…all you need is to enjoy some story time with your little ones. Here are three sets of fictional parents who have inspired me lately:
Not to be Captain Obvious, here, but my most influential fictional(ized) parents are Ma and Pa Ingalls. Their work ethic is a constant source of inspiration to me (or shame, depending on the day). Remember the time that Pa built a front door from scratch between breakfast and lunch and declared it “a good morning’s work”? Ma is superhumanly resourceful and uncomplaining. No more kerosene for the regular lamp? She can fashion a lamp out of a string and a button. Blackbirds eating the year’s corn crop? Sounds like an occasion for “four-and-twenty blackbirds baked into a pie.” The family moved across the Midwest like nomads, and all long-suffering Ma ever asked for was a little shelf to display her china shepherdess.
Frances is an imaginative and endearing little badger who stars in her own book series by Russell and Lillian Hoban. In various adventures, she refuses to eat anything except bread and jam, she becomes jealous of her new baby sister, she struggles not to eat her sister’s birthday candy, and imagines all the reasons to get out of her bed at night. In each story, Mother and Father Badger are consistent and dependable. When Frances gets out of bed one night, she finds her parents in the living room watching TV and eating cake (one of many reasons that I love them). They give Frances a bite of cake, share some tips for talking to the giants in her bedroom, and investigate the suspicious crack in her ceiling. But at a certain point, Father tells Frances that if she gets out of bed one more time she’ll get a spanking. These wise badgers are the perfect balance of consistency and flexibility, of encouraging without enabling, as they allow Frances room to be herself within standards of appropriate behavior. I read these books like manuals as I consider how to enjoy and train up my own creative, imaginative child.
Move over, O-Lan, there’s a new tough woman in town. I’m a little hesitant to fully endorse the Berenstain Bears books, because I think they can be a little soapbox-y and they occasionally venture into the “doofus Dad” territory that I don’t appreciate. But even a cursory reading of “The Berenstain Bears and the New Baby” can’t inspire anything but admiration for both Mama and Papa Bear. When Brother needs a bigger bed to accommodate his growing frame, Papa hoists his ax on his shoulder and spends the day chopping down trees to build a new bed frame (he takes Brother with him, too, and builds the whole bed in a day while conversing with and safely supervising his young son). They return to the tree house to find–surprise!– Mama has moved the crib into the baby’s room, given birth to Sister Bear, and cleaned up the mess, all in time to greet the hardworking men at the door as they arrive home. It’s an example I’ll do well to remember before I trouble a nurse to bring me another cup of ice chips a full 24 hours after my labor has ended! In later books, Mama creatively and thoughtfully responds to the cubs’ indiscretions with effective natural consequences and well-chosen words of wisdom, often written in raisins on the cubs’ morning oatmeal. She also demonstrates by example that there’s more to success than having a fashionable outfit every day; probably all the time and mental energy she saves by wearing the same dress and cap every day explains how she’s able to pull off all those motherly feats!