When my children were little, I read them a picture a book by Barbara Cooney, called Miss Rumphius. It was one of my favorites. We all had a few favorites when our kids were young, didn’t we?
Miss Rumphius was that perfect picture book—not too long, just the right number of words on a page, gorgeous pictures, and a great message. I read it to all three of my children– a lot. I am 100% sure of that.
Miss Rumphius is the story of a fictional character, Alice Rumphius, who longed to do two things in her life: travel the world, and live in a house by the sea. But when she was little, as she sat on her grandfather’s knee, he suggested that she must have a third goal in her life: to do one thing to make the world more beautiful.
As a young woman, Miss Rumphius travels the world, having great adventures. She eventually lives in a house by the sea. As an older woman, having reached two of her goals, she struggled with the third one- how to make the world more beautiful. It took Miss Rumphius a long time, but she eventually left her legacy by scattering Lupine seeds everywhere she went-and they bloomed forevermore along the coast of Maine. She was remembered as the Lupine Lady.
This past week, the week of my daughter’s graduation from college, I couldn’t get Miss Rumphius out of my mind. I brought it up too many times with my graduate, and then, in my usual “can’t let anything go without beating it to death” style, I brought it up again while the family was together at our celebration dinner.
“Do any of you remember a book called Miss Rumphius…I read it to you when you were little?” I asked. “It was the book about the Lupine Lady.”
“Uh, no…don’t think so, mom– it wasn’t me,” said my oldest daughter, who happens to travel the world for a living. But it was her– most definitely.
“Nope,” said my son, the one who is in the medical marijuana business, “I don’t remember that one, mom.” But it was so him, too. I now wonder how we never sidetracked into the discussion of whether he was already making the world more beautiful–or at least seem more beautiful.
“Sort of,” the youngest, the graduate, chimed in. “That sounds a little familiar…but not really.”
I was pretty stunned. I must have read that book out loud a hundred times. How could they not remember the Lupine Lady?
I wondered if somehow the lessons of picture books we read our children become magically engrained in the back of their minds, even if they don’t remember the book at all. Or are these lessons simply forgotten?
I wasn’t leaving anything to chance. I told them all about the book again.
It was my graduation “lesson”– my words of wisdom to the youngest as she goes forth in life. In a nutshell: you are a really smart, intense kid. You have a great, intense job. Please don’t forget to do something to make the world a better place.
My beautiful graduate, however, never gives up an opportunity to challenge me- even if it is on my choice of shoe. Actually, especially if it is my choice of shoe.
She looked me right in the eye: “Well, what have you done, mom?”
I could have said that I had produced three fabulous children who are going to do wonderful things in the world, but that would have been a pretty big cop out. And with a cancer diagnosis, the graduation of my last child from college, and a 35th college reunion all in the last few weeks, I’m beginning to think I better get to it.
So, I answered with the truth: “I’m still working on it.”
These things don’t need to get done tomorrow, after all.