So I got Myra-Jean a book on gardening a couple of days ago. Or so I thought. It turns out it’s a little more complicated than that.
Let me set the scene: We were at the library. I had just realized I was coming down with the flu. We were beating a hasty retreat when I realized that, in my haste, I had neglected to get my daughter anything to read. Which was the whole reason we had come. So, my head pounding, I glanced around and grabbed two kids books lying on a table by us. One — about a friendship between a rabbit and a bird — we had read earlier. I knew it was good. The other one just happened to be sitting next to it. It had a mouse and a flower on the cover. It was called “Mortimer’s Garden.”
“I want that one!” Myra-Jean declared.
Fine, I thought. How bad can it be? It’s about gardening. Maybe I’ll learn something.
I came home and fell into bed. For the next 36 hours. During which time my mother and husband, thankfully, took care of everything, including reading duty. I forgot about the books completely.
The morning I emerged from my room, “Mortimer” was sitting on the kitchen table. I glanced at it. My mom, seeing me look, said:
“Myra-Jean sure loves that book.”
“Does she?” I smiled.
“Mm-hm. I’ve just been, uh, editing out the God stuff, if that’s OK.”
I set down my tea cup. “The God stuff?”
Mom nodded. “The protagonist is, well, quite devout.”
Devout? I picked up the book and read it through. This mouse — Mortimer — whose story “arc” involves growing a sunflower plant from a seed, invokes God no less than eight times! First, God visits him after he plants his seed and advises patience. Mortimer bows his head, (which I think is a pretty weird thing for a mouse to do, as they have no necks), and gives thanks. On the next page he asks God to help the seed grow. When it does, he thanks Him repeatedly. At the end of the book he thanks God again for the bounty of his harvest. Then he asks Him for a friend. God sends a spider. The book ends.
Am I the only one who thinks this is weird? Not the spider part, although that is bizarre. I mean, this deeply religious rodent in the middle of a kids’ book?
Oh, what’s the big deal, you say? If that’s not your thing then just edit the “God stuff” out. Well, yes. That’s what we’ve been trying to do. The thing is, I tend to do a lot of my reading to MJ, especially third and fourth go-arounds on the same book — on a sort of verbal autopilot. I excel at this. I can do voices, characters, dramatic pauses, and all the while be ruminating upon my next blog post, worrying about Newt Gingrich, or strolling the aisles of Trader Joe’s, looking for a new freeze-dried snack. But with this Mortimer book I can’t do it. There are so many invocations! If I don’t stay absolutely present I inevitably miss one. And then I only know I’ve read it out loud because Myra-Jean interrupts me and says:
I am so not ready to have that conversation with a two-year-old.
My biggest quibble, though, is not with the extra work “Mortimer’s Garden” is making me do. It is even more selfish: here I have been going along in the garden, digging my holes, pruning my plantings, fussing over the sprinkler system, applying gypsum, spreading mulch, and failing to get any results. Now it is suggested that all this time I should’ve been praying! Then my plants would stop dying. I know, it’s just a kids’ book — a clumsy metaphor aimed at a crowd too young to parse it. But it’s gotten under my skin. I am haunted by Mortimer. I have to admit he is getting far better results than I am.
I think I will try it. What do I have to lose? I have a neck. I can bow it outdoors. Maybe I’ll get less sunburnt. And maybe, just maybe, a miracle will occur. Maybe something will actually thrive. And I, like Mortimer, will dance and sing with joy.
But one thing, God: keep your spider. I have plenty of friends.