Every other Thursday evening, I bring Jessica to the library so we can listen to the storyteller. Miss Linda is a gentle woman of late middle age, with the quietly expressive voice of an experienced kindergarten teacher. Though all of the other children who come to listen are much younger, Jessica doesn’t seem to notice or to mind that she is seven or ten years older than they.
We first began coming to story time this summer when a friend of mine put on a program in the library conference room. Coincidentally, story time started shortly after we talked with my friend and Jessica was curious, so we stayed to listen. I was surprised at Jessica’s fascination with story time. I didn’t quite understand why.
The picture books Miss Linda reads from are well below Jessica’s level of ability and interest, and she’s a competent, if not age-level, reader on her own. We’re reading Harry Potter together, and we’re in the middle of Book Three, and I didn’t see how these quaint, simple stories could measure up to the Dementors and the Hippogriffs and the adventures of three wizard friends.
I still don’t see. But there is a lot I don’t understand about my daughter, and some things I just take on faith. This is important to her, so we sit together on the red-and-yellow bench every other Thursday evening, and she leans her head against my shoulder and she watches the children on the carpet in front of us, all listening to Miss Linda as she tells her stories.
Story time always centers around a theme, and there’s a simple craft afterward. One week the theme is pets, and the children glue spots to already cut-out paper dogs. One week it’s stories about the seasons, and the children glue pictures of snow and sun to paper plates.
Jessica always joins in, and the small children always move aside to give her a place at the table, and no one ever says anything or gives her a second look. Maybe they understand her better than I do.
Every time, we thank Miss Linda for her stories, and Jessica shows her what she has made, and Miss Linda admires it, and says she is glad we came, and then we go home.
We don’t ever talk about story time, except on Thursday afternoons when Jessica asks if there will be one tonight.
I don’t know why we go: I hardly ever know what Jessica is thinking, or how she experiences the world. I cannot count how many times I have stood there, looking helplessly at her, trying to figure out what she wants, or what she sees, or what she needs, and not succeeding. Sometimes all I can do is what she asks, even when why is a mystery to us both.
Tonight, when Miss Linda tells a story about how all the animals at the zoo have come to visit a little girl’s house, Jessica listens with a small smile on her lips, her head on my shoulder. I wonder what she is thinking.
Afterwards, we walk down the narrow sidewalk to where I’ve parked the car. Jessica holds her paper windsock in her hand, carefully inspecting it to make sure all of the leaves are securely adhered.
A small mammal darts across my path, and I stumble, and she says, “What’re you doing, Mom?”
“What was that thing?” I ask, thinking squirrel, but worried that it may be a stray cat or dog needing attention.
“It was probably a monkey,” she says serenely, and gets into the car.
I stop, breathless, remembering vividly and at once that world, where monkeys swing from the oak tree in front of the library, startling the patrons. For a moment, I understand my daughter wholly and completely. When we go to the library, she can be five years old again, and this time she is doing it the way other five year olds get to, with story time, and a simple craft at the end. Now that she can understand the stories, now that she can make the crafts with her own hands.
Here, tonight, for just this little while, we are characters in a storybook, Mom and Miss Jessica, bold drawings on a brightly colored page, where anything can happen, no matter how implausible, and quite likely will.