"...and then she died, leaving Mig all alone with her father, who, on a market day in spring soon after his wife's death, sold his daughter into service for a handful of cigarettes, a red tablecloth, and a hen... Mig watched her father walk away... He left his daughter. And... he did not look back. Not even once. "
That is the section from The Tale of Despereaux that we read a few days ago. I was totally unprepared for Norah's reaction to it. She started weeping.
I comforted her by hugging and saying things like, "Norah, you can be thankful. Your mom and dad love you. We would never sell you." She rallied a little at my affirmations, but what she said in response to my comments just broke my heart. "Yes. But, I want to be thankful for all the kids in this world."
Up until that moment, she had been under the false impression that every home was like our home and that every mom and dad was like her mom and dad. I could see her mind and body registering the dark truth, suffering under it, like a heavy drum vibrates for several seconds after it is struck. And, though I read these stories to her deliberately, so that they will teach her those hard lessons, it was still difficult to watch.
Like medicine taken with a spoonful of sugar, reading stories like this to Norah has allowed me to teach her about reality in ways that she can receive as a four year old. It would be devastating for me to turn on the news and let her learn about the world and its dangers by watching reporters standing in front of police lines. The fear she'd learn that way would paralyze her, rather than prepare her. But, books can deliver the same lessons, warnings and admonitions in a way that gives hope, since characters usually come to good ends through persistence or divine intervention or some clever combination of both.
I'm not sure every kid who reads The Tale of Despereaux will take away what Norah did. But, no doubt, one thing she's gained from the story has been a new appreciation for the love we have for her. The last few days she will often stop what she's doing and hug me or ask me to stop what I'm doing and give her a kiss. And, with the affection, usually comes a "Thanks, Mom." I never have to ask her "What for?" She and I were both there when Mig was left behind, so I have a pretty good idea as to what Norah is thankful for.