I am in love with this poem by Darlene Young:
I got your jewelry, a couple of scarves, and an old dress
I claimed just because it looked like you.
But familiar though the earrings are, the scarf, the dress,
the emerald pin, no matter how I squint into the past
I can’t make out your face and now I fear
I never really saw it. Being a mother too,
this worries me.
But also when you died I got your books
and, reading them, I find you after all.
Your voice, your voice, with sweetest clarity,
rings through the words you chose to share with me.
And so in fear of leaving my kids motherless—
and as a feeble recompense for all the times
I sneak into their rooms at night
to beg forgiveness from their twitching eyelids
for the petty strictness of my ways—
the one thing I make sure of all my days
is that they get my voice.
Stories they will build their worlds on, stories
teaching how to yearn, tales that break
their hearts apart then knit them back
a little softer—all the words I got from you.
Your voice in mine will carry on
in their bright dreams after I’m gone.
What I love about this poem is that it reminds me of all the hours my own mother spent reading to me, all the Little House books, and Charlotte’s Web, and Summer of the Monkeys, and so many others. And way back in my head I also have a memory of my grandma, my mother’s mother, reading “Horton Hears a Who” to me in her fat orange armchair. On my grouchy days sometimes I feel like the only good thing I do as a mother is read to my kids. We read before bed, and also just after lunch. My daughter is picky right now: we read chapter books only. They make her feel big. But she really likes pictures, too, so I need to find more books that have that balance. I just finished reading A Little Princess to my daughter, and the day that Sara’s father died, she cried and cried. It’s like Darlene says, “tales that break/ their hearts apart then knit them back/ a little softer.”
I have inherited books from my mother, and from my grandmothers. And I’m glad that I can pass on that inheritance to my kids: “Your voice in mine will carry on / in their bright dreams after I’m gone.” What are your favorite books to read to your kids? What did your mother read to you?