My Six-Year-Old Sings the Blues

My daughter and I started By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder tonight. We’ve been reading through the whole series (skipping Farmer Boy in favor of more Laura-centered stories). This one, so far, is a big downer. Within the first two chapters, Mary’s gone blind and good dog Jack has died of old age.

I spent a good twenty minutes comforting my daughter as she cried and asked me questions about pets I lost as a child and how long it was our two cats would live.

“They’ve still got several more years to live,” she said with confidence.

“I hope so,” I replied, with slightly less confidence; the one cat is fifteen and the other is almost twelve, but I didn’t feel it necessary to make a big deal about these facts at this particular moment.

After I comforted her, she went to her dad for more hugs and crying. When she was finally calm enough for bed, I tucked her in. Every night, she listens to a story or music. Tonight I suggested she listen to her lullabies.

“Those are pretty happy,” I said. “They might make you feel better.”

“No, Mom,” she said sagely, “Happy things just make me feel the sadness even more.”

She chose Charlotte’s Web to listen to tonight.

I have to wonder, is this something she inherited from me or is it something I taught her? I know we’re not unique in preferring sad things to happy things when we’re feeling down; blues music is based on the idea that sometimes you feel better singing about the bad rather than trying to make yourself feel happy.

But since we’re mother and daughter, I assume that there’s some connection between her desire to steep herself in sadness when she’s sad and my tendency towards annoyance when people try to cheer me out of the doldrums.

“The blues isn’t about feeling better, it’s about making other people feel worse, and making a few bucks while you’re at it.” – Bleeding Gums Murphy (from The Simpsons)

10 comments

  1. Pingback: Reading Digest: Muppets Edition « Dead Homer Society
  2. ceceliafutch · November 22, 2011

    Brings back so many memories of reading really good books with my children when they were growing up. And now my grandson will call from time to time to read a book to me. I’m half tempted to go check out a few Wilder books and re-read, they were that good. And yes, I was teary-eyed more than a few times.

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    • CJ · November 22, 2011

      That’s been one of the unexpected pleasures of motherhood for me: getting a chance to read some of the classic children’s books I missed when I was the target age. I never enjoyed the Little House books when I was a kid. It wasn’t as fun to read them as to watch the tv show. Plus, I was a bit of a morbid child and got into Edgar Allen Poe when I was just about a year older than my daughter.

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  3. Melanie Meadors · November 22, 2011

    Oh, yes, Matthew Cuthbert, and in Rilla of Ingleside, those occurrences… I’ve always cried during those parts when I read them to myself, but it was strange to find that I did it when I read out loud, too. For some reason I thought it would be different.

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  4. Cathy Trahan · November 22, 2011

    Farmer Boy – now that is a book with a lot of focus and devotion and discussion related to food! And yes, many boys do eat a lot and think about food more than us girls do. My boys loved this book more than the Laura stories; it will be interesting to hear what your daughter thinks of this story since it really is written differently (to me) than the other stories.

    As for sad stories, my kids rebel if they know we are going to read one that might make then sad or cry. Totally not wanting to be in touch with that part of themselves. I guess I avoid them too in many cases as I ate how I feel afterward…. I know, my husband always says that is WHY I should read them!

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    • CJ · November 22, 2011

      That’s interesting that you don’t like how you feel after you read sad stories. I almost always feel better. It’s like a cathartic release. Maybe it’s because I’m fairly subdued in expressing emotion in “real life”; the sad stories are the only way to let out those feelings. Except when I’m pregnant. Then I emote all over the place.

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  5. Melanie Meadors · November 21, 2011

    Oh, gosh, when I was reading Charlotte’s Web to my son, and we got to the end, I was bawling while I was reading it. My husband came in and was in awe. “Are you *crying*?” But I think those are the best stories–they actually mean something. It is harder, I think, to make people cry than to laugh, and in a way, those stories are more beautiful.

    When I lose pets it hit me extremely hard. I try to look at it as a fact of life, and when they are still with us, I don’t think of it in a sad way, but when it happens, it always feels like a ton of bricks. I don’t know how my son will deal with it at all. He seems to be pretty zen about things like that though. The various small critters we’ve had that passed, he sort of seemed like “oh, that’s too bad,” and then moved on. At first I was going to say maybe it’s a boy vs. girl thing, but I remember when my brother was little, he was always more outwardly sad than I was when our pets passed away. Also, my son hasn’t lost a larger pet that has been with us for a while, so time will tell.

    I think that’s all the sadness in that book–they got it over quickly ;). There might be one more part, depending on how sensitive she is to hunting… I can email you if you want more of a heads up.

    Does your daughter accept comfort from you when she is upset? My son does not. Well, actually he’s getting better about it, but he when he gets hurt or when he is scared he does not want to be hugged, or comforted in any way. It makes me feel awful! He internalizes a lot (and yes, he gets THAT from me!).

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    • CJ · November 21, 2011

      My daughter mostly does accept comfort from me when she’s upset. She wants “huggles” from me and her dad and even her little brother, although he’s less interested in comforting her than she is in being comforted. She internalizes a lot throughout her day, working so many things out on her own through her private “stories” as she calls them, so I suppose I can be grateful that she’s willing to share with me her grief over the happenings in her books.

      She might do okay with hunting. She’s fairly matter-of-fact about where meat comes from (she asked me last night if the turkey we picked up today was dead yet). She was really shaken up when we read Bambi, though. To be honest, I found that especially difficult to read, too. I cried like crazy through entire chapters of Bambi, and I cried when Ma died in Babe. I’ve cried along with my daughter for Jack and for Matthew Cuthbert and for Charlotte and for Picky-Picky. My husband always seems perplexed and somewhat amused when he walks in and sees his daughter and me bawling over a children’s book. But I’m glad my daughter and I cry together over the characters in these books. It’s a connection between us that I value.

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  6. Jesse · November 21, 2011

    Just wait til you get to The Long Winter!
    It also might be a good idea to circle back to Farmer Boy before The Long Winter or Little Town… gives you some context for who Almonzo is when he comes into Laura’s life.
    We are currently reading These Happy Golden Years.

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    • CJ · November 21, 2011

      Thank you for the tip on Farmer Boy! I kind of thought we’d want to read it given it’s about Almonzo, but we were so into Laura and her family, it was difficult to imagine breaking away for even just one book. And thanks for the heads up. I will brace myself for more hardships for the Ingalls family in later books.

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