulnerability—when he seeks me out with his eyes or pours forth his emotions onto his dinner plate—even more special. Getting glimpses of the man he will someday become—and to think that I was there in the very beginning—is nothing short of astounding.
So maybe motherhood does get better with every age. Even when they let go. And maybe, by then, we’re better, too.
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Review copy provided by Harper Collins. All opinions are my own. Amazon.com affiliate links are provided mainly for ease and reference–although I prefer that we all shop local when we can!
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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May 8, 2014 § 1 Comment
Last year, at about this time, JP came home from school proudly toting a plastic grocery bag filled with the contents of his “work drawer.” I was nearly giddy with excitement at the prospect of getting a glimpse into his work over the past few months, endeavors in addition and subtraction, story writing, and cursive practice, about which I had heard only mumblings in response to my daily inquisition, “What did you do at school?” After we ate snack together and his sister had lost herself in a project, I sat down, folded my hands on the dining room table, and watched eagerly as JP began to unpack the bag’s contents. Not many “oohs” and “ahhs” had gone by, before I realized that most of papers bore the signatures of other children. Daphne. Josh. Helena. “But, honey, where’s the work that you did?” I finally asked. And, as if that was the silliest question in the world (duh), JP informed me: “I gave it away to my friends!”
It wasn’t but a few days later that I casually mentioned this exchange to JP’s teacher. I know Montessori is more about the process than the end result, I told her, but wouldn’t it be nice to see some tangible results of my tuition, ha ha ha? “It is ironic, isn’t it,” she replied. “We spend years hoping, pleading, begging our children to share. Then we complain when they want to give everything away.” How true!
Generosity, like kindness, is something we can’t “teach” children. We can do our best to model it ourselves, and we can celebrate it when we do witness it in our kids, hoping that our excitement and pride reinforces these moments. Early on, well before I had kids of my own, I read somewhere: “Never refuse a gift from a child.” I was reminded of these words years later, when JP was three years old, and my husband and I invited a couple and their new baby over for brunch. It was a new friendship, and we were getting to know one another, while also trying to heed the demands of our respective children. Perhaps out of boredom, perhaps out of a desire to insert himself into the conversation, JP approached the father, held out his hand, and revealed a lumpy grey rock. “This is for you,” he said. The man smiled, said thank you, and put the rock down next to him on the arm of the sofa, where JP and I both stared at it. “That’s actually a very special rock,” I couldn’t help but venture, because I knew that this was a rock JP had discovered on the playground earlier that week, believing it to be the most beautiful rock in the world, believing it to be vastly different from the 10,000 other rocks he would encounter and want to bring home in the months ahead. For JP to bestow this rock on a near stranger was, I knew, a big deal. A few hours later, while I was doing dishes, JP came to me: “Mommy, the man left the rock I gave him. Should we mail it to him?” And my heart broke a little. I couldn’t blame our friend, who might have thought he was doing JP a favor by letting him keep his rock. I might have done the same thing had I not once been warned: Always accept what a child gives you, no matter how bizarre or lumpy or inconsequential it seems.
With children, sometimes the story behind the gift is actually more important, more heart-tugging, than the gift itself. The tricky part is that we as adults aren’t always privy to this backstory (case in point: how could our friend have known the pains JP had taken to carry back this rock from the playground, with no pockets and while simultaneously riding a balance bike?). One backstory that we are privy to lies in Linda Ravin Lodding’s lovely new picture book, A Gift for Mama (Ages 3-7), illustrated by the great Alison Jay. Alison Jay needs no introduction from me, since I’ve hailed her as one of my favorite contemporary illustrators time and time again, but let me just say that her romantic crackle-glazed art is perfectly suited for a story set in turn-of-the-century Vienna, a time of the Opera House, Hofburg Palace, elegant carriages, Gustav Klimt—not to mention shops teeming with lavish hats and exquisite pastries (seriously, my bags are packed). A little boy searches for a present for his mother’s birthday. While he initially uses his money to purchase a single yellow rose (“the perfect present!”), as he makes his way home through the bustling cobblestone streets, he continually stumbles upon people in need of what he has. The rose unleashes a chain of events, whereby the boy trades it to an artist in exchange for a paintbrush (“Of course! I can paint a picture for Mama—the perfect present!”); he then trades the paintbrush to a conductor (who wants to use it as a baton) in exchange for sheet music, which in turn goes to a writer in exchange for a book, and so on.
Sweet, rosy-cheeked Oskar does his very best to find the silver lining in each trade, although he gives up his last gift expecting nothing in return: bestowing a box of candied violets on a crying girl, who also has a mother with a birthday and no present. As Oskar walks home against the setting sun, hands empty and head bent, the girl chases after him to offer him the very yellow rose with which he began his day. At home, he presents his gift to Mama, who enfolds him in her arms. “‘Perfect,’ she said.” Little does she know the Journey of Generosity that this rose has taken through the hands of her sweet, sweet son.
With Mother’s Day this Sunday, I imagine I’ll receive handmade cards from my children. I imagine they will scramble to put crayon or marker to paper in the 11th hour, amidst soccer games and strawberry picking and whatever else we get into this weekend. If past events are any indication, these cards may not look like much. But what I will remember are the conversations I’ve already begun to overhear between JP and Emily, as they plot what they intend to accomplish. Says my daughter: “I am going to make Mommy a book. A book about a princess and a tractor, the two things she likes the most” (not sure I’ve ever indicated a preference for either, but that’s besides the point). And I’ll remember what my son told me as I tucked him in last night: “You are the best Mommy in the whole universe. Even better than Alien Mommies or Robot Mommies.” I’ll take what I can get, because, with children, it really is the thought that counts.
April 15, 2014 § Leave a comment
When JP was three years old, and I went from working full time to staying home full time, these were the thoughts that kept me up at night: What will happen when my children see me as “just a mom” instead of as a mom and a professional? Will they respect the work I do? Will they think of it with the same importance that they bestow upon their father, when he leaves for the office every morning? Will they grow up believing that women aren’t capable of the same career success as men—or entitled to make the same sacrifices, reap the same compensation for comparable work? Will I be a role model for them or merely someone whom they take for granted?
In the past four years, I have largely reconciled my angst around these questions. I’m keenly aware that even to have the choice to stay home is a luxury not afforded to all—and one that could abruptly end for me someday. The work that I do every day on behalf of my kids, my husband, and our house makes all of us happy. But I’m also aware that when I did work 9-5, the time that I made for my (at the time only) child was quality, focused time. I got down on the floor and played with my son more than I probably do today, when too often I’m in the kitchen or chatting to other moms on the sidelines of playdates. I think about my own mom, who was around every single day, and how out-of-this-world excited I got when my dad’s car pulled into the driveway at night. There is perhaps some inevitability in taking for granted quantity and romanticizing quality.
But perhaps at no time do I feel greater validation as a mother—stay-at-home or not—than when I take out The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes (Ages 4-10) and read Du Bose Heyward’s 1939 classic to my kids each Easter season. As much as the story is a celebration of traditional motherhood, it is also one of the earliest feminist tales—for a simple mother bunny outwits her bigger, stronger, prouder, and more handsome male competitors to earn the coveted position of fifth Easter Bunny. Although Mother Bunny initially believes that motherhood has trumped her ability to compete (“now she was nothing but an old mother bunny”), it is precisely her resourcefulness and creativity used in managing a thriving household of 21 little Cottontail bunnies that wins over Grandfather Bunny, master of ceremonies at The Palace of Easter Eggs. If successful parenting can be defined as rendering yourself superfluous so that your children can someday thrive in the world without you, then Mother Bunny can teach us all a thing or two. She gets her young bunnies to sweep and make their beds and do the gardening and cook dinner—all with good cheer and singing and dancing to boot!
The long story, dotted with softly shaded pastels by the lovely Marjorie Flack, can easily be broken up into two sittings (if your children will allow it—mine will not). There are essentially two dramatic arcs. The first comes when Mother Bunny stands with her 21 bunnies at the choosing ceremony and proves Grandfather Bunny mistaken in his assumptions about the ways in which motherhood has held her back. (You think I’ve had “no time to run and grow swift?” Just watch me release my children onto the Palace lawn and then round them up again in a matter of seconds!) But the dramatic tension really escalates on Easter Eve, when Mother Bunny, already exhausted from the evening’s work of delivering eggs, is given the dangerous task of bringing one last egg to a sick boy at the top of a treacherous mountain peak. My children can scarcely turn their heads away from Mother Bunny’s terror and failure as she trips repeatedly, rolling down the side of the snowy mountain and getting up again—all the time picturing a little boy whom she does not want to disappoint. Even the bravest of souls knows when to accept a little help, so when Grandfather Bunny appears with a magical pair of little gold shoes, she doesn’t hesitate to put them on and soar directly up the mountain to the sleeping boy’s cottage. What’s ultimately most compelling about Mother Bunny is that her generosity extends beyond her own family into the world beyond.
Perhaps a part of me hopes that my children might recognize even a tiny glimpse of me (on my best days) in Mother Bunny—of the good intentions behind my desire to include them in household chores; of my continued attempts at cleverness in getting them out the door; of my fervent desire to try a little harder every day. But I also hope that they might see in themselves the mother or father that they might someday become—when they too have the chance to parent with their own combination of wisdom, kindness, swiftness, and bravery. Whatever that looks like.
Other Favorites About the Easter Bunny:
Here Comes the Easter Cat! by Deborah Underwood (Ages 3-5)
The Story of the Easter Bunny, by Katherine Tegen & Sally Anne Lambert (Ages 4-7)
The Easter Egg by Jan Brett (Ages 4-7)