What we learn from children’s books

Every night Grey has not been direly disobedient, we read him three books. His favorite books are the Little Critter books by Mercer Mayer and this terrible ’70s era book of nursery rhymes that neither Skarps nor I can stand. Lately, though, he’s been branching out.

Last night, he asked me to read “Chrysanthemum” by Kevin Henkes to him. The eponymous young mouse in question is doted upon and adored by her parents, who think her name is absolutely perfect, just like her. Then she goes to school where Rita and Jo and Victoria make fun of her because her name is soooo long and flowers live in the dirt! And Chrysanthemum “wilts”. Every night she comes home depressed to her mom and dad and they give her her favorite foods and play parcheesi and apply hugs and reinforcement and tell her they love her (while reading child psychology books in the background).

This is not actually a story for the kids. This is a story for the parents doing the reading. This is about sending your child to school, and having other kids be mean to your child. This is about the limits of what parental love can make all better.

Man, is that a hard lesson to hear. You want to think that your child will never want for love or affection because you have SO MUCH love for them that it will clearly meet all the needs they might ever have for love or affection. But no. Starting about now, Grey wants friends to like him too. Someday, he will care very very much for friends. And then it will be lovers. Some day he will want someone to love him in a way his parents cannot. And some very distant day he will take a partner and their bond will be greater than our bond.

Ouch. All this from a book about a mouse named Chrysanthemum.

This morning the time came to go to daycare. This used to be a very un-fraught transaction, but lately he hasn’t wanted to go to daycare. I worried that it was about the particular daycare. But the latter part of this week he’s going to his backup daycare, and has had the same reaction. This morning he was weeping BITTER TEARS about having to go to daycare (well, and because I turned off the tv). I asked him why he didn’t want to go to daycare.

“No friends.”

That sound you just heard? That was my heart breaking. Because you know what? There’s nothing I can do about it when Grey is the outsider, and other kids don’t want to play with him. He’s so friendly and outgoing. But he’s 2 still, and his social skills still involve pretending to be a kitty cat. And sometimes other kids don’t want to play with him. And that is life.

I moved a lot when I was a girl. I was in 6 different schools by the time I was 9. I spent a lot of time not having friends, even though I was also pretty outgoing and friendly. I was weird. I was an outsider. I read too much and used big words. They already had friends. I think I am a happy adult, but there were some very bitter moments of loneliness in my childhood. And my parents loved me with all the love it was possible to give, and supported me. I think that’s how I got to happy adult anyway. But oh! My son. How sad it is to realize that so very soon, the vast depths of my love for you will not be able to make everything ok.

This is what happens every night while dinner is being made
This is what happens every night while dinner is being made

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Brenda currently lives in Stoneham MA, but grew up in Mineral WA. She is surrounded by men, with two sons, one husband and two boy cats. She plays trumpet at church, cans farmshare produce and works in software.

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