My Mom Read My Daughters A Feminist Picture Book But I’m The One Who Walked Away With Critical Lessons

credit: Courtesy of Vanessa Nielsen

“Mimi, vamos a leer este libro,” my three-year-old tells my mom, handing her a picture book.

I watch as my mom gathers my kids around her, mama-hen style, and sits on the floor to read.

You know that stage in your life where you realize that your mom was right about everything (or at least most things)? That’s where I’m at. I’m always learning from my mom, both by her example and by thinking about the things I have the privilege to do differently.

Right now, my mother, with a children’s book in her hand, is unknowingly teaching me a lesson: to be a mom who plays.

The book my daughter chose is called “Daniela Pirata,” and it’s about a little girl who dreams of being a pirate. The ship’s captain, however, isn’t really into the idea of letting a girl pirate join his all-male crew. It’s one of my favorite picture books, and my girls love it, too.

“Niña, ¿eres fuerte?” my mom reads. A brief pause, and then she looks up at me. “¡Que bonito libro, mija!” she says.

Later, I realize the reading has stopped again while my mom watches, smiling, my toddler absently give the baby a head rub. It’s kind of rough, but I guess it’s the thought that counts.

I notice my mom has just taught me lesson No. 2: Pause to appreciate motherhood’s small, but significant, moments of great beauty.

Motherhood is full of less-than-awesome moments; I know this isn’t news. And perhaps that makes the small beauties even more poignant, because you know so well their opposite.

So on the days when we wake up feeling raw and spent after a sleepless night with a sick kid, or when anxiety over what’s next career-wise (and, for that matter, when next is) knots our stomach, or when we feel like the week’s small slights and emotional bruises have rendered us paper thin, we can still find so much joy in the small beauties. They’re there.

My train of thought on this serious matter is interrupted when I realize that the baby, true to form, rather than looking at the pictures in the book is sitting on top of it while also trying to rip the page out and stuff it in her mouth.

Everyone tells you that the worst thing you can do to your kids is compare them to each other, so every time I remember longingly how calm and easygoing her sister was as a baby, I try to stop the thought in its tracks.

My toddler is experiencing serious stress at the sight of her sister about to rip up the book, but my mom just laughs. A few seconds later, baby has been gently moved off the book, given a toy to play with, and the reading has resumed.

My mom glances up at me with a laugh in her eyes, and I know she’s amused by my girl’s feisty, mischievous personality.

Here is lesson No. 3: celebrate your kids for who they are.

We’re nearing the end of the story, and my mom reads the part where the captain tells Daniela that even though she has passed every test he’s given her, she still can’t be a pirate because only boys can be pirates. The baby, tired of the toy and ready for a nap, is trying to climb on to my mom’s lap, where my oldest daughter is sitting.

My mom subtly shifts my oldest and makes room for both girls as she reads how the ship’s crew banishes the captain from the pirate ship (for unfair leadership) and makes Daniela their captain instead.

Watching them, my mom with my two daughters on her lap, I remember what she told me when I was pregnant with baby No. 2. Tired, and worried about whether there would be enough of me to go around for two little ones, my partner and my professional responsibilities, I sought her advice.

“Mijita, el amor se multiplica, no se divide,” or love multiplies; it doesn’t divide. Laps and hearts expand; there’s enough love for everyone. This is probably the most important lesson.

With the book finished, my girls get up to go do something else.

“You know, we didn’t have books like this when you guys were little,” my mom tells me, a little wistfully.

Maybe not.

But I’ll never read one of the beautiful picture books we own now without thinking of this small moment, the snapshot in my mind of my mom and my babies in the afternoon sun reading, while I stand back and learn every important thing about motherhood there is to know.

Read: My Immigrant Parents Sacrificed So Much For My Success That I Felt Guilty When I Decided To Be A Stay-At-Home Mom

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