I bought the book, “Mein Esel Benjamin” in an art museum in Germany my junior year of college. I chose this over others because 1: It was only 5.90 Euros; 2: It was about a donkey with the same name as my then-boyfriend, now-husband and the jokes seemed endless, and 3: That little girl’s face was adorable.
Riding back on the train from Cologne to Trier, I read the story and lingered over the pictures. I realized then I had actually bought the book for a possible, future child. So, on July 9, 2006, I dated the inside cover and wrote the location of the purchase. I was sentimental already and hadn’t even become a mother.
Linnea and I read this in its entirety for the first time on Monday night before bed. The passing of time hit as soon as I skimmed that inscription, looked at those chubby cheeks, and read on…
I was waiting for my three-and-a-half-year-old to stop me, “Speak Ennnnnglish, Mama” just like she started to do recently whenever I spoke German to her. Instead, she listened and helped me turn the pages.
There is a part in the story when the little girl, Susi, follows her pet donkey out of her house, down the street, and to the beach. They play with rocks, look at the water, and then decide to go back home. Only, Susi doesn’t know how to get home and she becomes sad. The sadness only lasts one page, however, and the donkey (way to go, Benjamin!) leads her safely home into the loving arms of her “mama und papa”.
As soon as the page was turned and Linnea saw that the little girl and her pet would be safe, she let out an audible gasp and sat up higher on my lap. She started to giggle, letting out all the breath she had, noticeably, held in.
This wasn’t the first time my daughter showed signs of sadness during a story. Even at 18 months, Linnea would tear up at the exact same part of a book about a dog named “Biscuit” who had to say good bye to his ducky friend. She would sit in silence, letting the story soak in before tears cascaded down her plump cheeks. And her sadness would dissipate only after explaining the happy pictures at the end.
This sensitivity shines through life outside books too. She gets sad when others are sad–regardless of whether or not they exist. Once L.E. offered a leaf and a pat on the back to a little girl who fell down at her preschool.
And if she is anything more than sensitive, it would be sentimental. When we had to say good bye to her cousins after a visit during Christmas time, she would walk to the door slowly, turn around and rush right back up the stairs to give more kisses. My sister was laughing each time she did this (it lasted for a while…) because she would say, “Oh my God, She is SO your daughter.” Let’s face it–I was rushing up those same stairs to give more hugs too. It seemed we both could not let go of the moment; we held on with our affection.
And when we took her to see the children’s play, “Charlotte’s Web” in February as a Valentine’s gift, she cried. Only, she didn’t cry because of dear, old Charlotte; she cried because the play was over. She wailed, over a steady applause, “I don’t want it be over. I want them to come baaaack.”
Because of all of these experiences with our tender-hearted gal, you would think Ben and I would learn to soften the news of upcoming changes. Instead on a recent Sunday morning, we told our calendar-lovin’ daughter that it was a new month. “February is behind us and March is here. It will be springtime soon,” we exclaimed with gusto. We were met with a furrowed brow, a hesitant voice, and yep–even a few tears…over it being March. (oops, on our part.)
I wonder how parents do this well, this balance between living in the present and appreciating changes as they arise. How to fully embrace a child’s nature to be ___[fill in the blank]_____ while also encouraging them to go with the flow, as needed.
Maybe there is no such balance.
And in which case, we will carry on as usual, while remembering to simply laugh when we need to let the breath back in.