For years I have been a self-proclaimed book dork. When I was a kid, I would max out my library card every week and the librarian ceased to be astounded when I returned what I had and came back for more. I would read the side of the cereal box at breakfast because I could not go without reading something. Anything at all.
And while my personal reading has ebbed and flowed over the years, I am still likely to have a stack of books waiting for me. I love a good story, the escape. I love the moment when you have to pause and re-read because “Did that really just happen?” I love being in love with a character.
My tastes are varied. My current genre loves are mysteries and young adult. “Twilight” was a gateway series for me for sure. (And there are SO MANY young adult series better in every way than “Twilight”.)
But this isn’t about me. Or my book dorkdom. Or even my spring reading list.
This is about Ella.
Ella is nearing the fourth quarter of first grade. I had no idea at all that first graders grow and change and learn so much at once and Ella has had an amazing year. She absorbs, understands and repeats. Her reading has gone from piecing together sight words to actual story reading. As in, real books. Some with pictures and some without. She has more confidence and is willing to sound out new words. I’m not in her classroom but whatever they are doing, is working.
And it’s not just reading. Science concepts have come home. She can tell time and count change to make a dollar multiple ways. She is socially aware. She is beginning to understand history and the time long before her life, my life, your life.
Here’s a good Ella story: At the beginning of February, the girls and I went to see the national touring production of “Mary Poppins.” We have actually seen a fair bit of live theatre in the last few months, in no small part, due to a multitude of friends who work in the business. (I don’t pay for theatre tickets. Usually.) The girls are benefiting from this arrangement.
“Mary Poppins” was staged at the local Orpheum Theatre. Every town has one. Or used to. This particular space has been renovated to the point of absolute beauty. You can really get a feel for how much pride went into that building and how much pride still goes into it. It is the same theatre that the opera company used when I worked for them. I love it. I have loved it since I first set foot in there as a high school student.
Anyway, we saw “Mary Poppins” on an unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon so the building temperature hadn’t regulated yet. It was hot. Warmish. Ella was fairly sweaty in her winter dress and tights. She says she’s thirsty at intermission. The line to get a $4 bottle of water is so long that I’m not sure we can get one before intermission ends so I direct her to the nearest drinking fountain. The drinking fountain is made of marble, ornately carved to look like a cherub holding up a basin. They are all over the building and still functional.
But, they are not refrigerated. And we are downtown, within a stones throw from the river. The building is old. The pipes are probably old. You can imagine what it tastes like, right?
Ella takes a drink. Steps back. Takes another drink. Uses her sleeve to wipe her mouth (we are working on not using sleeves as napkins).
As she is walking away, she says “That drinking fountain would have had a Colored sign above it.”
In front of a crowd.
When I got over what she said (and she wasn’t saying it to be mean at all), I realized how very smart that statement was. She took a concept (Civil Rights, MLK, et. al), had water from a drinking fountain that was sub-par and made the association. That moment opened up a whole month’s worth of discussions about history and politics and emotions and empathy.
A life lesson. And really kind of funny given the situation. Out of the mouths of babes and all.
My Ella sat on a little stool tonight as I was making pie (and skipping Fat Camp you’ll notice) in honor of National Pi Day (3.14), and read Robert Munsch to me. He’s a family favorite author because he lends himself to a good dose of humor and repitition and kids being kids. We own three or four of his books and, when I went to the library this morning, I found three more we haven’t read.
One of the books was, arguably, his best book, “Love You Forever” about a mommy who rocks her baby boy when he is asleep. And rocks him as an older child and a teenager and a man. The man, in turn, rocks his mommy (which is a little weird) and then goes and rocks his own daughter. It’s mostly written for us, the mommies and daddies, I think.
The mommy repeats, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.” Five or six times this is repeated by my growing and changing Ella. She is reading every word to me, turning the pages, showing the pictures to me. She hesitates at words very seldom.
I had to take a moment. I had to turn away and pretend to read the recipe.
She ended the book, closed it and said “Mommy, don’t you like it that I read the whole entire book? Mommy? Are you crying? Why are you crying?”
Ella I’m just so, so proud of you. I love it when you read to me.
“You’re kind of like that mommy in the book. I’ll always be your baby, right?”
All I could say was Yes.
As long as I’m living, Ella, my baby you will be.
(The pie was French Silk and, I’m sorry to say, it was delicious.)