I spent some time studying Grace's bookshelves this week, trying to decide just which book to write about in this month's column.
It's no secret that Grace loves when we read to her, so she has quite the collection. Books of every shape and size grace her shelves, and right now, some of her favorites are board books that she can turn the pages.
Some weeks, we shuffle through a variety of books each night before bed, and other times, we read the same favorites over and over and over again. For the most part, Grace is content to lay next to you and just enjoy the story.
As I looked through a stack of books waiting to be put back on her bookshelves, I found one called "The Lion and the Little Red Bird," both written and illustrated by Elisa Kleven, who lives in California.
This book is one given to Grace before she was even born by a former copy editor at the newspaper, Betsy Fingerle. Just before Grace arrived, she and her family moved out of state, but she gave Grace a gift of several books that were always favorites of her children. I had never come across any of these titles before, but they are all fabulous, and have been read over and over and over again.
In this particular story, a red bird happens upon a lion with a bushy green tail, as green as the forest.
The bird is intrigued, and just looking at the bright green tail makes her very happy. Determined to find out what makes the lion's tail so green, the bird follows him and asks, but the lion doesn't understand the bird's language.
He simply hears chirping, and smiles at the bird, enjoying its company. Throughout the day, the bird follows the lion, as it wanders down to a field of orange flowers, chases butterflies and ends up home at his cave for the night.
The bird wanted to see the lion's green tail again, so she made herself a bed in a tree nearby, waiting for the lion to emerge from his cave. However, in the morning, the lion's tail isn't green anymore, it's orange. And once again the bird is intrigued. She asks him how his tail changed from green to orange, but the lion simply smiles.
For several days this continues, as the lion's tail changes to blue and to red, and the bird continues to follow the lion and asks the same question every day. "The lion just smiled, thinking how much he liked the chirping bird's company."
One day, the lion steps on a thorn, and the bird helps him pull it out. Another night, a storm comes, and the lion comes out of his cave to rescue the bird in its nest and bring him into the warm and cozy cave.
Once inside the cave, the bird discovers that the lion has painted pictures on the walls of his cave, using his tail in a variety of colors. That night, he dipped his tail into a bowl of shiny red berry juice and painted a picture of the bird.
"The bird sang while the lion painted. She sang a song without any questions, full of color and joy. The lion had never heard anything so unusual and so pretty. Just listening made him happy."
So often, we let our differences come between us. We think that just because we can't communicate with someone, it means we can't get to know them. The best part of this story is that the two main characters embrace their difference and learn to be there for each other in good times and in bad times, no matter their differences.
Some days it's hard as parents of a non-verbal child. Grace can't tell me what she wants or what she needs. She can't tell me what she wants to eat for lunch or even what shirt she wants to wear. However, she can show me when she's happy, and believe me, she finds a way to let me know when she's unhappy.
It's that same smile that communicates Grace's love for us and for those she meets. We may not all speak the same language or share the same religious beliefs, but we can all get behind the common language of kindness and compassion, and above all, loving one another. I may never get to hear Grace say, "I love you, mommy," but when her blue eyes light up her face with the biggest smile you've ever seen, I already know.
If we can all find kindness like the lion and the little red bird, well, the world would certainly be a happier place.