In his poem on Children in The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran tells parents,
“You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable. “
It can be useful to view yourself as a bow being bent by God when you are awakened from deep sleep by tiny sticky fingers peeling back your eyelids.
Happy bow. Happy bow.
Will He? …the archer… you know… God… still love the bow that says to the precious living arrow? “Yes, you can watch t.v., just go away and let me sleep.”
Science can help us find the answer. In the 1950’s, the American psychologist Harry Harlow did his famous experiments on baby rhesus monkeys. Do baby rhesus monkeys cuddling up to inanimate terrycloth mothers sound familiar? These experiments were incorporated into Time-Life TV documentaries and were broadcast so frequently in the 60’s and 70’s as to join Walt Disney’s entirely fictional suicidal lemmings as undeletable files in the collective unconscious of baby boomers.
Unlike the lemmings, the monkeys were not fictional. Let us review the science. Baby monkeys were caged with an inanimate terrycloth surrogate mother who provided no food and an inanimate wire surrogate mother who did provide food. The baby monkeys spent all of their time (except when feeding) with the terrycloth mothers. When a frightening stimulus was placed in the cage, the baby monkey would run to the terrycloth mother.
In other experiments, baby monkeys raised exclusively with wire mothers suffered from diarrhea, anxiety, and the need for self-help books when they reached monkey adulthood. Monkeys raised by terrycloth mothers had a statistically significant higher chance of being accepted to an ivy league college and achieving financial independence.
Yes, computers and television are surrogate wire mommies. Parents who read books to their children are terrycloth mommies. It’s that simple.
Does being a “bow” straining under tension or a terrycloth surrogate parent give you the willies? It’s going to be OK terrycloth surrogate parent. You can have fun too. You just need to find books that not only entertain the baby monkey but also entertain you. They exist. Here’s a few, a compilation of favorites of both the terry cloth mommy and the terry cloth daddy in our house.
Going to sleep on the farm: beautiful pictures, beautiful poetic text
Fly Away Home by KD Plum: same as above
Farmer Duck: lessons in keeping your parents happy, and socialism
Miss Spider’s Tea Party: amazing poem. You and children will memorize this.
Owl Babies: Good characters and sweeter than sweet (“and the three baby owls closed their eyes and wished their owl mother would come…AND SHE CAME!”)
Anything by Dr Seuss: Rolls off the tongue like a marimba melody
Three little wolves and the Big Bad Pig: Funny for everyone, great moral.
Little Red Cowboy Hat: another one with a great moral (“a girl’s gotta stick up for herself”) and a great grandmother character. Dust off your Texas accent for this one.
Little One Inch and other favorite Japanese children’s stories Florence Sakade: a wonderful collection of little treasures with great illustrations.
The Little Fur Family: another by the author of Goodnight Moon, in verse, with a song to sing at the end. A tiny book bound in soft grey fur.
Green Knowe series by L.M. Boston: Author started writing in her early 80s, these books are rich and literate and a joy to read aloud. Her use of words is so striking I often read passages aloud a few times over just to enjoy them. About a boy in England whose parents are away, spends summers with his grandmother in an old manor with inhabitants and history that go back hundreds of years. Magical. But not scary.
The Borrowers: simple gentle story of little people in a big house. Another one that just feels good on the tongue as you read it.
Finn Family Moomintroll: odd Finnish story, reads like a pleasant dream. Christopher loved it.
Lloyd Alexander, Chronicles of Prydain: adventure and humor, good plot and characters.
Laurie R. King: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice: About a long mentorship between an aging Sherlock Holmes and a teenage Mary Russell. Good intelligent and literate detective material with a bit of gentle romance. (10 and over, probably)
The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis are mind-blowingly good reads. At times, while reading these books aloud to my kids, I found myself moved to tears.
Harry Potter. Enough said. Completely worthy of all the hype.
The Song of the Lioness quartet (Alana, the First Adventure; In the Hand of the Goddess; The Woman Who Rides Like a Man; and Lioness Rampant) by Tamora Pierce has done the impossible. It has gotten this reviewer (Richard) enraptured by the coming of age story of a girl. Maybe it has something to do with the blood, violence, and harsh politics that Pierce recounts so well. Some of the politics that her characters face are just as real and relevant as anything you can find in adult life. Just as wonderful as the aforementioned series, is Pierce’s Protector of the Small Quartet (First Test; Page; Squire; Lady Night). I found myself torn between reading ahead after my kid’s bedtime vs. saving it for our reading time.
Christopher Paolini’s Dragon books, Aragon and Eldest, are totally great but not for little kids afraid of evil stuff. Same level of scariness as the Harry Potter books.
Peter Pan: Funnier and quirkier than I ever imagined. Rich with metaphor too.
Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling: Also very funny and allows you to punctuate bedtime again and again with the words “best beloved”. Great stories about the beginning of the world.
Pinnocchio: A very good read, much stranger than any movie of it. Full of good and useful parables that sometimes prove useful in explaining why we ask our children not to do certain things.
The Trumpet of the Swan, Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web: All three are perfect packages of story with lots of nuance.
The 13 Clocks by James Thurber: My favorite book to be read aloud to from my childhood (terrycloth mommy speaking). The Princess Saralinda in the castle of the cold duke, the terrifying Todal (a blob of glup), Hagga’s tears of laughter, and the prince who pretends he is Xingu, the penniless minstrel with mischievous and dangerous rhymes (“hark, hark the dogs do bark, the beggars are coming to town, some in rags and some in tags and some in velvet gowns”)