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by Susan Knudten
I bet my neighbors hated bedtime in the summer. Like a lot of parents, I used to read to my son Jack every night when he was little. We tended to gravitate toward goofy books, like Here Come the Aliens, because they allowed me to use my full range of nutty voices.
“Eee worrama lyke,” I’d shriek. (Not just for the hell of it. Those words actually appear in the book.)
“Ging…gang…goolie,” I’d bellow.
“Inkey pinkey el-l-lakmar!” I’d scream, my diaphragm engaging on full to ping the “LAK!” from ceiling to floor, out our open window, and into our neighbors’ homes. (You’re welcome, Lori, Patty, Jeff and Katie.)
The joy of lying next to my little boy, listening to him giggle, soaking up his squishy kid-warmth, watching his eyes move from word to word as he learned how to follow along, then how to predict the last word of a sentence, then how to read—well, it is and will always be some of the sweetest hours of my life.
But there were days when Aliens was not welcome. Like when Andy got to school first and therefore had control of the only silver Lego in the plastic tub all day long. Or when Mackenzie kicked Jack on the shin during soccer, NOT on his shin guard. Or when his dad went away for a few months to deal with personal issues and all Jack really understood was that he was sad. Those were the days when we ditched the regular trip to outer space in favor of a Voyage to the Bunny Planet.
This three-book box set by Rosemary Wells was medicine. In each of the tales, something happened that made a young bunny’s day cruddy: an unpleasant visit with rowdy relatives, a discouraging day at school, getting sick and having to get a shot at the doctor’s. You know, horrible stuff.
In each case, a warm and loving Bunny Queen, Janet, would swoop in to take the bucktoothed protagonist away to somewhere better—the Bunny Planet, where there was time for lolling about in a mossy forest, or being treated to the finest tomato soup mom knew how to make, or hanging out with pop in a cozy lighthouse while a storm raged outside.
“Here’s the day that should have been,” Janet would say in each book. That line always choked me up—just the simple reminder that bad days weren’t permanent. Janet knew the deal.
Now some might think it was convenience that drove the author to name her queen Janet. Planet…planet…hmm…Janet! Done. But I know better. Wells didn’t choose Esmerelda or some other high falutin’ name. The queen was Janet because her solution to a bad day didn’t involve magical powers or a complete change of life circumstance. Ordinary things were what could turn a day around. Like a walk in nature, a little TLC from Mom, or some quality time with Dad.
We read those books over and over. And over. Then my son got older, as sons are wont to do, and other books came along—harder books with fancier words and dystopian plots and characters who weren’t so sure life could be better. Our bunnies were first pushed to the side of the bookshelf, then to the back. I never forgot about them, though.
Jack is a junior in college now. He’s just up the road in Boulder, so I’ve been able to see him every week or two for the last few years. But he’s going to be studying abroad next semester, and I’m not going to see him for more than four months. I know, I know…it will be a fantastic experience and there’s nothing I want more for him than to grow and see more of the world. But I also know I’m going to miss him like crazy.
So on January 6, when he heads to Spain, this is what I’ll be doing before I go to sleep: I’ll lie on his bed and call my doggie up beside me because she’s just about as long and warm and silly as he used to be. And I’ll grab those three little books. And I’ll read them through my tears to remind me of those sweet times we shared, and for the reminder that this too shall pass.
See you soon, Janet.
This post is part of our annual Lit Matters series, in which writers and readers express why supporting and elevating literary arts—the mission of Lighthouse Writers Workshop— is important to them. If you agree, consider supporting Lighthouse on Colorado Gives Day. Mark your calendar for December 8 or schedule your gift now. Thank you!
A freelance writer and performer, Book Project member Susan Knudten is also one-half of The Novelistas, a comedy duo offering original shows, workshops, practical jokes, and coaching in performance skills for writers and others. The Novelistas will be teaching a workshop on Improv for Writers at Lighthouse on January 9, 2016—registration coming soon.