Thursday, January 18, 2007

lady caller

I'm currently reading The Cape Ann per my grandmother's recommendation (always reliable). The setting is a small Minnesota town at the end of the Depression, and the narrator is a 6-year-old girl who lives with her mother and father in very humble circumstances. I was reading during my morning workout today and came across the sweetest passage.

It was a Sunday afternoon, her father had fallen asleep reading the newspaper, and her mother was cooking dinner. She said that at times like this, she and her mother would play "Lady Caller". She would comb her hair and put on a fancy hat handed down from her mother, and she would get her red patent leather purse, examine the strange assemblage of its contents, smooth her dress and sneak past her mother in the kitchen.

She would then knock on the door and her mother would answer it, feigning surprise at seeing her lady caller:

"Why, Mrs..."
"Mrs. Brown, it's so nice to see you. Can you come in and visit? I was just putting chicken in the pan to fry."
"Thank you. I can only stay a few minutes. I have to get home and make supper for my husband and my little girl."
"Well, sit down here at the table. Can I get you anything?"
"Do you have any penuche candy?"
Mrs. Erhardt appeared a little surprised by this request. "Yes.... let me see." She went to the cupboard and from the top shelf brought me a candy. "I'm sure you'll want to save it to share with your little girl after supper," she suggested, handing over the piece of penuche on a circle of wax paper. "I seem to have forgotten her name."
"Myrna Loy."
"Myrna Loy?"
"Yes. Myrna Loy Brown. Don't you think it's pretty?"
"You must be proud of her."
"Yes, I am. But Myrna Loy worries about confession."
"Why is that?"
"She has so many sins," I explained.
"She's only six years old!"
"Six-year-old children can be very bad, even when they're not trying."
"Well, six-year-old children should remember that their mama and papa love them no matter what they do."
"Yes, I tell Myrna Loy that, but she worries anyway. Sometimes I think she'll worry herself to death. Did you ever know anyone who worried themselves to death?"
"No, I don't think that happens but once in a blue moon."

They continued with this game the whole time the mother was preparing their Sunday dinner. Her mother poured them each a cup of tea, but the little girl's cup was half full of milk. The little girl chatted away about her dream house and even cautiously explored the subject of gambling, a sore spot in her parents' marriage.

When dinner was ready, she excused herself, saying she needed to get home to her family. She left by the front door, then walked around outside for a few minutes, took off her hat, and sneaked back inside and past her mother in the kitchen, waiting to be called in to dinner (her mother studiously oblivious).

I thought this game was the best idea ever. The little girl was simultaneously able to indulge her fantasies of being grown-up and to bring up some topics that were worrying her. The mother was able to get some insight into what was going on in her little girl's head and heart and offer some gentle reassurances without appearing to placate her daughter. And all while she was going about her regular work! Brilliant!

This is just the type of thing I am not very good at. I tend to encourage my children to go do something else while I'm getting my work done, but I can see that it would be mutually beneficial if I could employ such a tactic. It's something to shoot for, at any rate...


Amy said...

That is very sweet. What a wonderful mother. I struggle, too with incorporating being a mom in with everything else that I have to do. That would be one way to alleviate the time crunch.

mom said...

That passage is so darling! It makes me think Grandma would indeed be good in the same way! I, myself would not, or should I say was not when my children were at home. I admire you quite alot for thinking in terms of wanting to do more of that while engaged in your everyday chores. I think you will be very good at that kind of listening. Try it. The mother sounds compassionate. So are you.

Neighbor Jane Payne said...

This book sounds so good. I'm going to put it on my future reads list.

Jill said...

That sounds like a good book. My kids come sit on the stools to talk to me while I'm in the kitchen and I usually have to turn down (or off) the music and interact. It's usually amusing, but can definitely be wearing on days I want to zone out. I'd be a better mother if I didn't want to zone out so much.

Elisa said...

This is so sweet! The paper dolls are beautiful. Miriam is all about pretend play and I feel like I do it all day long. I have never noticed if she is exploring ideas or running things past me...I need to pay more attention to how she plays.

Kelly said...

This is so tender! I am not good at that, and tend to shoosh my kids away when I am working in the kitchen or cleaning or something. I would love to be able to play with my kids while getting stuff done - it just doesn't usually occur to me. So, thanks for giving me an idea to think about.

And then I have a question - how did you read during your morning workout? I think perhaps I am not coordinated enough to do both, but I love the idea. I just haven't figured out how to work that.

Tasha said...

That is so sweet! I was always amazed by the big topics kids would work out in their play when I was doing mainly play therapy.

It sounds like a good book!

jenn said...

Oh my heck- that is so sweet! I wonder what opportunities to talk with my kids I have missed by being unwilling to play their games- sad!

SO, SO glad you shared this. I can't wait to hear what you think of the book as a whole!

Liz said...

That sounds like a great book. I love the passage you quoted!

amy m said...

I'm so glad you shared this. It really is the best of both worlds. I love knowing that it was just as beneficial for the daughter. I tend to think my girls don't enjoy hanging out with me while I work, but maybe it's just as enjoyable for them. I'll have to remember that.

collette said...

It makes me want to read this book. What a cute game!

Diana said...

I want to read that book now. It's kind of hard incorparting the kids into my must do list. Maybe it will be easier when they are older. Kira does get excited though when I let her help, I should let her more.

Susan said...

Hello Michelle! I have found you through Jill, and now I want to stay! I love what you have to say. This quote was so adorable that I am anxious to read the book! What a great game! I have four daughters, some too old to play this, but I wish that I could turn back time and do it. They would have loved it. Thanks for typing all that in!

Price Cream Parlor said...

That is so tender! I love it! I love the thought of that play interaction and spilling feelings during that playtime. Keep us posted on what you think of the book.

Kristi Brooke said...

what a great passage for sure.
it makes me want to read the book

i will soon post about my feelings of dinner and from these i have learned the importance of letting the kids get in the kitchen and help, starting conversations while being together, letting them become distracted with a game or work to help them open up.

i love that you posted about this.

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