I read books to the kids every night. It was once such a simple task (Pat the bunny, now go to bed!), but over the years it has become more and more substantial. It is one of few anchors that the children have to a regular routine with their father. I do my best to respect that, although it is sometimes a marathon of books that, honestly, I occasionally dread in the evenings. But, it has become more essential to their bedtime routine than putting on pajamas, or even getting tucked under blankets. There are nights when the family is out late and all three of the kids fall asleep in the car on the way home. Andrea and I fumble into the shadowy living room and struggle up the stairs carrying one or two children each, and then we try to lay them down on their beds. But they invariably will open one eye as I am sneaking out the door and they will beg for a book. Tired dry mouthed croaking “Booooooook…” like a mummy raising up from the dead. Then it heightens to a high pitched whine “Booook!”
I sigh, and turn back around. I have found that it’s impossible to resist the cursed summoning of “Booook!”. They will not fall asleep until they hear the strange tired cadence of their dad speaking about children on a beach, or elephants at the park, or Hobbits wandering lost in a forest.
With so many books being read, it is sometimes hard to effectively screen the stories I read them. This is really the only time I ever have for reading, and I spend it reading out-loud to them. I don’t have a chance to sit with a stack of children’s books and find the best one to share with them. So, it was unfortunate last night when I found myself reading a library book that started talking about a little girl whose parents do not live together. I slowly worked my way through the chapter, reading a sentence or two ahead of where I was reading out-loud, path-finding, searching for any hidden traps or weird emotional landmines. I changed a few sentences. Skipped a few others. Finally I came to the chapter break and set the book down on their shelf. I turned back to them and smiled. They smiled back, but they were sleepy thoughtful smiles. I adjusted their blankets and sat down between the two of them and talked to them about the girl’s family situation. Did we know any families like that? Had they seen stories like this before in books or TV shows?
They had encountered similar things before. Clara pointed out that one of her favorite shows was about a boy that lived with his father, and she didn’t know where his mom was. “I don’t know if she is just away somewhere, or,” she wiggled her hands, “you know…” she trailed off. I did know. However, I’m afraid Clara probably does not know. She just knows that sometimes sentences trail off at the end when the rest is too hard to explain. The concept seemed too disturbing for the little girl, so I wrapped my arms around both of their shoulders and assured them that their Mom and Dad loved each other very much, and we would never leave them to go and live somewhere else. This seemed to appease their thoughts.
But then Lydia looked up at me and frowned. She had just remembered a show where something like this had happened and it made her very sad.
“What show was that Dear?”
“Well, it’s about bears that live in the sky, in a land of clouds and rainbows. They are Care Bears. And Dad,” she looked sadly down at her toes, “Dad, none of them have a Mom or a Dad. They just all live together and I don’t know where their parents are.”
I gave her shoulders another squeeze. “Huh…” I said quietly. “Well, I promise never to leave you in the land of clouds and rainbows where you will have to be raised by strange bears.” I said this in my most reassuring voice.
“Thank you Daddy,” she said. And she sounded genuinely relieved.