Friday, June 12, 2009

Bedtime Stories

I picked up a book from the library called In Our Mother's House by Patricia Polacco. I have seen her on Reading Rainbow and I am always on the lookout for stories about children who have different racial and cultural backgrounds. This was the first picture book I have ever seen about a non-traditional family, though I am sure there are many published. The book tells a story about two women who adopt three children of all different races. The book is a retrospective, told from the perspective of the eldest daughter. The story takes us all the way through their idyllic childhoods, their marriages, the birth of their children, their mothers' deaths and the passing on of the house to the next generation. It is a lot for a 2 1/2 year old to absorb.

Throughout their childhood, there is one neighbor woman who is always scowling at their family. She is also skinny. I think her bigotry problem may be linked to a body image obsession, causing her to be chronically hungry and therefore very irritable. At one point in the story- I can't remember if this is when the mothers throw a huge neighborhood block party where everyone prepares ethnic foods to share or if it's when the mothers invite the neighborhood over to build a tree house, but both look like a ton of fun. If you apply beer marketing strategies to this book- if you drink this beer, you get this girl- this book seems to say, if you have two moms, you will know the true meaning of community and racial harmony. It's irresistable. Anyway, during one of these events, the mean lady comes wagging her finger and says something to the effect of, "I don't appreciate you!"

Manny is learning to identify emotions and situations. Everything right now is "he's sad" or "she's scared" or "he fell over". So when Sam reads this book, he changes the words to this exchange. He always says about the mean lady, "She's sad. She's sad because somebody pushed somebody else. And pushing is bad." It's hard to tell if Manny is learning how to be gentler with his sisters as a result of this improvising on Sam's part. Sam also likes to change the text on the page where the mothers have died, which is illustrated with a touching picture of the mothers, now deceased, holding each other on an armchair in the stars. "This is an outer space armchair," Sam says. And Manny, who repeats everything of interest, always says, "Outer space armchair."

For a long time, Glory and Elena didn't get read to regularly. I just couldn't figure out how to make it work when someone was always squirming out of my arms or crying. But now that they are in the same room, I put them both in their cribs and I read to them like I am a professional librarian. I come by that naturally, of course, since my mom is a kick-ass professional children's librarian. How do you like that title Mom?

I select a book and I do that reading upside down-thing. I even occasionally lick my finger so I can turn the pages with greater ease. I put the book in front of Glory's face, then like I am on a pendulum, I move it into Elena's view and then back to Glory's and so on. Sometimes, I even let them touch it, but not for too long, or the book inevitably ends up in one of their cribs and I am not as good at story improvisation as Sam is.

After I put the book away, I have gotten into the habit of kneeling at their cribs and pressing my face in between the crib slats, alternating equally between Glory and Elena. Elena is always quick to give me a huge open mouth kiss. She also likes to stick her fingers up my nose and pull. Glory likes to poke at me with her fingers and she also likes to press her face to mine. Sometimes we kiss. They both LOVE this and are totally delighted the whole time. When I get up to leave and blow kisses as I say goodnight, there is often some whimpering. They could play this game for a long time.

The nose thing reminded me of an image I want to remember. Every night, we say to our kids, "The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen." Last night, Sam spoke these words of Old Testament blessing to Manny while Manny picked his nose and deposited the contents of his find into his mouth. That is a beautiful image. The holy and the gross. The hopes and the reality. The divine and the utterly human. No pretense. No false piety. Just a need and the love of God so clear in the fact that the finger is the perfect size to fit in the nostril to meet that need.

I love bedtime.


Carmen Goetschius said...

What lovely, intimate images of the Lai family as they say goodnight. Good improvisation... the mommy's dying would be pretty hard to explain to wee one's at this point. :-)

Kisses blown from here!!!

Mom said...

I accept the title with gratitude. I can't think of a better birthday gift than praise from a child. In return, I think that you are a kickass mom.
Hugs and kisses!

Kelly B said...

Funny - I say the same prayer to my girls before bedtime! It is a good one.