For years now, I’ve been reading my boys Carry Me Mama by Monica Devine. I’ve always liked it for it’s beautiful illustrations (by Pauline Paquin), simple storyline and depiction of Inuit culture. Recently, however, I’ve come to appreciate it for another reason– the eponymous “Mama” is such a clear example of good parenting. By “good” I mean warm and firm, strong and loving; the pairs of words that are the bedrocks of discipline. And by discipline I mean good guidance, benevolent leadership, without any of the baggage lots of us (myself definitely included!) have associated with this word.
Carry Me Mama begins by recounting how, when Katie was a little girl, her mother would carry her everywhere (accompanied by a beautiful illustration of Mama, in a big parka, carrying Katie on her back). The story continues with Katie and Mama going to visit Aunt Nina and Mama telling Katie that she will walk today. Katie walks a bit and then asks for Mama to carry her (can we all relate? I think so!); Mama, however, stands in her knowing that Katie can do this walk — she is not asking her to do more than she can handle (a key point when asking our children to take on more).
As the story continues, Mama and Katie walk longer and longer distances together, with Katie always asking to be carried and Mama always calmly (wordlessly) declines (“Mama paid her no mind”) while staying close, staying true and pointing out natural landmarks for Katie to focus on. As the seasons change, Katie becomes more confident and proud of her ability to walk long distances and, towards the end of the book, she even requests a long walk to visit her grandfather’s fishing camp.
On the last page, at home after the long walk back from the fishing camp, Katie requests “Carry me, Mama,”, and Mama, of course, does. Which brings home the point that Mama’s not-carrying was never about a lack of love or connection or tenderness, on the contrary, it was about deep love and the skillful support of her daughter’s growing abilities. The book ends with Mama lovingly carrying Katie to bed, where Katie, proud and tired, goes right to sleep.
Everytime I read this book, I feel inspired by the gentle strength of “Mama”.