Today, the day I am writing this column, has been a long one. It started with a 4 a.m. alarm. It is the day Darling Daughter moves to college. In Boston. Which is far from Minnesota and so necessitates a plane ride. During a pandemic. Alone, as her university is not allowing parents on campus during this challenging time.
Tell me you think I’m very brave. (She is, too, of course. She is also quite excited, which helps all of us.)
Because there were no lines — indeed, hardly anyone at the airport at all (which is downright eerie, let me tell you!) — her two duffel bags with all her worldly possessions were checked and she was headed through security almost before I started to cry. I was home, my husband at work, by 6 a.m. Long day ahead of me.
So I cleaned the kitchen, which is always therapeutic. And then I wandered in my office for a bit, looking at all the books I’ve read with her over the years…. And then I sat on her bed and looked at the books on her shelves…. She texted from the plane to tell me she was watching Little Women, which pretty much confirmed that my work with her is nearly done.
Back in my office, I pulled Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius off the shelf. I’ve written about this special book before. But I’ve not written about reading it to Darling Daughter, so I hope you’ll indulge me on this day our last little bird flew the nest….
She’s always been a reader, that kid. She also had a lot of energy when she was little. She didn’t nap much. We read a lot. It was the only time she sat still, and I needed her to sit still sometimes. She was very attuned to the energy of a book, bouncing on the couch beside me during the busy books, snuggling in for the calmer ones. Miss Rumphius is a snuggly book, so we read it a lot — my choice, at least at first.
It’s a curiously narrated book for children — a grown woman tells the story, looking back at her great-aunt Alice’s life, and then finally her own. As a little girl, great-aunt Alice sits on her grandfather’s knee and listens to his stories of faraway places. She declares that when she grows up, she will go to faraway places, as well. And when she grows old, she will live by the sea, as he does. Her grandfather tells her she must do one more thing.
“You must do something to make the world more beautiful,” he says.
And so, over several spreads, great-aunt Alice Rumphius grows up, travels to faraway places, and finally comes to make a home in a house by the sea. Her love of lupines inspires her to order five bushels of lupine seed, then fill her pockets and wander “over field and headlands, sowing lupines,” making the world more beautiful.
Then the narrator becomes “little Alice” and we learn she received the same instructions from her now old great-aunt Alice. The books ends with her wondering how to make a beautiful world more beautiful.
Darling Daughter came to love this book as much as I did. She admired that great-aunt Alice worked in a library. She delighted in the gorgeous pictures of the places Alice visited all over the world. She saw that Alice’s last name, Rumphius, was on the mailbox at her house by the sea…. We often read it two or three times in a row, snuggled together and resting, if not sleeping.
And now our girl has gone to a faraway place. By the sea! And she is still young, not yet old! She has so much good energy, and an eye, a hankering, and a knack for beauty. She’s always made our world more beautiful, and so now we share her. It’s bittersweet. I miss her so much already. But I can’t wait to see what she will do…what faraway lands she will visit…what she’ll read and learn…whether she lives by the sea or comes back to the Midwest…and what seeds of beauty she plants in her wake.
I’m so grateful for the reading memories — I had this same feeling when #1 Son left for college six years ago. It’s the one parenting piece I feel like I can claim to have done exactly right. Reading to our kids was a Great Joy for me. And they are who they are — in some part, at least — because of the books we read, I think.
And so she goes with books like Miss Rumphius and Little Women (and so many others!) to guide her beautiful future.
A piece of my heart now lives by the sea….