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Inheritance

By Emily Milner

I am in love with this poem by Darlene Young:

Inheritance
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?

About Emily Milner

(Poetry Board) graduated from BYU in Comparative Literature, but it was long enough ago that most of what she learned has leaked out. She would like to mention other hobbies or interests, but to be honest she spends most of her free time reading (although she does enjoy attempting yoga). She used to blog at hearingvoices.wordpress.com. For now, though, Segullah is her only blogging home, and it's a good one.

17 thoughts on “Inheritance”

  1. My mom read The Hobbit and Fellowship of the Rings when we were travelling. I don't remember her reading to us, but we were a reading family. She shared a lot of her favorites with us: the Little Women series, the Bobsy Twins, Little House, All Creatures Great and Small series . . . there are many more. She still sends me books she thinks I will love. I really love that.

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  2. I have a very faint memory of my Mom reading I Am a Bunny to me. And I always looked forward to my Dad's reading of The Night Before Christmas every Christmas Eve.

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  3. I was thinking more about the words that her mother had written in a diary or something similar, but that may just have to do with the fact that I'm in the middle of writing a thesis about that subject . . .

    My mom read us all the classic children's books like Seuss, but I became such an avid reader that I started gulping down books on my own without her. She does, however, still read to my youngest sister. They read all the awesome chapter books I left behind and I guess my sister's so addicted to it that she can't go to bed anymore unless she's read to.

    I wonder sometimes if I'll have the patience to read to my own kids. I'd rather enjoy a book on my own.

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  4. I absolutely love this.

    For all the faults and ugly cracks that appear in my mother's and my relationship,
    she gave me books.
    She gave me her love of books,
    stories,
    and even words.

    She read Secret Garden, Little Lord Fauntleroy, Little Princess, Just David, James and the Giant Peach, Little Women, Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, The Little House Series and many, many more. She read us Mother Goose and the poems of Eugene Field, James Whitcomb Riley and Ogden Nash. She held us captivated by her inflection and emotion. And it was no easy task as she had eight impatient, demanding children.

    In the busy, loud, crazy, noisy environment that was our home, reading aloud to us must have taken all her wits and patience; I now recognize it as pure mama-love.

    (Thanks, mommy.)

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  5. I'm like Michelle G — I don't remember my mom reading to me, but I do remember being so absorbed in books that I didn't hear being called!

    Reading with my first began right away — I read the scriptures aloud as I nursed, by the time he was three I would read him chapter books,….

    Only problem is, I start to fall asleep as I read, so the subsequent little ones haven't been read to as much. That, and having separate rooms complicates things.

    Any suggestions on that problem?

    I still love children's books (too many to list) — even more than grown-up ones! 🙂

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  6. We didn't get a TV until I was about 9, so I have many memories of my mom reading to us. We read many picture books (my entire family can recite Dr. Seuss' ABC verbatim) and many chapter books. The ones I remember best were Little House on the Prarie. Even though most of my siblings have not grown up to study literature like I have, we are still a reading family. We constantly email articles to each other, give books as presents, and discuss books we've been reading.

    On the other hand, I feel an intense amount of guilt that my kids are more excited about the video section at the library than the books. I don't always take the time to read outloud to them. My daughter is almost six and has little interest in reading on her own, and I've yet to read any chapter books out loud to her because she doesn't concentrate on them and doesn't like them. Right now I'm in a period of evaluating my parenting to figure out how I can do better at raising readers because I feel like I'm failing. I kind of like the fact that they watch a lot of TV (and I think my daughter has some auditory issues feeding her dislike of listening to books), but we need to change. This post was good motivation for me.

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  7. I have lots of memories of my mom reading to me–we also read the Little House on the Prarie series, Black Beauty, Peggy Parish's Key to the Treasure and other treasure hunt books (not exactly great literature, but I LOVED them).

    My duaghter has just started being able to listen to chapter books this last year (she's almost 5)–we've read some Ramona Quimby, Gooney Bird Greene (these are hilarious!), and are currently reading Alice in Wonderland (an edition that has a lot of pictures, so its a great intermediate type book for the new chapter readers). I can't wait until she's old enough to listen to The Series of Unfortunate Events because I think those are fantastic read-aloud books.

    We've started doing seperate books at bedtime some nights that both parents are home because her 2 year-old brother can't make it through a whole chapter of anything, even if it has quite a few pictures. And I try to read to her while he's napping a couple times a week (if I can keep from napping myself). then we do picture books the rest of the time–there are a lot that they will both listen to, mainly because my daughter will stop everything to listen anytime someone starts to read, whatever it is.

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  8. I didn't read as much as I would have liked as a young adult. Though I was an early reader, my younger sister was known as the book worm of the family, and I had the foresight not to compete with her at the time. But as I ventured out on my own I became more and more exposed to literature and wished that I hadn't wasted time when I was younger. Now I am going back and reading some great classics that I should have read way back when.

    My oldest daughter is now a very self-motivated beginning reader and has done most of her learning on her own because I couldn't keep up. I know that she will be better read than I was and I look forward to sharing my favorites with her. Books are one of the few things that I buy my children and myself (toys and clothes come from grandparents). We of course have our Seuss favorites and though it has taken a while, I have almost recreated my childhood library. From the whimsical Boynton classics to the Shel Silverstein collection. We also love the Curious George and Babar anthologies. Yea for Scholastic book orders! My mom also read the Little House series to us, but I can hardly remember it so I think that is another classic set that I'll be revisiting.

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  9. Two of the favorites at our house, were the Harry Potter series–book one came out when the boys were 7 and 9, and we followed them right through book 7 a few years ago. FUN! For the girls, The Princess Academy and The Sisters Grim have been favorites. We don't do as much out-loud reading now, but we all enjoy curling up with good books! Great poem, great memories.

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  10. I don't have many memories of my mom reading to me – I'm one of those who hid in her bathtub so I could read without being disturbed.

    I do however remember her telling us the stories of her childhood as we lay in bed at night. She was one of fourteen so her stories were full of adventure – mail order monkeys, falling out of third story windows, run aways, plates broken over heads. Now when my kids ask me to tell them stories of my youth I have a hard time thinking of my own stories so I share my mom's instead.

    I'm glad that I have my blog though. I hope my children will be able to look back at it someday and feel like they know me in a different way because of reading it.

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  11. I don't remember my mom reading to us a great deal, but I do remember our constant trips to the library, and she must've read those books to us at home. We practically lived at the library during the summer – it was free and it was air conditioned and the librarians knew us all by name. My childhood heartbreak was the ten book limit. I think all eight of my siblings and I were reading by age four, and I think this was largely due to limits on TV and the way books were a constant, inescapable source of entertainment.

    Now we go on our weekly trips to the library, and I swear it is the greatest joy of my life to see my seven year old reading the books I loved – Little Princess, Mrs. PiggleWiggle, the Boxcar Children, Ramona, – all of the old greats, plus so many fun new ones – Harry Potter and Fablehaven and Ally Finkle. Watching my kids become engrossed in a book is a total thrill. It does my insecure I'm-never-going-to-get-this-parenting-thing-quite-right heart good.

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  12. Thanks for the memories of yourselves and your mom reading, and the book ideas–I need to look up Ally Finkle! Sue, you nailed it–watching my kids love books does my insecure mothering heart good. I feel like if they are falling in love with a story, then something we are doing must be right.

    Foxy J, my kids like videos a lot too… I am thinking about doing a no-tv summer, but I don't know if I can stand it. That says a lot about me though, doesn't it, that my parenting skills are not up to a television-free summer.

    Kim, I don't think books need to be great literature at this stage–no apologizing, just get them loving reading. My two cents.

    Happy reading, everyone!

    Hmmm.

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  13. My mother read to us at bedtime, on vacation, at picnics in the park and any other time there were a few minutes of time. She always had at least one book with her. She read many old classics and newer books too (this was in the 50s and 60s). One of my favorites, which I also read to my own children, was _THe Wheel on the School_, a Newberry Award winner.
    Thank you for the poem. I inherited many of my mother's books after she died. She only kept her favorites, and now they are mine.

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  14. Emily, if it's any consolation to you, my parenting skills are not up to a television-free summer, either. Sigh.
    As far as my favorite childhood books go, I absolutely loved books by Enid Blyton when I was growing up. She's a British author who wrote children's fantasy books, and she's not very well known here in the U.S., but I grew up in Australia and her books were popular there. Her books, like "The Adventures of the Wishing Chair" and "The Magic Faraway Tree," took me into magical worlds inhabited by pixies, brownies, gnomes, wizards, and other magical folk, and are absolutely enchanting and delightful, and perfect to read aloud to small children (with an English accent, if possible 🙂 ). I inherited some of the Enid Blyton books from my mother, and I've ordered some from England as well, so I have a little collection in my library that I will pass down to my children.
    Another book that I remember fondly from my childhood is "The Weirdstone of Brisingame" (or something like that)–I actually read it aloud to my younger brother and sister when we were young and they loved it. About ten years ago, I tracked down a copy of the book (it had been out of print for years) and gave it to my brother for his birthday. I've never been so excited about a gift before. He was touched, and he's since read it to his children.
    I think there's no better tradition than escaping into another world with a child by reading a wonderful book together!

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  15. My parenting skills aren't up to TV-free either, sadly. But we still need to get a grip on our attachment here.

    I realized as an adult how much my mom's opinions about books affected me when I found out that I actually like some fantasy books. My mom hates fantasy and never read any of it to us (even Narnia), but now I'm discovering that I like them and I will be happy to read more books like that with my kids. My husband is really into comics, and has started a weekly tradition of taking our daughter with him to the comic book store when new ones come out. There are a few titles now just for kids (i.e. not violent or anything), and despite my misgivings about comics (i'm learning to like some of them) it's a great bonding moment for them. And maybe some day she'll figure out how to read them herself, because reading comics outloud is torture!

    Another author that my mom loved was Marguerite Henry, who writes about horses, and those are great books to read out loud. They were also very special for my mom because she grew up on a farm and had her own horse, so reading them feels like passing on a family legacy.

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  16. Commenting a lot 🙂 One last thing I've thought of that we've done with our kids is to go to author readings and get signed books. It's fun for our kids to meet authors and get to see that they are real people. My husband and I love it too and we're getting a nice collection of signed books. My husband works as a librarian and a writer, so that helps us get the inside scoop, but it's not too hard to find author events if you look around. Keep an eye on the schedule of your local library and/or local bookstores. Our favorite so far was listening to Mo Willems read Knuffle Bunny; that book is even better 'in person' 🙂

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  17. My mother never, ever read to any of us. She didn't play with us either. Books were my life, I was happy in my own little book world. Actually, I still am. I used to live at the library and went there as often as I could. It is something I have greatly encouraged with my own children too. After all we could never afford to buy the amount of books we all read.

    As a child my all time favourite books were Anne of Green Gables, Susannah of the Mounties, James and the Giant Peach and just about everything by Enid Blyton. I loved books which were about orphans and boarding school as I would have been happy in either situation. I named my second daughter Susannah after the aforementioned book, and my first daughter Juliet because of my love affair with Shakespeare.

    Reading time with my children is one of my greatest joys. I do miss them being tiny because I loved picture books so much. We have read so much as a family that the list of favourites is too long to picture. Some that were wildly popular are Carrie's War by Nina Bawden, Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian, and Tom's Midnight Garden by Phillippa Pearce. They also were overjoyed by boarding school stories too, especially those by Enid Blyton. I am struggling with my 12 year old now as I find most of the teenage books far too adult, and contain too many graphic details. I do try to proof read everything she brings home from the library and school and really don't approve of most of it. Any good suggestions for this age would be welcome.

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