Ayla received a huge stack of books from my mother for Christmas. But like most kids, she already has her favorite books - and it's sometimes hard to sway her from them. Some of the new books are a little too advanced, like The Velveteen Rabbit (it's just too long). Another great one is an introduction to the Ingalls family aka: Little House on the Prairie. I can't wait to read those books again with my kids, chapter by chapter.
I don't know if my mother chose all of the books specifically for their content, or if it was a library sale or if because some of the books had won awards. But last week, I chose the two most depressing books out of the pile.
The first one was called Old Pig. It's the story of a grandmother pig and her granddaughter that live together. Then one day the old pig gets sick and morbidly goes to the bank to take out all of her money, settle bills at the grocery store, etc. and comes home to die. It doesn't say this explicitly; but I'm sure in a few years, Ayla will get the message.
If my mother did, in fact, pick this book for the content... well, it doesn't surprise me. What a sly way to inject a dose of guilt into your granddaughter! Watch out Ayla, I'm an old lady and I could just die any day! Needless to say, I was not pleased with this selection. I'm sure this book helpful to children when they do lose a grandparent - but it's not healthy to promote the fear of death into toddlers. Just an idea.
The second book was The Wall. Again, the concept is too advanced for Ayla and focuses on the death of a grandparent. (Morbid Christmas theme, right?) This time a boy and his father visit the Vietnam Memorial to find his grandfathers' name. The boy never knew his grandfather and comes to realize that there is something missing that he didn't know was missing before. And he realizes the pain his father feels as an adult. A multi-dimensional depressing book!
But this one was a little bit more relevant to me. Although my father didn't perish in a terrible war, he did die eleven years ago. My kids will never know him and any memories of him will have to passed down either through stories or pictures. Of course this is painful for me. While my father had his definite faults, he would have been important to my children. He could have told them ridiculous stories about putting them in shrinking machines to prevent them from growing up (like he did to me), could have shown them the house where he was born, could have seen an age of digital photography with them. The lost opportunities are endless.
I got about two pages into the book until I was crying and unable to speak. It was one of those cries. I was trying to hold my shit together and read the story. It certainly is a beautiful and important message, but doesn't make for a cheery bedtime! Every page seemed to open up even a deeper sadness. The boy sees another young boy walking with his grandfather. The boy sees a rowdy group of kids come to the Wall and not be affected. The boy puts his picture down near his grandfather's name and worries that his grandfather won't know who he is. I mean, come on! I could barely hold it together.
I miss my Dad. I always will. But that's my own pain. I've told Ayla that my own father has died. (We were having one of those family relations conversation when you try to explain that her aunts and uncles are actually brothers and sisters to her parents....) The saddest, and hardest realization of the story is that my kids will eventually experience grief over never knowing my father. They have a wonderful "Gramps" on Gregory's side, but a lot of kids get to have more than one grandfather - and they'll feel cheated at some point in life. That's the last thing I want for them.
And the real lesson learned, I need to proofread these new books ahead of time. Especially when they're from my mother! :) There is something cathartic about getting such an emotional response from a book, but children's literature is the worst! They really know how to get you.