Overcoming, with 5-year-olds

I first posted this about 5 months ago. I’m re-posting it today in honor of Martin Luther King’s birthday. The conversations with Will about MLK, race, and unfairness have continued since then (and yes, we listened to the CD again today. I had to explain the whole thing again, of course).

Taking My 4-Year-Old to Narnia

**I first posted this about 5 months ago. I’m re-posting it today in honor of Martin Luther King’s birthday. The conversations with Will about MLK, race, and unfairness have continued since then (and yes, we listened to the CD again today. I had to explain the whole thing again, of course).

Original post:

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.  In honor of that, today’s post is not about Narnia.  Not that I couldn’t make a connection between Narnia and civil rights (I could TOTALLY pull that off).  But instead, I wanted to record a moment that took place, almost by accident, as I drove Will to school this morning.

Back in the early 2000s, when Napster was still a thing (!), I was a mental health worker at a residential facility for adolescents, and I made a CD of “civil rights music” for the kids…

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Overcoming, with 5-year-olds

**I first posted this about 5 months ago. I’m re-posting it today in honor of Martin Luther King’s birthday. The conversations with Will about MLK, race, and unfairness have continued since then (and yes, we listened to the CD again today. I had to explain the whole thing again, of course).

Original post:

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.  In honor of that, today’s post is not about Narnia.  Not that I couldn’t make a connection between Narnia and civil rights (I could TOTALLY pull that off).  But instead, I wanted to record a moment that took place, almost by accident, as I drove Will to school this morning.

Back in the early 2000s, when Napster was still a thing (!), I was a mental health worker at a residential facility for adolescents, and I made a CD of “civil rights music” for the kids on my unit to listen to during Black History Month.  I don’t remember if I ended up playing it all that much for those kids, but it’s actually a fun CD, and I break it out now and then in the car (yes, my car still has a CD player).  I decided to play it today to celebrate the March on Washington anniversary.  Will has heard it before and has given it mixed reviews.  Today, when he saw me searching through my CDs, he requested a favorite song (from another CD).

“Let’s listen to [other CD],” he said again as ‘We Shall Overcome’ started to play.

“No,” I said, “we’re going to listen to this one today.  It’s important.”

A few streets later, ‘We Shall Overcome’ still busting out of my speakers:

“What’s so important about this song, Mommy?”

And here I didn’t even know he’d heard me.

“Well,” I said, “that’s a really good question. “ I hesitated for a second, then turned off the music.

“You know how I told you about how we have laws?  You know, about how fast we can drive, not stealing things, things like that?”

I send an unsafe glance at the backseat, where he is sitting proudly in his brand-new big boy booster seat.  He gives me a nod.

“Well,” I went on, “sometimes people make bad laws.  Back a long time ago, there were some bad laws that said that people with brown skin couldn’t do some things.” (‘People with brown skin’ is his phrase for African-American people.  He’s very literal-minded.)  “They had laws that said people with brown skin, like your friend L, couldn’t go to the same schools as people with white skin.  They couldn’t swim in the same pools or lakes.  Sometimes they wouldn’t even let people with brown skin vote.  Those were bad laws, right?”

Emphatic nod from Will.  “Yeah.”

“So people like Martin Luther King, and a lot of other people, said that we needed to change those laws.  They did things like marches to get people to change the bad laws.  Sometimes they even got arrested, but not because they’d done anything wrong, it was because they were trying to get people to change the bad laws.

“And one of the things they did was that they sang a lot of songs.  They sang a lot to help each other.  This one is called ‘We Shall Overcome,’ and they sang it to say that they were going to overcome those bad laws.”

Will: “Yeah.”

“They also sang them to help each other stay together and stay strong,” I told him.  “And it’s still important because sometimes there are still bad laws.  Sometimes we still have to do things like marches to get people to change the bad laws.  So we still need to know the songs.”  I paused for a second and gave another glance at the backseat.  “Got it?”

He gave me a thumbs up, then gestured for me to turn the music back on.

‘We Shall Overcome’ was almost over.  The next song was ‘Wade in the Water.’

“Let’s listen to [other CD],” he requested again.

“We’re going to stick with this one today,” I said.

“It’s a God song,” he said.  He’s gotten a little tired of “God songs” recently; apparently my musical repertoire is a little heavy on those.

“Well, I could go on to the next one,” I said, “but really most of them are God songs…”

I turned the music off again.  I know a teachable moment when I see one! (At least I catch some of them.  Anyway.)

“You know, they actually sang about God a lot,” I told Will.  “Did you know that God doesn’t like bad laws either?  God wants us to treat everybody right.  He wants us to change the bad laws too.  So they sang about God because they knew they were doing what God wanted them to do.  And if we try to change bad laws today, we’re doing what God wants.”

“Besides, you like ‘Wade in the Water.’”

“Oh,” said Will.  He requests it at bathtime frequently.  It has awesome resonance in the bathroom.

We kept listening.  I don’t know for sure what he’s taking away from this.  But I know I want these songs imprinted on his soul.  When he’s a little older, and he begins seeing unfairness and injustice, I want the cry for freedom, the drive to overcome, ready and waiting to sing out.

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New Under the Sun

One of my favorite parts of this reading adventure has come from something I didn’t expect.  I’ve been so familiar with these books for so long that I’ve mostly forgotten what it’s like to not know what’s about to happen.  For each book, I know when the characters are going to reach Narnia, when they’re going to meet Aslan, etc.  And while those moments are still exciting for me, I don’t know what it’s like to not know when they’re coming, or even if they’re coming, in a given book.  And I also forget that my five-year-old doesn’t have all of my cultural knowledge and expectations—there are so many things that I take for granted that he simply has no idea about.  For example, if I’m reading a series of books centered around a location or a particular character, I automatically know that location or character will turn up sooner or later.  Take the 6th Harry Potter book (if you’re a total nerd like me, anyway)—even though it starts out in the British Prime Minister’s office, a very un-magical place, we have a pretty good idea of what’s coming.  We’re amused but not surprised when portraits start talking and wizards begin stepping out of the fireplace.

I don’t think I’d ever thought about how these expectations are created.  But apparently I now have a front-row seat to the process.  Which brings me to my new favorite part of reading these books to Will.  In each of the books, there’s a point when the main characters reach Narnia, and there’s another point when they finally see or meet Aslan.  Like I was saying above, for me it’s beyond obvious that this will happen in each book—but not for Will.  Here’s how it’s gone over the past couple of days in The Magician’s Nephew (yep, already well into that one):

In Chapter 9, the characters see a lion.  Will looks at me and grins.  “It’s Aslan,” he says, with an air of having discovered a secret.

In Chapter 10, the lion is actually named as Aslan.  Will gives his grin again.  “I knew it.  I knew it was Aslan.”

He’s done this for every book.  The process of encountering Aslan usually takes a chapter or two (or more—it takes up most of the book in The Horse and His Boy), so I get to see his grin of recognition multiple times per book.  It’s seriously cool.

The same thing tends to happen for figuring out the characters have reached Narnia.  In The Magician’s Nephew, they reach Narnia in Chapter 8, but it wasn’t until Chapter 9 that this became obvious (to Will).  If you haven’t read it (seriously, you should read it), it’s a prequel, happening long before the previous books.  At one point, the lamppost (the one from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) gets “planted” by accident.  When I read the part where the characters see it growing, Will gave a little gasp.  “They’re in Narnia,” he said.

I didn’t even know he remembered the lamppost from LWW.  Apparently it made a fairly significant impression on him.

Several pages later, the word “Narnia” is finally mentioned for the first time.  Again with the grin of recognition.  “I knew it was Narnia.”

I’m not sure what’s better—to know what’s coming, so that you can enjoy anticipating it, or to not know, so that you can be surprised by it.  But right now I’m getting to experience both. 

I can take a break from being an adult—a jaded, cynical adult—the kind of adult who could have written the book of Ecclesiastes.  Not that I’m necessarily that good of a writer, but seriously, there’s nothing new under the sun.

Until there is.  It just sometimes takes a five-year-old to see it.

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Anti-Cliffhanger DNA

So apparently I don’t do cliffhangers.

In theory, I already knew this about myself, but some things become more obvious when you see them reflected in a 5-year-old who shares half your DNA.  For example, when you get to the end of the night’s designated chapter, and it stops just before you find out whether Shasta was able to warn the king of Archenland in time about the army coming to attack…and the 5-year-old (sharing half your DNA) wants to read the next chapter…and you KNOW the answer is in the next chapter…apparently that piece of DNA that says “no, we don’t do cliffhangers” is pretty powerful.

Is there a protein sequence for “we don’t do cliffhangers?”

It doesn’t matter what time it is, or that you’ve already read 2 chapters of The Boxcar Children (there was a cliffhanger there too), or that your vocal cords are threatening mutiny, or that waiting a day for the answer would probably be character-building for the DNA-sharing 5-year-old…nope, we don’t do cliffhangers.

So we didn’t.  We went on.  Shasta delivered his warning (and we got to read that freaking awesome scene where Shasta meets Aslan).  I guess what I’ve really learned about myself is that not only do I not do cliffhangers…but apparently I also can’t stand for anyone else to experience one either.  Not if I have the ability to resolve it.  (Resolve it properly, of course, by actually reading the book until we get there—I wouldn’t simply spoil the plot.  Cliffhangers are aggravating, but spoilers are of the devil.)

That was two nights ago.  I’ve stuck to my one-chapter-a-day rule since then, despite protests from Will.  And from my DNA.


Will’s main quote recently has been “let’s read another chapter,” but here’s a convoluted one from tonight:

Will: “Why is Rabadash taking care of Edmund?”

We had to re-read the passage in question 3 times before I could even figure out what part he was referring to.

Mommy: “’…[Rabadash] stood there raining down blows on Edmund from above.’”

Will: “Yeah, there.  Why is he taking care of Edmund?”

Mommy: “Huh?” [Since Rabadash and Edmund are pretty much fighting to the death at that point.]

Will: “He’s raining and blowing on him.”

Mommy: “Uh…so what that means is that Rabadash is trying to hit Edmund over and over with his sword.”

Will: “Why?”

Mommy: “Because they’re having a swordfight.  That’s what the battle is, everybody fighting with swords.”

Will: “Well, I would never get in a fight with swords.” [This from the child who creates and re-enacts battle scenes with every conceivable weapon several times a day.]

Mommy: “Um…ok.  That’s good.”

Incidentally, now that I’m re-reading it, the image of Rabadash raining and blowing (benevolently) on Edmund is hilarious.  Good night, everybody!

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Back from Outer Space

I’m back!

Since I most definitely have a day job (which every now and then takes up evenings and nights too, especially when I have the misguided belief that I’m still a grad student and can still pull all-nighters), not to mention raising a child and growing a marriage, I will probably never be more than a very half-hearted blogger.  But I’m going to try again, for anyone out there who’s still interested.

We’ve finished Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and Will’s 5th birthday (the space party was a huge success, and my house is still a combination of the solar system and a Star Wars battle scene).  We’re a considerable way through The Horse and His Boy, but I’ll save a deeply thought-provoking piece about that for another time.

Instead, to catch up, I’ll give you a few of the most interesting bits from VDT and SC.

I actually wrote this back on July 4th, but never finished the post:

We got to one of my favorite chapters in VDT tonight (“The Dark Island”).  Fortunately, unlike the last chapter that was one of my favorites (see “Narna via Skype”), this one has plenty of elements to appeal to a 4-year-old boy, or at least this 4-year-old boy:  Creepy darkness, nightmares, rescues, narrow escapes (a disappointing lack of swordfights, but he seemed ok with that).  The ship and crew nearly get stuck on an island where nightmares come true.  At the last minute they’re led to safety by an albatross (I had no clue what this was back when I first read the book).  It’s made clear that the albatross is, in fact, Aslan.  Or at least this is clear to an adult.  When I asked Will who he thought it was, he drew a blank at first.  After a little discussion, though, he said, “I think it was Aslan.”

Then, after a couple of seconds: “Or maybe it was God.”

Wait, really?

When did he figure that out?

Actually, a few seconds later, he explained some of his reasoning, and it became clear that he hasn’t actually figured out the Aslan/Christ metaphor yet.  Sure did make me blink for a few seconds, though!

An update: A later passage (I’ve forgotten what it was exactly) refers to Aslan in a very Godlike way, and Will’s response was a somewhat disapproving, “only God can do that.”  So I think it’s possible that he thinks the Narnians are committing idolatry.  Oops….

Moving on…

One of the most interesting parts of The Silver Chair was that he picked up on something that I don’t remember really grasping until adulthood

“How come they’re looking for the giants’ castle?” he asked me more than once.  “They’re supposed to be looking for the lost prince.”

The reason is that they’ve gotten distracted from their quest and from their focus on Aslan, thanks to some clever, distracting manipulation from the book’s antagonist.  This is actually a major point of the book, but I honestly didn’t expect a 4-year-old to pick up on it.  Although, to be fair, I’m not entirely sure this was due to his perceptive abilities or even C. S. Lewis’s writing abilities—he was just really interested in the mysterious lost prince, and I think he was annoyed at the distraction.

This probably isn’t the most interesting post I’ve ever written, but at least it’s a post!  I’ll be trying to find a blogging rhythm again.  Thanks for sticking with me!

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A narrow escape

I had a very narrow escape from danger yesterday morning: I nearly planned a Narnia-themed birthday party.  Will’s 5th birthday is coming up, and when I gave him a few options for what kind of party he wanted to have (based on his current interests), he chose Narnia.  (For those of you unfamiliar with the preschool birthday circuit, “themes” are very trendy these days.  Themes for parties we’ve been invited to this summer have included circuses, princes and princesses, superheroes, and wilderness survival.)

It being a Saturday morning with (for once) nobody else’s birthday party to go to (seriously, the summer birthday season is an endurance event, only with more balloons), we started planning.  We Googled “Narnia birthday” and found mainly snow-themed parties, which would really just be a cruel joke to have as a theme for a mid-summer birthday in the South.  So we just looked for Narnia pictures, and it occurred to me that we would need to make the front door into a wardrobe door, and we should have a lamp-post somewhere, and we’d gone to get the first two books to look for picture ideas…when he changed his mind and decided he wanted a “space birthday party” instead.

Space (you know, the final frontier) is another one of his obsessions, which I totally think is awesome, but I have to admit that I was a little disappointed that we wouldn’t be turning the house into Narnia.  That was until I figured out that a space-themed birthday party is much easier to create than a Narnia one, and also that I had clearly taken leave of my senses when I had begun mentally creating the Narnia decorations.

Seriously, I was thinking about covering the walls in near-life-size pictures of trees and woodland creatures.  And I’m not even on Pinterest.

Anyway, a space party it is, and we’ve already created a one-man rocket out of a cardboard box from the garage (much easier than woodland creatures on the walls).

Like I said, a narrow escape.

In the meantime, we’re continuing to progress through VDT, and we’ve generally kept to the one-chapter-a-day pace.  Every now and then we only do half a chapter, although Will’s generally not too happy with that option.

One thing I’ve learned through this whole process is that I’m a terrible voice actor.  Another thing I’ve learned is that I insist on attempting to voice act despite being a terrible voice actor.

Case in point: Reepicheep the Talking Mouse.  His voice is described as “high and shrill,” so I try to be high and shrill whenever he’s speaking.  It comes out sounding like a rather militant Mickey Mouse.

(Imagine Mickey for a second.  Picture him in your head, and imagine his voice.  Got that?  Now imagine him saying “You will wonder to see how many we can kill before we die!”)

Will actually loves this.  Any talking by Reepicheep is now one of his favorite parts of this whole process.

“Reepicheep is so funny!” he said tonight, giggling.  And all I could think of was how offended Reepicheep would be if he heard that.

So now I mentally apologize to a fictional character every time I read his lines.

Hey, at least I’m not trying to draw Fauns on my walls.

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Random conversations

Apparently the last blog post depleted my blogging resources for a few days (that’s what I get for springing deep thoughts on you when you thought you were reading something cute about candy).  In order to get back into it, tonight I will present to you:  A random series of quotes and conversations with Will.  As a quick update, we’ve finished Prince Caspian and started The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  We have so far stuck to one chapter a day (Will frequently asks for more, but considering that he does this while squirming all over the bed and making rocket sound effects, I’m not all that tempted to give in).  Anyway, on to the Will quotes!


From the last chapter of PC:

For those who don’t remember, the two older children (Peter and Susan) are told that they will not be able to come back to Narnia because they’re too old.  I thought that Will might be a little upset or at least confused by this.  So on the last page, there’s a picture of the four children sitting on the railway platform again (having returned to England).  Will looked at it and asked me to identify everyone by name again (he requests this with every. single. picture.).  Then he pointed to Peter and Susan.

“Why they can’t go back again?”

“Well, they’re really big kids now, and apparently only little kids can go to Narnia.”

He looked at the picture again.

“They’re about to be grownups,” he said authoritatively.

Well then.

I think he gets it better than I do.


From Chapter 1 of VDT, when Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace start off looking at a picture and then find themselves in a cold ocean:

Will: “That was NOT a picture.”


In Chapter 2 of VDT, a seasick Eustace complains that someone’s voice “goes through my head.”

A few minutes later, Will was talking in a funny voice.

Me: “What?”

Will: “Does that go through your head?”

…And since then, whenever we’ve been around something irritatingly loud (by his standards), he says, “that goes through my head.”


Somewhere in VDT:

Will: “What’s a fighting-top?”

Me (since I TOTALLY know what random parts of sailing ships are): “Well, it’s sort of a…platform up high on a ship, up at the top, and people can go up there to, um, look out, and, uh…”

Will: “And fight.”

Me: “Well, yeah.  Probably so.”


In Chapters 3 and 4 of VDT, most of the protagonists get kidnapped, and a few of them are (briefly) sold as slaves.  For me, this meant fielding multiple vocabulary questions (e.g., “what’s a slave?”  “What’s a kidnapper?” “What’s kidnapped?”), most of which I apparently did not answer particularly coherently.  At the end of Chapter 4, everyone’s freedom has been restored, and the protagonists are feasting in a castle.

Will: “Why are they in the kidnappers’ castle?”  (technically, it was the ex-governor’s castle, but he was in collusion with the kidnappers, so close enough).

Me: “Well, Caspian and Lord Bern kicked the kidnappers out, so it’s their castle now.”

Will: “Why did they kick the kidnappers out?”

Me: “Wouldn’t you want to kick kidnappers out?”

Will: “No.”

[See my note above about not having given coherent definitions to this point.]

Me: “So…what kidnappers do is they capture people and take them away from their families.  That’s what it means to kidnap someone.”

Will: “I would really kick them out!” [Expressive gesture with foot.]  “I would kick them out of the world!  And then they would be in outer space.  And we would never see those kidnappers again.”

So, it took two chapters, but I think it’s safe to say that particular point got across.

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