Yesterday, my children celebrated “Read Across America” at school. My daughter hatched Horton out of an egg in her kindergarten class. My son and the other fifth graders treated parents and schoolmates to a wax museum exhibit. The children all dressed as characters from their favorite books. They posed within scenes they created themselves as their guests filed through. Who knew fifth graders could be so still!
In the spirit of the day, my daughter and I made plans to read together before bed. Reading with my daughter before bed is actually a nightly occurrence in our home, however she has recently taken a shine to doing so in my bed rather than hers. My son inevitably makes his way to our “big bed party” before heading off to his own room to read independently.
My daughter’s literary fare was to be the final chapters of a book from the Magic Tree House series. But Jack and Annie had to remain in their state of Antarctic suspension until I finished helping my son with his homework. To buy me some time, my husband took our daughter upstairs to coax her into her pajamas before engaging in a spirited game of “puppy.” When he returned to the kitchen after about fifteen minutes, my son and I had finished with the homework. My husband informed me that our daughter was in her pajamas and waiting for me in our bed.
I grabbed the intended Eve of the Emperor Penguin along with my son’s massive copy of The Hobbit and proceeded up the stairs. I smiled as I heard a little giggle from a bedroom above and behind me as I ascended. I flipped on the overhead light as I made my way down the hallway toward my bedroom. As I passed my son’s room, I tossed the massive Hobbit onto my son’s bed. Okay, maybe it was more of a hurl. To my surprise, the jumble of bed covers let out a loud howl. Wanting to play a trick on me, my mischievous daughter was hiding in my son’s bed, waiting for me to come up the stairs. Waiting in the bed upon which I had just hurled a giant copy of the Hobbit.
As I collected my sobbing daughter in my arms, a slew of irrational reactions washed over me. I was irritated with my husband for telling me she was in our bed. She was not in our bed at all. I was annoyed that my son was reading the Hobbit. He already read the Hobbit two summers ago; why did he need to read it again? I was aggravated that the copy of the Hobbit was so large and heavy. Someone could get hurt by that thing! I looked down at my daughter’s face hoping to find it unmarred by the incident, only to discover a large, red stripe developing down the middle of her forehead. Like a stripe on a skunk. A red stripe down the center of my little girl’s forehead, put there by me.
And then that horrifying thing that happens to me when I am overwhelmed happened. I started to laugh. Those close to me will not be surprised by this admission. I have been known to experience bouts of giggling during wakes and funerals. Totally inappropriate, I realize. As a child, I had to exercise excruciating self control to hold back laughter while being reprimanded by my parents and teachers. Not that there were many occasions for that, mind you. Suffice to say, refraining from laughing at inappropriate moments has been a lifelong struggle for me. Dispensing nervous energy in this fashion has done me no favors over the years I assure you; I wish I could stop.
Hearing the chaos, my son came bounding up the stairs. He entered his room and saw me holding his sister and laughing silently. Always one to join in the fun, he started laughing and asked innocently, “What are you guys doing in my room and what’s so funny?” I shot him a very meaningful look that clearly conveyed the information that he should not mention the laughing, that the situation is not funny and that his sister is not to know that there is any laughing going on. Being a boy, he had no idea why I was making faces at him. He asked again, “What’s so funny mom?”
My daughter looked up at me with glistening brown eyes, hurt and betrayed. “Are you laughing at me?” she asked.
I looked earnestly into her eyes and said “No sweetie, I am not laughing at you. Of course I am not laughing at you. I love you. Are you okay? I am so, so, so very sorry that I hurt you. I didn’t know you were in the bed. Daddy told me you were in my bed so I didn’t know you were in this one.”
As my son asked what happened, my daughter turned to him, revealing her now purple skunk stripe. My son’s eyes widened, his smile dropped and he wisely turned away and ran back down the stairs. “Don’t leave me!” I yelled inside my head, feeling the giggles erupt again.
“This is all Dad’s fault!” wailed my daughter. Aha! My thought exactly.
“No sweetie, it’s not Dad’s fault, it was just a terrible accident. Dad didn’t know you were in here either. I shouldn’t have thrown the book. That is not the way to treat a book and I should not have thrown it. I am really sorry I hurt you.”
“Why is the book so big and heavy anyway,” she asked. “This book is stupid and mean.” Aha!
“Oh, the book is not stupid and mean; Mommy just made a bad mistake and you got hurt because of it. The book is actually a really good book and someday you will enjoy reading it.”
“I will never, ever read that big, mean book,” she scowled.
My son, clearly more sane than I in the moment, hurried back up the stairs with a bag of ice. He entered his room, put the ice on his little sister’s head and said, “I am so sorry. This is all my fault.”
“Honey, this is in no way your fault,” I said, feeling more than a bit guilty.
“No mum, it is,” he stated emphatically. “If I didn’t want to read the Hobbit again, the book would not have even been out. I already read it. I am so sorry.” Boy, the apples really did fall right under the tree, didn’t they.
Before I could tell my son how wrong he was, my daughter looked at him and matter-of-factly stated, “I forgive you.” She popped off of my lap and gave him a big hug.
He hugged her back. Guiding her toward the door, his next words reached back to me. “Let’s just go to the big bed and put this whole mess behind us. Jack and Annie are waiting.”
Humbled, I followed. My son will be a fine parent some day. As for me, I still need some work.
By Jayne Costello Goode