Friday, September 28, 2007

Empathy... at age two?

A most surprising thing happened last night, during Tucker's bedtime routine.

Tucker and I read a bedtime book each night as he climbs into bed, and last night he chose the such a sweet story: Love You Forever. He is just beginning to enjoy stories (rather than board books without a plot), and last night was the first time he chose this particular book. I had not read this one to him before, although it's one of my favorites.

If you haven't read the book, here's the basic premise: the story begins with a young mom and her baby boy, and she is rocking him to sleep as she sings,

I love you forever,
I'll like you for always.
As long as I'm living,
My baby you'll be.

The story follows the boy through all the stages of his life - at age two, age nine, a teenager, and a married man, and his mother sings that song to him again and again. Finally, at the end of the story, the mother talks to her son on the phone, and she tries to sing the song to him once more, but she is too old and sick to finish it. Her son gets in his car, drives across town, and sings to his mother,

I love you forever,
I'll like you for always.
As long as I'm living,
My mother you'll be.

Then he gets back in his car, drives back to his home, and sings the song to his own little girl, "As long as I'm living, my baby you'll be."

It's a very sweet story about the passage of time and the bond between parent and child. I knew I would enjoy reading it to my sons. I like singing that song to them, and I expected that it would be special to read the story to them, even before they can understand the bigger meaning in the story.

So here's the surprising part:

Tucker cried.

When I got to the part where the mother is an old woman, and we looked at the picture of the grandma and her son, he whimpered, his eyes filled with tears, and one fell right down his cheek. He cried.

I thought for sure he was crying for another reason - perhaps something was hurting him inside his jammies, or maybe he didn't want to go to bed yet. But I know his cries, and this was a sad cry. When we finished the book, he signed more, asking me to read the book again.

He listened again as I read the story, and again when we got to the part about the sick, old woman, he cried.

We finished the book, and again he signed more, asking to hear it one more time. Normally I wouldn't agree to a third bedtime story, but I just had to test my theory: was he really crying over the sad part in the story?

Sure enough, the same thing happened the third time through the book. My two-year-old son cried, at exactly the same spot.

I couldn't put him to bed on such a sad note, so we finished up with a happier story... it was a literary marathon in his bedroom, by the time we were finished.

I am still really astounded by this experience with Tucker... is this really empathy? Is he truly sad on behalf of characters in a story, even though he just turned two? I think so. I read the story three times, with the same result each time.

Could this be a glimpse of the boy and man he will become: tenderhearted, empathetic, sweet spirited?

It was truly something to watch, and an even greater something to learn.

1 comment:

my3boys said...

Ok, a little similar story: Andrew was about 2 1/2 (maybe) when he used to sing along in the car to the song about the little ducks. "Five little ducks went out one day, over the hills and far away. Mother duck says,'Quack, quack, quack, quack!' But only four little duckies came back." The song goes on until no ducks come back and Mother duck gets really mad, quacks like she means it this time and they all come back. Since he could really sing the words, I wondered if he understood what it meant. So I sat at the computer one day with him on my lap and I put up some pictures of a big yellow duckie and 5 smaller ones. We sang the song together and as we sang, I would erase one duck per verse. When we got to the point of the sad mother duck all by herself, Andrew had diminished to a puddle of tears and wimpering and I realized that, no, he hadn't been understanding it. I finished by putting all of the ducks back with the Mother on the screen as we sang the last verse and he was happier, but still was distraught over the meaning of his favorite song. Am I a bad Mama for forcing reality on him at such a young age? I didn't mean to traumatize the poor child. Oh well...6 years later he doesn't seem any worse for the wear. :) Dana