Goodbye

"Your mother can't be with you anymore..."

This will be my final post in a place that has meant a lot to me as a mother, a writer, and a reader, so please forgive my wordiness. Now is my last hurrah, and then it’s time for me to move on to other wordy things. 

I haven’t written here in a very long time. Though there has always been plenty to say, there hasn’t always been the time to say it. In the spring, I was a juror for a literary award, and had to make my way through boxes of books. Nellie was curious about this process, and frequently checked my stack of top picks to see how my choices had shifted. Even though she is someone who doesn’t like to pick favourites, she gave good advice. When she saw that a certain book had hovered near the top of the pile for a solid couple of weeks, she asked, “Will that one win?” And I sighed and said that the book really was exceptional, but that the person had won so many awards already. She said (not having read the jurors’ guidelines!) “You can’t go by that, Mom. You just have to pick the best story.”

ImageBy Mother’s Day I was still wading through the boxes, and as one of my gifts Nellie made me a tiny modeling clay replica of another book that had stayed near the top of the pile. It seemed a symbolic kind of gift — one that showed she knew what books meant to me. I thought they must mean a lot to her, too, in order to recognize that.

Weeks later Nellie and I talked it over, and agreed the author might like the little replica, so we mailed it off to her, and it was warmly received. I love that Nellie is aware not just of books but of the people who write them — partly, I’m sure, because her mom is an author. (A friend of mine is a midwife, and her daughter recently asked if Labour Day was a day for delivering babies.)

All summer, Nellie has been reading The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley, in which Daphne and Sabrina discover that their ancestors’ famous fairy-tale book was really a history book, and the characters in it (a magical race called the Everafters) are still alive and causing all kinds of trouble. When we visited a friend’s cottage in July, Nellie brought the first in the series for her book-loving friend Frannie to read, and over the course of our stay, the girls read, and jumped on the trampoline, and read, and swam, and read, and cooked pancakes, and read, and read, and read.

couch read

jump

trampoline read

There was a time not so long ago when I fretted Nellie wouldn’t read on her own because I had read so much to her, but those worries were misguided. I think her love of stories is so deeply entrenched that it’s part of her now. Though I will still be vigilant. I can see how easy it is nowadays to be drawn away from the written word and seduced by constantly evolving, eye-popping, mind-boggling technology. Nellie got an IPod this summer — to the great reluctance of her very low-tech parents — and I worried she would quickly become one of those many sad zombies we see with gaze glued to minuscule screen, missing the world around. But again my worries were unfounded. Nellie read more this summer than she ever has — and she cartwheeled, and she did underwater somersaults, and she picked wild blueberries, and she spotted skunks and woodpeckers and foxes and blue jays and rabbits and even a deer.

What would Laura Ingalls Wilder make of all that, topped off by Pottermore and Itunes?

little house on the prairieWhile Nellie’s been reading on her own, we’ve also continued reading together. We’re a few books into the Little House series, books I loved as a child, but which are sometimes shocking to me now, in the way that so-called Indians are described as “wild men,” their faces “bold and fierce and terrible.” Ma, in particular, is blatantly racist. These passages are difficult to navigate, but I try to do so with a minimum of editing and a lot of discussion. Why is Ma so fearful of the Indians? How can she be a good person and say such cruel things? How do you think the Indians feel about the Ingalls family? How would you feel if strangers came into your neighbourhood and took over the place as theirs? (Jeremy Adam Smith’s article “How to Really Read Racist Books to Your Kids” at Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Centre offers some interesting insight here. He writes, “We have to ask our children to adopt fairness to all people as a goal, and to call out unfairness when we encounter it in one of their books, movies… or inside ourselves. Research says the more explicit we are with children about that struggle, the better.”)

Of course there are simpler questions that arise in our readings too — what’s a trundle bed? What’s calico? How do horses know how to swim? The Little House books are about a way of life so different from ours that even mealtime and springtime and bedtime make for scintillating reading. This summer we’ve lived in the Big Woods with the Ingalls family, and smoked deer meat in a hollow-log smokehouse. We’ve churned butter with them, and added bright carroty milk to colour the butter yellow. We’ve traveled across the prairie with them in a covered wagon, cried when the dog Jack was lost crossing a river; cried again when he returned, worn out and starving; and we’ve dug a well, and nearly lost a man down inside it, and built a log house from scratch, then laid in bed and listened to the wolves howling all around.

That’s the wonder of good books: they take you places you couldn’t otherwise go. You’re propped up on pillows with your cool sheet pulled over you, but all the while you’re traveling, and your world is expanding, and your mind is filling with answers to questions and new questions that spin out from those answers. Like when Laura lies awake at the end of the first book, trying to find her place in the expanse. She listens to the wind moving through the big woods, and to the sound of Pa’s fiddle, and to his voice singing about auld lang syne — “the days of a long time ago,” Pa told her. And as she drifted off to sleep, she thought, “‘This is now.’ She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.”

And “now” seems the right time to close this final post on a blog I began when Nellie first started to recognize clumps of letters as words. These days when I pull her door closed at night, I leave the light on, and a book is propped open before her. As Betty Smith wrote of Francie in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, “From that time on, the world was hers for the reading.”

Thank you for reading along with Nellie and me.

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35 Comments

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35 responses to “Goodbye

  1. Don Elzinga

    Our own grandchildren who have always enjoyed being read to have become avid readers and library goers in spite of modern technology. Thanks for the wonderful blog Don Elzinga

  2. A thoughtful and graceful exit. Well done!

  3. Thank you for sharing all the way along, Kristen. This is a beautiful book end post.

  4. Marilyn

    Thank your for the wonderful postings over such along time. I have enjoyed all of them. It is so gratifying to see how Ns reading has progressed. She is well on her way to being a book lover. Good luck with your next endeavour.

  5. Bittersweet! I’ll miss the updates and insights here, but look forward to more from you between the pages. Thanks to you and N!

  6. Thanks for the inspiration. I hope you and Nellie enjoy moving on to new things, more writing and more reading.
    I’m happy to report that one of my short stories is a finalist in the Alice Munro competition this year; another incentive to keep writing and sending it out.
    Susan McCrae

  7. Steph

    Kristin: This was a gorgeous post. Your descriptions of your reading journey with Nellie in particular struck me, as well as her development and taking flight as a reader. I too was read to as a kid, and then I read to my youngest sister, and of course am a reader now on my own. I think there is little more valuable than reading to your child, and though I don’t wish to have kids, that would be my sole reason for wanting them, I admit!

    Thank you for writing this post, and the blog in general. It’s been wonderful to read.

    PS. Now I want to revisit the Little House books!!

    -Steph

  8. Rige

    Thank you Kristen, for this one and all the other postings.
    They were so enjoyable to read and including Ns’ evoluting.
    Good luck with your next step.

  9. I’m actually feeling a little tearful. ” now is now. It can never be a long time ago.” This does need to be a book ( something concrete to hold, keep and revisit).

  10. Beautiful end to a wonderful series of essays and conversations! Congratulations. And so exciting that you’re closing this chapter to open another. Can’t wait to read more of your words, wherever they may next appear. (& Siobhan is right, about tearful and now and the book.)

  11. This has been a great place, and it is sad to see it come to an end, but that’s just more proof of it’s greatness. Can’t wait to read more from you elsewhere!

  12. Sara Angelucci

    I LOVE YOU GUYS….! Thank you for bringing the world of children’s books into my life. No one read to me as a child, and I’ve had a lot of catching up to do. I’ve done it vicariously through you. You both bring so much joy to my life. xo Auntie S

  13. Michele

    Thank you for sharing such an intimate literary experience with us. I loved watching Nellie`s insight and curiosity grow over the years. It is a bittersweet moment when our children pass from one chapter to the next, but each brings its own joy and sorrow.

  14. Heidi

    That was a lovely journey for you and Nellie and everyone else who was able to come along for the ride. The journey continues. Looking forward to seeing what is next and sharing that too.

    • Yes — for me it was also about the readers and the people who shared their thoughts here. Keeping a personal journal on the same topic would have been lovely, too, but a very different experience. Thank you (and your many friends!) for all your wise comments over the years.

  15. jim

    Aah, a pity the end has come. I felt my eyes tear up (-: .But what a great ride! Many thanks Kristen. No doubt you will turn the time saved into yet other great literary creations. We look forward to them———

  16. reed russell

    funny how tears escort out a beloved one’s departure, even when that one is a blog
    i don’t get to spend the time with you i did so long ago before miss N made her appearance, before in fact, almost any of your beautiful words were made available for public consumption.
    i feel favoured by fortune indeed to have made your acquaintance all those years ago and to have been privy to your life as writer ,reader and mother
    i will surely miss BGG but await with anticipation and quiet confidence that there is much more to come for you… and N
    thanks, eh?

    • Dearest reed, thank you for your kind words! Funny — the very first books I received for Nellie, when I was still pregnant, were from you, and they remained among our favourites: Frog and Toad, and the heartbreaking Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. You are one wise lady.

  17. Lenny

    Oh…sigh. It’s as if the last page has been read of a much loved “book”. It has been a journey indeed. Many years ago, many days and miles, we held a suprise birthday for you. To allow us time to prepare at your apartment , J. took you out on the motorcycle, out of the city, out to the country. I’ve always had this picture in my mind of you- wind in your hair , going forward into the blue September sky. It comes back to me now.
    Thank you for this lovely thing that was Blog of Green Gables. I wish you and your N and your J all the best.

  18. Michelle

    Feeling a little sad, but excited for you as you move on to other chapters in your life book. Glad you invited us along for the ride. A lovely permanent record for N. to have of the time you have spent growing up together, you as a writer and mother, and she as a reader. Thank you for being such an inspiration and for letting us live vicariously through your writings. Peace and love.

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