Our five-year-old doesn’t like stories from books anymore. “Read me a story from your mind,” Yehuda instructs us these days, but many times there didn’t seem to be anything going on in our minds to tell him.
One evening, after I gave him his old, worn, beloved blanket and said the Shema, I drew the curtains closed to extinguish the bright light of six o’clock. Then I announced that tonight I was too tired to think of a story. I’d sing him a song instead.
“No. A story.”
“Yehuda, remember the song about the -”
“No. A story. Read to me about the little boy and the frog.”
“The little boy and the frog? What’s that?”
“The little boy and the frog! You know! Daddy told me! There was a little boy, and he found a frog, and then they went to the ocean and the frog tried to swim. Read it.”
I knew from experience that there was no use making up a new version if my husband wasn’t home to fill me in on the original. “I don’t know that one, Yehuda, but how about this. Once upon a ti- Lie down.”
“You’re not reading a story.”
“Yes, I am. Lie back down and I’ll tell you. Once upon a time there was a little boy who lived all by himself in the forest, in a little yellow house that -”
“You told me that already! I want a new story. From your mind!”
“That was from my mind.”
“But you told me that one YESTERDAY!”
“All right. Lie down. All the way.” My own eyes were getting very heavy. “Once upon a time a long time ago a brother and sister lived all by themselves in a teeny-tiny house in the middle of a -”
“Right. And one day, a teeny-tiny pussy cat came crying to their door. Meow! Meow!”
“You told me that story already.”
“Yes! You told me that story YESTERDAY!” Yehuda sat up, agonized, his face streaming with sudden tears. “I want a NEW story. From your MIND!”
“How do you say that, Yehuda?”
“All right, I’m going to try one more time, and if you don’t like it I’ll sing you a song and that’s it. I’m tired! Now, lie down! No, all the way. All right. Now. Once upon a time there was a little boy who lived on the moon.”
I paused warily, but he stuck his thumb in his mouth and made no objection. Evidently we were on unchartered territory.
“He didn’t know how he had gotten to the moon, and he didn’t know who his mother and father were. He didn’t even know if he had a mother and father. But he had a feeling that Someone was in charge of all this, and that somewhere there was a world where a lot, a lot of people like himself lived. He just had no idea how to get there. So he wandered around all over the moon, and though it was so peaceful and quiet, he was so lonely, he didn’t know what to do.”
Yehuda’s eyes were wide open in the semi-darkness. His lips were parted and his thumb had slipped out; he was entranced. But I wondered if anything sufficiently interesting was going to happen on the moon.
“So one day he couldn’t stand it anymore and he looked up into the black, empty sky and called out, ‘Dear Father in Heaven, please get me out of here and take me to -‘”
“He knew about Hashem?”
“Well, no one had ever told him but he had a feeling Hashem was there.”
“So all of a sudden out of the sky a little bird flew down and called out to him: ‘Jump up and put your arms around me. I’ll fly you to the world.’ And the little boy jumped up and put his arms around the bird and the bird began to fly. He flew and he flew and he flew, through the peaceful black sky, up, up, into the stars. They flew like this for a long time, and it was very beautiful, flying through the quiet night but the little boy started to get tired.”
“So the little bird said, ‘Don’t worry, soon we’re going to start getting closer to the world. Just hold on tight. But the closer we get, the harder it will be for you to hold on.’ And sure enough, no sooner had the bird spoken than a big wind began to blow.
“‘What’s that?’ asked the boy.
“‘That’s the wind,’ said the bird. ‘On the moon there was no wind but in the world, there’s a lot of wind.’ Then it began to rain. ‘Hold on!’ said the little bird. ‘That’s rain. Don’t let go!’
“‘But it’s so cold and wet!’ the boy cried. ‘How will I hold on?'”
“‘Don’t worry,’ said the bird, ‘that’s the way the world is. The more difficult it is to hold on, the closer you’re getting to where you want to go.’
Then the sun began to shine. ‘It’s too hot!’ cried the little boy. ‘I can’t stand it!'”
“‘You can stand it,’ answered the bird. ‘Just hold on tight. This means we’re getting closer.’
“Then it began to snow. ‘What’s that?’ cried the boy, shivering.
“‘That’s the snow,’ answered the bird. ‘Sometimes you’ll be cold and sometimes you’ll be hot. Sometimes you’ll be very, very uncomfortable, but that’s what it’s like to be in the world. If you don’t want to be on the moon anymore, then you’ll have to get used to the wind and the snow and the heat and the rain. And it’s all worth it because look, who’s that! It’s your mother and your father!’ The little boy looked down, way, way down, and there was the world, round and green and beautiful, and there were his mother and father looking up with great big smiles, their arms wide open to catch him.”
Yehuda was entwined in his blanket, his breathing deep and regular. I stretched out my feet and waited, to make sure.
My own eyes closed now in the stillness of the darkened bedroom, and the chair was so weightlessly comfortable, it would have been nice just to stay there a while longer and fall into dreamland myself. Yet if I wanted to be in the world, which indeed I do, I’d have to get used to such inconveniences, wouldn’t I.
I rose and tiptoed out.
This piece is excerpted from “The Mother in Our Lives” and reprinted with the author’s permission.
Sarah Shapiro’s most recent books are “A Gift Passed Along,” and “The Mother in Our Lives”. She writes for a number of publications in Israel and the United States, and teaches writing in Jerusalem, where she lives with her family.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.