As a writer, I hold tight to the belief that the stories we tell our children help shape them and teach important lessons. The ways that adults and children share the stories- bedtime and naptime stories, post-recess read-alouds, road trip audio-books or the retelling of family lore, influence their lives. Stories and the way they are told help children know who they are and who they can become.
We were snuggled together on the yellow flocked sofa. Steve, wearing his spaceship pajamas to Dad’s left, Martha clad in frilly yellow babydolls on his lap and me, leaning in on his right, wore a pink acetate nightie. The new baby Paul had finally stopped screaming from his daily bout of evening colic and he lay peacefully in Mom’s arms. His angelic presence defied his rather loud and demanding daytime personality.
Mom had settled into the rocking chair and had closed her eyes, wearing weariness, but also contentment, on her face. Dad smelled of pipe smoke and wore his plaid smoking jacket- a robe-like wrap with satin lapels and deep pockets. We settled comfortably in… it was time for our bedtime story.
“Chug-a-rum,” croaked Grandfather Frog. Dad’s rich baritone brought the character to life. Old Mother West Wind’s children, the Merry Little Breezes, flitted through the moralistic tales and we lived vicariously in the land “when the world was young and all.”
Dad’s voice changed with each new character. His theatrical nature, subdued at his 50’s style doctor’s office, found a perfect stage in the well-lit living room of the little suburban house.
The antique pages of the book, shared from Dad’s own childhood, took us all on an adventure, to a place where problems were huge, but it all worked out in the end. In the course of a chapter, wrongs were set right and errant creatures got what they so deeply deserved.
That memory defies the darker times that lay ahead. Even then, I knew that life’s challenges were never summed up neat and tidy at the end of a chapter. As the family ventured beyond the familiar vistas of the Smiling Pool and the Laughing Brook for the Great World Beyond, life became much more complicated.
For now, I bask in the warm glow of that living room, in that atmosphere of love and imagination, where Reddy Fox is out-tricked and Hoppity learns a valuable lesson, where mothers snuggle their perfect babies and where little heads fall comfortably against a Daddy’s broad chest.
I believe that the lessons my siblings and I learned so long ago on that couch infused each of us with the belief that, no matter how bad it seemed, it could perhaps, all work out in the end. And from that brief time we spent snuggled on that yellow couch, we also know the mystery of love and what being a family can be.
As children’s book writers, what we do is important. We should persevere with our calling and tell the stories that will influence the lives of children and their families