Without hesitation, when strangers meet my family for the first time, or when we reconnect with relatives we haven’t seen in awhile, everyone says, “Wow! Katy looks just like her Dad!”
It’s true my daughter resembles my husband, or at least his side of the family, more than she resembles me, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t watched, gleefully I confess, as she grows older and in some ways is me, in behavior at least, if not appearance.
For example, for the last few nights we have been formally invited to come to her shows in the living room. She dims the lights, collects our tickets, turns on her CD player and then leaps, twirls and sweeps across the carpet. Her serious expression is in stark contrast to her younger brother’s (who she has invited on stage) goofy grin as he runs, giddily, in circles and squeals. My daughter is in the moment. Lost in the emotion of the music and her performance.
On my wedding day, I danced with my Dad to Tchaikovsky’s “Marche Slave,” the classical piece of choice for my living rooms shows when I was a little girl. As I watch my daughter I try to imagine my parents watching me. And last Sunday night, we all got to watch my daughter, together.
There are other ways that I see myself in Katy. She is incredibly strong-willed. She likes to make up stories. She loves to work in the garden and tend to the chickens.
And yesterday, on a rainy afternoon while Will napped we curled up on the couch and read a book I’d brought home from the library that morning. “I love this book,” she said. I did, too.
Feeding the Sheep by Leda Schubert, illustrated by Andrea U’Ren (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2010) is a simple but heartfelt story that invites us to “follow the journey from sheep to sweater.”
There are only two human characters: mother and daughter, and a trio of animals: the sheep, a dog and a cat.
It begins: “‘What are you doing?’ the little girl asked. ‘Feeding the sheep,’ her mother said. Snowy day, corn and hay.”
On this first spread it is winter, and the snow falls peacefully around the sheep’s shed as the mother fluffs hay in the feeder and the little girl makes a snowball.
On the next spread it is early spring. “‘What are you doing?’ the little girl asked. ‘Shearing the wool,’ her mother said. Soft and deep, sheepy heap.”
And the next spread…
“‘What are you doing?’ the little girl asked. ‘Washing the wool,’ her mother said. Soap and steam, fleecy clean.”
Patterns emerge. In text, on every spread, the little girl asks the mother a question. The mother answers. The scene ends with a rhyme.
In each illustration, it becomes clear that the little girl is in some way mirroring her mother. For example, as her mother washes wool, the little girl is washing her dog. When her mother later dyes the wool and raises stained hands, the little girl raises her hands, covered with paint.
And just in case the reader hasn’t yet felt the deep sentiment conveyed through word and picture on each page, about three-fourths of the way through there is page with no words. The little girl has fallen asleep on a chair. Her mother takes a break from the spinning wheel and smiles over her daughter.
Pause. Notice. Take it all in.
Near the end of the book: “‘What are you doing?’ the little girl asked. ‘Keeping you warm,’ her mother said. Sweater snug, woolly hug.”
From sheep to sweater—the mother has made her daughter something warm to wear. And it’s blue! (How did they know this is Katy’s favorite color?) The illustration of the hug is intimate. As I look at the little girl’s fingers twining through her mother’s hair I can feel my children doing the same to mine.
The sweater was ready just in time. On the last page, snowflakes are once again starting to fall.
The cycle begins again. Only this time:
“‘What are you doing?’ the mother asked. ‘Feeding the sheep,’ her little girl said.”
And so it goes.
And so my daughter dances.
As I finished reading the book aloud for the second time I could barely keep my eyes open. The rain fell gently outside; the dog was curled in a ball at the end of the couch.
“I just have to close my eyes for one second,” I said.
As I drifted to sleep I could hear Katy tinkering, playing, but when I awoke all was quiet.
She has fallen asleep on the floor in the middle of the “tent” she and her brother had built that morning.
I smiled over her.
I paused. I noticed. I took it all in.