on whangdoodles, leadership, and putting oneself in the way of love

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My daughter was given a PEZ dispenser.

Plastic. Delightfully silly. A small piece of novelty to contain and release tiny bits of candy.

I remember PEZ, the girl wonder muses. It reminds me of the Whangdoodle.

The memory is this: Her on the couch, snuggled up next to me. She is eating chocolate PEZ, because chocolate PEZ is her favorite, and she is savoring each individual piece, because that’s the kind of girl she has always been.

She is one-who-lingers, even with candy.

Central to this moment, this vivid sensation of chocolate and warmth, is the memory of me reading to her. I am reading “The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles” on the couch, while she savors the sweetness of sugar and story.

I remember this too, of course, though I had forgotten the PEZ.

If there is anything I did right as a mother, if I can admit that now, it was reading aloud. I read to her as an infant, for hours. I read to her whatever I was reading at the time.

Poetry. Novels. Newspapers.

I read to her as she grew up, whatever she was into at the time.

Poetry. Novels. Newspapers.

I think I read the Whangdoodle book three or four times. And “James and the Giant Peach.” And every single “Jenny and the Cat Club” book. We stayed up late many nights, sometimes to one in the morning in order to follow a story to its thrilling and sweetly satisfying conclusion.

We read outside, under the canopy of backyard trees. We read in bed, propped up on pillows. But most often we read on the couch, her gazing out the picture window. She folded her body next to mine. We cried, when the books invited us to cry. We laughed far more often than we spilled tears.

One time, I remember she looked up and noticed a female finch dangling by her neck from our bird feeder outside. We dropped the book to curl the bird’s delicateness into our hands, ease her to freedom, release her again to the lightness of the air.

If we hadn’t been reading right then, we told each other … and we shook our heads, too shaken to finish the sentence.

When we read, we let the phone drop to voicemail. We didn’t answer the door. Lunch was whatever we could eat from bowls in our laps as we read and turned pages. Dinner went unplanned. Work, undone.

Maybe this reading habit bordered on irresponsible. I have been told I was irresponsible, for what it’s worth. I don’t agree with this assessment, but I’m willing to let others have their opinions about parenting and about earning and about housekeeping and about life.

To be fair, I didn’t know what I was doing — I had no goal, no master plan. I read because I wanted to know what happened next. I read because I love books. I read because I love my daughter.

There didn’t seem to be any harm in all that loving.

When we went to see my Gram, I would sit with my child on the powder blue couch and read, and Gram would come and make sure the fire was going well. Then she would sit down and listen as I read, no matter where I was in the book. She might stitch a little or she might just sit with her hands folded in her lap.

Listening.

The dog would sneak onto the furniture and nuzzle Gram’s hand. Gram would pet her head.

I’m calling this an inheritance.

I still read aloud, though these days, most often to the dog. This does not sadden me (it is only my current season of life after all) but it does make me joyously happy that my child, now 14, would recall fondly those long days of reading.

What am I doing for her now though, I wonder — now that her evenings are filled with homework and music, play rehearsals and her own quiet moments of reading and drawing, writing and thinking?

I don’t know. I don’t know where I’m leading her now, as a mother. I am only loving her, fiercely and clearly and, more often than not, quietly.

There doesn’t seem to be any harm in all that loving.

The other day I scribbled a note on the chalkboard that hangs in our hallway.

“Put yourself in the way of beauty,” I wrote. I pulled those words from a book. I wanted to see them every morning when I woke up.

On Saturday, I went to work. My daughter stayed home. It rained that day. November rain.

She texted me, asking if she could open the windows, sit by the picture window, listen to the rain, and read.

Yes, I replied. Yes. A thousand times yes.

Neither of us said it, but I suspect we both longed to be together that day, under a blanket, reading in the rain.

When I came home, I found a message, chalked underneath my words in her handwriting.

“I’ll just follow you mum.”

Today I have no goal, no master plan.

I am only loving.

I love because I want to know what happens next.

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