Some thoughts on this and on I’m Small and Other Verses, by Lilian Moore and Jill McElmurry (Illustrator) – Walker Books, London
I can be ridiculously impatient. I find hours inside a single minute. Even waiting for toast. I resent queuing; I shop online. I stare down the little green man in the box at the road crossing. Better yet, I walk a different way to avoid him and so I can walk at my own pace.
But now I am raising children and, finally, learning patience. I think. I can’t get away with just doing things now that they’re getting older, I mean. I have to show them the right way and be a good. . . gulp. . . role model for them.
We’re in the toddler and pre-school stages at home. Of course, this is when children begin their march to independence and more things, they insist, must be done “all by myself.” They brush their teeth. A little. . . They put on their clothes. All of them. They feed themselves. And their clothing. And you just have to sit back and let them. You have to give up your need to get it done quickly and without making an unholy mess. Well, at least I think so. I’ve known some parents to continue doing things for their children well into adulthood. Quite famously, a 30-something work acquaintance who still lived with her mother ate a packed lunch every day, made by her mother, which contained grapes, peeled and halved. But this is probably a bit extreme for an example.
As a parent, letting go can be a little difficult, but it’s all good when you realise that you’re helping them become competent human beings. And, really, I never peeled their grapes. Or cut them in half. Gasp!
Back to topic. I’ve had to create a space for patience in my life. It’s not about me anymore, after all. Not now. It’s about showing and teaching the right ways, being unselfish with all of those moments I could maximise or not interfering with someone figuring out how to get on her tippy toes to get on and off the tricycle. She might fall, I whisper to myself, but stop at rushing over for fear that she will fall. The grass is soft underneath. Within the day, she has done it. And I get to feel proud because I was patient.
Tonight, we read poetry at bedtime. We are learning together to have patience with words and concepts. To act out phrases in a poem, to look forward to our favourite parts without skipping over everything else to get there. It’s hard. They’re excited by their favourite things. I get that. But I want my children to have the patience and desire to admire and appreciate a work of art, to take a walk or complete a project just for the pleasure of it. I do have patience with these important things, and so does my husband. And we are trying to temper our various shows of impatience with the trivial things. . . to set a good example.
We borrowed I’m Small and Other Verses from the library. This is our first book of contemporary poetry. It’s good. The images are simple, but rich. Thematically, the poems belong to Autumn / Winter and favourite early childhood objects–peanut butter, a snowsuit, sand, finger paints. Some rhyme, others do not; they are written from the child’s point of view–very important as this is allows your child to connect directly with the poems. The illustrations are charming and a little whimsical, encouraging you to read the visual images alongside the words without overwhelming the words. They show how one can be patient and restrained, yet keep your own personality.
The title poem, for example, is illustrated beautifully–a young girl sits on a tree swing with her dog. It’s a windy, Autumn day. She tells us that the trees are tall so they can resist the strong wind. And that the walls of her house are strong enough too. But there’s a logical concession at the end:
The cadence in the poem allows you to unwrap the images when reading aloud. And it’s fun to play with the shapes in the poem, too–the tall trees, the strong wind, the wind tickling the tummies of the tall trees. . . you get the idea.
It was the perfect way to end a day we spent out at the park, picking up pine cones, playing in the grass, learning to ride the tricycle and the scooter, making new friends and playing an impromptu game of leapfrog or ‘find the box of raisins’. A day which ended with my fearless daughter confessing that she was frightened of going to sleep because a wolf was going to eat her (Little Red Riding Hood can be overenthusiastically told). We talked about the little girl in “I’m Small” and how brave she was: Why she decided that it was better to hold on tight and enjoy the swing on a windy day rather than go inside. Why my daughter could figure out a way to make the wolf go away (she will throw water at said wolf) rather than winge about it. Why I decided to brave the variable British spring weather to enjoy a day out rather than stay inside.
The illustration is the one on the cover, the little girl standing on a book to reach the mirror and finding that today she is finally tall enough to see her nose. And my littlest one shouts “nose,” even before I begin reading the poem. She gets it, too, in her way. Now we just have to keep it up.
Now for the precipitous ending. Parents like me are fighting an uphill battle. There is so much out there to seduce our children into short-term gratification. Our visual culture beckons wonderful and colourful things to gobble up. Why bother picking up a pencil to write or draw something yourself when you can watch other people do it endlessly on tele? Why create when you can consume so easily? Creating is hard, after all. Consuming. . .not so hard at all.