"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton
This is where I chronicle my reading life. I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.
When I was a kid, my mom used to cry every time she read this book to us. I remember being squished into the Lay-Z-Boy recliner with her and my younger sister, enjoying the rhythm of the story and the coziness, but feeling awkward about the tears. When I was a teenager, I attended a retreat in which one of the leaders read this book as part of her presentation. I bawled. I knew then that I would be hopeless if I ever had to read this book aloud.
I got a copy of the book as a gift from my mom when I was pregnant. I told her I already knew I would be "hopeless" if I attempted to read it aloud and I joked that I wouldn't read it to my son until I had "practiced" reading it myself out loud for two weeks and was sure I could get through it without crying. But I have been "systematically" reading him the many children's books I received as gifts, and this one came up next on the shelf just days after I had proclaimed that I wouldn't read it aloud without sufficient preparation. So, I forged ahead.
I thought I was feeling strong the day I chose to begin reading it, but, nope. I was crying on the very first page. (It should be noted at this point that my son was only a little over a month old, so he was too young to feel awkward about mommy crying during story time. Maybe by the time he's old enough to notice I will have pulled it together.)
I did notice something upon my adult reading of the book that I'd never noticed before, and that is that the son has a rainbow mug next to his kitchen sink. I wonder if he is gay. We never see his baby's mother, and he is an older father (there is gray in his hair), which would be in line with the arduous years many gay men have to put in before they are able to adopt, probably even worse in the 1980s when this was published.
This interpretation lends a new poignancy to the story about unconditional love, at a time when many queer youth are still afraid to come out to their parents.
This led me to search online to see whether others had similar theories about the son's backstory, and I didn't find much. Instead, I saw how divisive this book apparently is, with half its readers adoring it as a story of unconditional love, the other half decrying it as "creepy" and comparing the mother to a "stalker."
I fall into the first camp. I was like, "Come on, the extreme lengths she goes to are a METAPHOR for the extreme love all parents feel for their children. Children's books are all about exaggeration -- they aren't meant to be taken LITERALLY."
Except I am just the kind of person who will pick apart children's media for imparting unrealistic or "creepy" messages ... which made me realize that there is absolutely NO way I can be objective about this book. Too much nostalgia, and too much love is wound up in my own memories of it, and my interpretation.
So this isn't so much a review as an explanation of my lack of objectivity -- and also an intention to impart that very same lack of objectivity to my own child(ren) by reading this to them when they, too, are too young to see it as anything but a book about love and cementing that interpretation evermore.