Motherhood Moments: Mothers and Daughters and Readers and Writers

Filed under: Holidays, Opinions

Lisa Yee and her mother. Credit: Lisa Yee

When I was little, my mother and I had a nighttime ritual. After my bath, when I was zipped into my pink footie pajamas, she'd sit on the bed and read to me. Mom's voice wrapped me up in fairy tales about princesses beset by trolls, a monkey named George and the adventures of Madeline who resided in an "old house in Paris that was covered in vines."

Later, when I learned how to read, the roles reversed and I reveled in reading aloud to my mother at night. If I was lucky, she'd fall asleep and I could stay up way past my bedtime and find out if Winnie-the-Pooh caught a Heffalump or if Charlotte ever did finish that web.

As I grew older, my attempts to gain more reading time grew more sophisticated. I snuck one of my dad's big flashlights from the garage and would burrow under my blankets and read well into the night. It was quite the thrill knowing that my mother, whom I considered to be the smartest person I knew, had absolutely no clue what I was up to.

We were readers, my mother and I. We still are. Mom was a first-grade teacher, so there was always an ample supply of Dr. Seuss in the house. Plus, I had a personal stash of Little Golden books. However, our main supplier of stories was the public library.

My mother took me every couple of weeks, sometimes more. She'd recommend books that she loved when she was my age, like "Eddie's Pay Dirt," "A Little Princess" and later, "Pride and Prejudice." I can still recall her saying, "Didn't you just despise Mr. Darcy at first?" Then we launched into a discussion of English manners and morality.

The Toy Sun district of Canton, China, was a world away from Jane Austen's genteel English countryside. It was there that my mother's mother grew up in a shack with a dirt floor. Very few people, especially girls, could read or write. Books were for the privileged, not the poor. My grandmother's marriage had been arranged when she was an infant, and Grandma wed when she was a teenager. Later, she followed her new husband to the United States.

One of American's greatest gifts to immigrants is the public library. The library doesn't care if you are rich or poor -- everyone has access to books. My grandmother made sure that her children knew this. The library was heaven to Mom and she devoured every book and magazine in the children's department.

One Christmas, my mother received her most beloved gift. Under the tree, Grandma had placed a brand new book that was hers to keep -- not one that had to be returned after two weeks. Every night, Mom would stay up past her bedtime reading Johanna Spyri's "Heidi" over and over again until the pages grew ragged and the binding fell apart.

"I miss my mother," Mom said the other day. Grandma passed away 18 years ago. "She would have been so proud to know you're an author." A few years ago, my first novel for young people was published. "Millicent Min, Girl Genius" is about a book-smart 11-year old. The dedication reads, "To my mother, the smartest girl I know."

I'm a mom now. When my children were young, I read to them every night before bed. It is one of the fondest memories I have of their childhood. My daughter is away at her first year of college where she is studying writing. When she moved, she was told to only take what was essential. So she filled her suitcases with books.

My son is still at home. He sleeps with a flashlight under the covers and thinks that I'm unaware that he's staying up late to read. But I know his tricks, just as my mother knew that I snuck books under the covers, and just as her mother knew that she did, too.

Every Mother's Day, I give my mom flowers and a book. This year, I think that instead of flowers, I'll give her a flashlight ... and a brand new copy of "Heidi."

Lisa Yee is the author of ten novels for young people, including the recently released "Warp Speed," about a Star Trek geek who gets beat up every day. Read her blog on Red Room.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.