Bedtime at our house is often rushed. Especially as the springtime moves along and the evenings push themselves later and later, the last month of school is full of days in which we play too long outside and have to throw the kids in bed so they can get out of them again in the morning.
There are lunches to pack, after all, and I need a moment to quiet my mind before I have to fall into my own bed. Other days, though, the ones in which I am able to take a deep breath, I love to give each kid the gift of my undivided attention as they snuggle under the covers. My husband came up with the question, “What’s left in your bucket that you still need to get out?” Some evenings, it’s nothing, or simply leftover wiggles.
Sometimes, frustration with a substitute teacher. Other days, it’s deeper, harder. A friend who chose to leave my daughter out. A classmate teasing my son for his food allergies.
Earlier this week, my six-year-old daughter confessed her hard day to me. She had decided that she didn’t want to play what her buddies were playing at recess, so she ended up playing alone, and thought one of her friends should have noticed and come to be with her. The conversation moved to talking about her empathetic, sensitive heart that sees those needs in others, to how we process those big feelings. I asked how she liked to get her angry and frustrated feelings out, telling her about how Mister Rogers used to play his piano, telling a story with his music.
Sometimes, she said, when I have big feelings, I read a story. And it’s like that story is my story. It’s about me. And I can feel my feelings because it’s like the main character is me.
Isn’t this why we read to our children, why we fill their minds and hearts with true and beautiful story? Why we seek to cultivate their imagination and sense of what is good and holy? This beautiful confession took my words away. Wow, I said. You’re right. That is beautiful and true and wise.
Growing up in a rather stoic family, I did not know what to do with my feelings as a child; books were my most consistent refuge. Lewis and Tolkien, L’Engle and Montgomery, among hosts of others, gave voice to my feelings, gave me stories to help me process my own experiences.
And while I pray that I am giving my children a more whole understanding of their hearts and minds and emotions, and can share them with real, living people, (as I l also learn that lesson for myself) I also know that there are times when we simply need someone else to speak for us, someone else to tell us a story that swells our hearts with joy and sorrow. And I pray that these words and stories will sink into my children’s hearts, to give them courage as they grow up.
As Kate DiCamillo says in The Tale of Despereaux:
“The world is dark, and light is precious. Come closer, dear reader. You must trust me. I am telling you a story.”
Whether they weep at the death of a beloved and literate spider, cheer for the last king of Narnia, laugh aloud with the Incorrigibles, or understand their own sinful hearts through the journey of Kalmar Wingfeather – I believe these stories are beacons of light we give our children against the darkness. They are not Scripture, of course, but they carry the beauty and truth of the Holy Word, the Greatest and Truest Story.
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