Why ‘Little Bear’ Made Me Burst Into TearsBy GRETCHEN RUBIN
“What kind of story would you like to hear?” said Mother Bear.
“Tell me about me,” said Little Bear. “Tell me about things I once did.”
–Else Holmelund Minarik, “Little Bear”
I’m not a particularly sentimental parent. In fact, I’ve sometimes felt guilty about my lack of emotional response to preschool graduation or a first haircut — so I was astonished to find myself weeping as I read these lines from “Little Bear” to my daughter.
What was it about this particular passage that pierced me to the heart?
Well, the utter trust, for one thing, and the unselfconscious self-centeredness of childhood. “Tell me about me.” As adults, we don’t get to ask for that kind of attention, no matter how much we’d like it (just for 5 or 10 minutes, of course).
But what really got me was the reminder about the passage of time. Little Bear is still Little, but already, he’s bigger than he was. So much is already past: his unnecessary attempt to dress warmly for the snow, his trip to the moon, his sixth birthday party. Childhood passes so quickly. In my own mind, I summarize this bittersweet truth: the days are long, but the years are short.
Little Bear asks his mother to tell him about himself. As parents, we play an important role in shaping and preserving our children’s memories of their own brief history. One of my happiness-project resolutions is to “be a storehouse of happy memories,” because remembering happy times in the past is an important way to boost happiness in the present, and children need parents’ help to sustain happy memories.
The responsibility to be the custodian of the art projects, class portraits and endless anecdotes about The Time You Got Locked in the Bathroom and The Time You Threw Up on the Way to the Airport can feel burdensome, but it’s an important obligation. Even though I almost suffered a nervous collapse when I finally buckled down to organize my enormous cache of photos into albums, I know that such records are a key way that my daughters and my husband and I hang on to memories.
We need the pictures and, like Little Bear, the stories, to show us the “things we once did.” It’s more comfortable not to be reminded that time is passing, but it’s also comforting to remember that those not-so-long-ago things remain a part of who we are now.
Watch Gretchen and KJ talk “Little Bear” and other picture books in their video introduction to the series here.