The sweet girl came down with the terrible flu bug in the middle of the night. This is the same one I've been slowly recovering from since Sunday, and I was so sorry she got hit with it too -- knowing that when it hits, it hits like a freight train. Which it did, leaving me to hold her hair, rub her back, speak murmuring words of encouragement, and generally just be present to her in the wee small hours as she got sick again and again.
Somewhere in there, as she battled ongoing waves of nausea (and isn't that the worst feeling?) she asked if I could read to her. I read Light at Tern Rock, one of our favorite Christmas reads, from start to finish, with only a few breaks for sick-tending. If one must be sick in the middle of the night, I have to say it's one of the most soothing, calming reads possible...and I tried to provide via my voice every ounce of quietness the text and the situation both seemed to call for.
Tern Rock isn't a very long story though, and by about 5 in the morning, with the waves still coming, the sweet girl asked me if we could keep going with Little Women. It's our current evening read-aloud, and we were only a few chapters in. I gladly picked up with "Being Neighborly" -- the lovely scene where mischievous Jo tosses a handful of soft snow up at Laurie and he smiles down at her and you just know that they are going to be friends for life.
I've written here and elsewhere quite a bit about my love for Little Women, and about how Alcott's classic tale of four sisters nourished my growing up years in so many ways. As I often say, I didn't just read the book when I was a child, I inhabited it. The shabby brown house with Marmee's smiling face at the window feels almost as much my childhood home as the wonderful home I actually grew up in. But unlike my actual home, where my parents still thankfully live, I don't visit it much. I read the book so many times in my childhood and young adulthood that it became a part of my inner landscape...so much so that I haven't really returned to it very often in the past quarter century, except to occasionally read a favorite scene.
Several things dawned on me as I read it aloud in the wee small hours, watching my ten year old daughter's eyelids drift open and closed. They probably won't sound as significant as they felt to me when I realized them with the dawn's light breaking through our lace curtain and the Christmas tree lights shining softly next to the bright red geranium on the windowsill. But here they are, in no real order...
* I have never read this book aloud. A scene or two over the years, yes. In fact, I have the first few paragraphs of the book memorized and will sometimes say them aloud just for the comfort of hearing the words. But I have never read the book aloud start to finish. It amazes me how much I still know its rhythms and phrasing; it also amazes me how I know the girls' voices. I'm not doing a lot with the voices, but I do hear myself altering certain rhythms and intonations as I move from girl to girl, and it's odd because it's not something I am conscious of doing until I do it.
*I have never read this book through glasses.
*Reading this book with my reading glasses on, and while nursing a sick daughter, suddenly made me realize...
*I am Marmee. Of course I am still Jo. There is a part of me that will always be Jo. But really now, as I read it this time? I am Marmee...the mama cub, the protector, the teacher, the homeschooler (oh yes, she is), the one who tries to lead and guide and light the way, the one who admits her own faults to help her girls mend their's.
*I still have a lot to learn from Marmee. Has it ever occurred to you just how human and faulty the March girls are? There's not a "typical" one in the lot of them. Shy Beth's fears are standing out to me in a big way this time. Not that my sweet girl is shy (far from it) but oh, she battles many fears of a different sort, and in a big way. What came home as I read through Marmee's calm, gentle patience, her ability to let go and let her girls be who they are (quirks and all) while she gently tries to help shape their characters in small but real ways...was my own lack of patience sometimes with my daughter's anxieties, my own stress about wanting her to overcome them, my worry that her quirks and our creative but challenging family and ministry life can lead to things that are sometimes just hard in her little life. But you know what? God can use all that in her. Marmee knew that about her girls too, even when they lived through real hardship and poverty. She was a wise woman.
*And finally...maybe there were reasons I inhabited this particular book as a child, beyond the mysterious reasons of heart-connecting with a beloved story and author from the past as we all do sometimes. Maybe God gave me this book when I was nine because he knew what my life was going to look like when I was 44. And reading it by Christmas tree light at 5:00...or well, finally 6:30...in the morning, a precious ten year old girl finally, peacefully asleep at last.