Saturday, November 20, 2010

An Unexpected Treasure

Like many of you, I love reading to my kids.  My daughter and I, in particular have really refined our bedtime reading routine.  She grabs the book, I fluff the pillows on her bed, we both get comfy, and I start reading.  She knows this could be interrupted at any moment by her brothers needing something--- and when that happens, I seamlessly slip downstairs to take care of another drink or a reminder to stay in bed to the little one, while she continues to look at the pictures and hold our place.  I slip back in, snuggle up, and we pick up right where we left off.

In October, when my husband was in Chicago, he bought a few of the American Girl books for her.  She has the Julie doll, so we decided to start with those books.  Now, truth be told, I expected little from these books except that they would, in fact, be about Julie.  I figured they would be sort of cutsey little token stories--another accessory to the expensive doll.  Well, we've read 3 of them so far and I was very pleasantly surprised.  The third book, in particular, Happy New Year, Julie, was not only a great story but was the catalyst for an important discussion between my daughter and I.

Julie's parent's have divorced.  That alone was another topic.  My daughter had never heard the word before and I had kind of glossed over it in the first two books but by the third one, I had to explain that Julie's parents had decided not to live together anymore.  That was harder than I thought but we got through that talk.  Anyway, because Julie had such a terrible Christmas, she began to find comfort in her best friend Ivy's Chinese New Year traditions.  The idea of a fresh start, of setting aside disagreements, of focusing on the future---all gave this little 10-year old the strength and comfort she needed. 

Being a blended-culture family, we celebrate Chinese New Year every year and since moving back to China, we celebrate it in a very authentic way.  Last year, we even took our kids back to my husband's childhood village to ring in the new year.  Reading Happy New Year, Julie aloud to my daughter reminded me how much I value the ideas and traditions encapsulated in this holiday.  It made me very grateful to have Chinese culture in my life. 

At the end of the book, Julie's grandfather is talking about how difficult things were when his father first came to the U.S. and how far the family had come.  I got a little emotional and I remembered the time we took our kids to Angel Island in San Francisco, showing them where many of the Chinese laborers first lived when they came to the USA.  Of course, our kids don't remember that, but we do.  Anyway, as we were reading the book my 5-year old daughter asked me why things were so difficult for Chinese when they came to America.  I just started to cry.

"Well, for some reason, when they first came, people weren't very nice to them.  Maybe because they were different from them...I don't really know."

Her eyes got wide and she too, began to cry a bit.  We went on to talk about how strong our spirits can be, especially when we face terrible things, and how lucky she is to have that "Chinese spirit" as a part of who she is. It made me aware of the responsibility we have---all of us have---to help our kids know who they really are.  That can mean many things to different people, but at that moment, I knew what it meant to me.

We snuggled in closer and kept reading.  As we finished the book, we just sat silently, but peacefully.  What a great little unexpected treasure this book turned out to be.

What unexpected treasures have you come across while reading a simple bedtime story?

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