In our house, reading is a big deal. We visit the library once a week, and it’s not unusual for us to have 25 books checked out at one time (20 of which will of course belong to Miles). My absolute favorite part of the day is our story time together; after Miles is in his PJs, we snuggle up just the two of us and read half a dozen or so books of his choosing. Story time lasts 30-45 minutes, and even then, time seems to pass with lightning speed. I am beyond happy and proud to see that Miles has an inherent love of reading, just as I do.
Because we are such avid readers, we have a well-established list of favorite children’s authors and books (Pete the Cat, all day). We do pick up new things from the library every week, and I pre-read them all before we decide to take them home – not only to ensure they are age appropriate, but also to see that they are challenging and encourage Miles to think creatively and ask questions (also: not lame). We checked out a book about Dumpy the Dump Truck once, in which the school bus broke down and in all her infinite wisdom, the schoolteacher thought it would be a good idea for all the kids to be taken home in the back of a dump truck. But don’t worry; Dumpy’s owner convinced her it would be perfectly safe because they would only drive 10mph, and avoid potholes. This is on our “never again” list, and it’s exactly why pre-reading is crucial.
When it comes to our favorite authors, however, I never feel a need to pre-read as we are familiar with their writing style and content of the stories. So when Miles picked up “City Dog, Country Frog” by Mo Willems, I dropped it in our bag without a second thought. Who doesn’t love Mo?
The book is truly a beautiful story, about the different seasons of life and the changes we experience, the valleys and the peaks. It’s told through the actual seasons of the year: City Dog meets Country Frog in the spring, and they learn frog games. In the summer, they learn dog games.
Then fall rolls around and all of a sudden Country Frog is “tired” and wants to play “remembering games.” Uh-oh. Cue the tears…
Adults, hear me now: the best time to find out that one of the main characters in your child’s book will die is not while you are reading it to your child for the first time.
I muddled through fall, as both dog and frog remembered the joys of spring and summer. I sniffled a bit, but did a superb job of hiding this from Miles. Toddlers have no acquaintance with death; this is not a concept my son will learn about now, and if I can help it, not for quite a while.
Me: *sniffle sniffle* I am a very tired frog. Let’s play remembering games. Country Frog and City Dog remembered jumping, splashing and croaking in spring…they remembered chasing, fetching and barking in summer. And that was fall. *sniffle sniffle* And then came winter…
And here came the tears. Because City Dog goes to their usual meeting spot and he waits – but Country Frog is nowhere to be found. So City Dog waits and waits and waits; all alone, in the cold snow, with big, blank wintery pages of no text and an incredibly sad face.
Me: *sniffle snort gurgle snot* But Country Frog did not come…and that was winter.
(Dear Mo Willems: THANK YOU FOR THE WARNING.)
Miles: Mama! Are you sad?
Me: A little bit, because City Dog is sad. You see it’s very cold outside, and frogs do not enjoy the cold, so Country Frog did not come to play with him.
Miles: Mama, will you be okay? I will give you a hug!
Me: *sniffle snot snort gurgle sniffle honk boohoohooohooooooo* Thank you, baby. I love you.
And then – THEN – spring arrives again, and very sad City Dog meets very happy Country Chipmunk. And all is right in the world. And I cried even more.
Miles: Mama, are you sad AGAIN?
Me: Yes, baby…sometimes when things make me very happy, I will have tears of joy. Mamas are really silly sometimes.
Miles: Mama, you are silly all the time. (then he gave me a hug and a kiss and he honked my nose – affection and comfort from a toddler at its finest)
Truthfully, the book is wonderful because it speaks the same message to both children and adults, but just at a deeper level for those of us who understand that Country Frog has gone on to the great Froggie Beyond. We do have different seasons in life, and nothing teaches you that in a greater fashion than becoming a parent.
When you have children, you enter into many seasons all at once in those first few years. You are in a season of joy and thankfulness, with the blessing of these tiny, tiny people who love you truly and unconditionally with every ounce of themselves. You are in a season of overwhelming love, as you feel your heart explode each time you sit back and take in what is now your life. You are also in a season of challenges, as you learn how to parent; how to take care of these tiny people, how to ease their pain, how to calm their fears, and how to not pull out your hair when you see all of the produce in your refrigerator has tiny, toddler bites taken out of it (side note: this is when we make vegetable soup). Life will be so much fun that you could write your own Dr. Seuss dictionary of new words that still couldn’t fully express the fun and love and joy you feel inside.
And that will be summer.
Your life outside of your children enters a new season as well. You will find friends and family with whom you are instantly closer, a bond that is renewed and strengthened. And you will find friends and family who disappear – sometimes temporarily, and sometimes permanently. You will adapt to this season of newness and change as well, in all its bittersweet moments.
And that will be spring.
You will settle in to the “new normal” of naps and early bedtimes, family-friendly dinners, ice cream parties on Saturday afternoons, finger paint and crayons everywhere. You will feel at ease; you will feel peace, you will recognize the pleasure of an unhurried existence during these young years.
And that will be fall.
Sometimes, things will throw you for a loop. A child will have croup, and you’ll spend the entire night rocking your baby under a humidifier, praying for healing, knowing that you would give anything to take the sickness away. A bully at school will come into the picture, and you’ll have a conversation about being brave, doing what is right, and loving people even when they are difficult, because we could all use a little extra caring at times. You will enter seasons of tough questions from young, inquiring minds. You will learn to navigate these as well as a Sherpa on Mt. Everest (and you will still pray for NO AVALANCHES, PLEASE).
And that will be winter.
I know my seasons seem out of order; the reality is that these seasons occur at any time, of their own accord, and sometimes coinciding with one another. The point is this: they are brief (sometimes only in retrospect, but trust me, the brevity is there) and we arrive at the next season sometimes with a smile, and sometimes with a frown, but always with a love and determination to carry on.
What was winter for City Dog quickly turned into a new spring with Country Chipmunk. My son learned that sometimes friends will move away, transfer schools, or start attending a different church, but that there will always be a new friend right around the corner. And I learned that things can be tough, they can be really difficult and sad and trying and dirty and messy, but soon, spring will arrive. There is a season, turn, turn, turn…
Thank you, Mo.