This post is a part of my “Board Book Beauty – Savoring the small as I read to my toddler” series. To see all of the posts in the series, go here.
Katie loves If You Give a Moose a Muffin. She brought it to me yesterday and we read it once through, and then again, and then “ONE more time, Mama” she said, drawing out the first word as she looked up at me with her big brown eyes and how was I to say no to that? So we read it a third time. I asked her to supply some of the words – “What goes with the muffins?” “Mmm. Blackberry jam. That yummy!” – and let her linger over the pictures. Her favorite page is the one on which the moose scares himself with the sheet; she gets ahead of herself, always yells, “Boo!” two lines too early.
The question she asks most often these days (about books or pictures in magazines or people we pass as we’re driving or just about anything, really) is, “What he doing, Mama?” It pops up frequently as we read, even when she knows the answer, even when it’s a book we read as often as we read If You Give a Moose a Muffin. I tell her – he’s going to the store to get muffin mix, he’s sewing a button on the sweater, he’s painting a backdrop. The answers she seeks are obvious ones and she is easily satisfied. I know this won’t always be the case.
Me: I shouldn’t have committed to this challenge. I’m all out of ideas. Writing every day for a month is a dumb idea anyway.
Jonathan: How about If You Give a Moose a Muffin or If You Give a Mouse a Cookie? You could do either one of those. Katie loves them.
Me: I wouldn’t know what to say.
Jonathan: C’mon, it’s easy. They’re about insatiable appetites.
Me, glancing at him sideways, surprised: No, they’re about unintended consequences.
“What he doing, Mama?” she asks, and the question is easy enough to answer when it’s in reference to a drawing, to some physical action being performed in front of us. I can describe what I see on the most basic of levels and she is happy, content to move on to the next thing.
The deeper question is harder, worthy of more thought, more careful attention. After all, Jonathan and I don’t even agree about what the author of a children’s book is doing. Is she showing us the effects our own greed can have on others or is she warning us to think before we act? Is it some combination of the two? Or is she simply telling a silly story, with no underlying motive other than to entertain?
With all that’s happening in the world, I ask, “What’s (s)he doing?” on a regular basis these days:
“What’s (s)he doing, voting for that person?”
“What’s (s)he doing, taking that stance?”
“What’s (s)he doing, acting like that?”
External actions and their results matter. Certainly, they do. Faulty logic, broken lives, hurting hearts: though these things all contribute to poor decisions, they do not exempt us from the consequences of our actions.
But as I ask what somebody is doing, as I try to gain more of an understanding, I realize the answer to “What’s he doing?” is not so simple as it may seem. He’s voting for a way of life, a means of making a living that’s slipping away. She’s rioting against frustration and fear and injustice. He’s shouting his position to hold the depression and the anxiety at bay.
Human emotion and human motivation are complex, and knowing what others are doing – what they’re really doing – often sparks a hint of compassion in me, a smidge of grace for them.
And heaven knows we could all use a bit more compassion, a bit more grace in our lives.
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