I learned somewhere along the way, before my daughter was born, that nursery rhymes were actually pretty dark tales. Instead of singing those songs to my new sweet innocent child, I changed the lyrics. I sang my own version of “Rock a Bye Baby” that always had me catching her at the end. I altered “Hush Little Baby” mostly because I was exhausted and could never remember the real song, but made up my own rhymes as I walked and rocked a colicky babe hours on end. She was born close to the holidays so Christmas carols were always on my mind, I could remember those easily. She fell asleep to those year round, as did her brother when he came along. “Silent Night” took on new meaning when sung to children at the end of the day. Gazing at their tiny faces, finally resting, finding the angels in the orneriness that so swiftly replaced, holiness that sustains parents.
As she grew older, I created tales for bedtime stories with her as the main character. She begged for these stories nightly, I drew from her experiences throughout the day to color my creations, after hours wakefulness when I felt the least able to make something new. I used her nickname, turned it backwards into an individual child who made bad choices or didn’t want to listen to her parents. She did things like not wear her shoes outside or put on a coat, she was often a bit rough with her brother. This child splashed all the water out of the tub or refused to eat at dinner. Then along comes the heroine of the story, the name turned back right, the child realizes her true self and in an instant begins to right her world. She puts on her shoes or her coat, she cleans up the water in the bathroom, she always says nice things to her brother and kisses his boo-boo’s. Stella adored these stories, they made sense of her life and unwittingly I was reinforcing her memory, reciting each night all that she had done each day.
I have told some stories like this to Plum, we sometimes skip books at night or snuggle in afterward them when he needs a bit more chatter time. He loves to hear my stories with him as the hero, who doesn’t? Mostly though we end our evenings with our “love books,” the sweet and beautiful books by Nancy Tillman. He thinks he is the child in each picture. I so hate that the day will come when it is just an illustration, when he realizes those words are for millions of children, not specifically him. Hopefully the telling every night of my love, the deeper theme of God’s love, will have permeated and it won’t matter.
As a writer, I understand that words matter. I edit and consider and ponder, wondering if my message is clear, concise, truly expressing my meaning. Still sometimes typos sneak through, auto-correct or a rushed publication, maybe a hurried post written with too much emotion and not enough distance, mean the wrong word is out, is said, is written and cannot be taken back. As many times as I have sang songs and read books and created stories to help protect my loved ones, I have mistakenly or wrongly allowed words that hurt to pass from lips or my pen. The entirety of my work surely can show the characteristic of my soul, can one piece be judged by the typo? How I long for the opportunity to edit old letters to my children, to republish the ones filled with love and support, to remind them of our life’s work together. Currently they are stuck finding all the errors, missing the messages. I pray one day my sweet Stella will change back into the other child, who rights her world and remembers that forgiveness and grace are characteristics of the heroine. I take comfort in knowing our story has not yet ended, we are in that middle part with the tension and suspense. One day God will bring restoration, my words will be filled with the glory of reconciliation. Until then, I will keep honing my gift, measuring my words, sharing my stories with those who understand that we are all a bit broken and imperfect.