Summer Reading: Nurses and Nannies

There were times, when my children were small, when I used to gaze at  the homes of my friends sans infants with wonder. Order and harmony prevailed. At no time was this more evident than in the summer. While my home was strewn with wet bathing suits, dirt on the floors, toys in every possible location, dishes in the sink and laundry piled in the basement, their homes exuded a sense of peace and quiet. I could actually hear the silence. However, now as an older Mom, I miss the crazy days and am longing for grandchildren. Life has its stages and each one is to be treasured.

Summers required a special kind of strategy, as we tended to be out of routine and the sun shown late into the evening hours. Before the last day of school arrived, I had my arsenal devised. Swimming lessons were a must, a survival activity, and now, even in their twenties, several of my offspring can hardly be persuaded to get out of the water.

Crafts also filled up many happy hours. One summer, the kids did a messy outdoor craft , which drew  young neighbours to join in.  On another occasion, we took the kids to a Picasso exhibit in Ottawa and then drew pictures “Picasso style.” The children found their own amusements, of course, and not always to my liking. An assortment of snakes and frogs, recruited by my son, found their way to our home. One day, while I was absentmindedly dusting our long coffee table, I found a toad at one end of it.

Summer was also a particularly good time to read chapter books. When our children ranged in age from one to twelve,  we gathered in the evenings to read Nurse Matilda (1964) by  Christianna Brand . This hilarious story of the antics of seven  unruly  children was turned into a movie in 2005, called Nanny McPhee. However, we first knew her as Nurse Matilda, an iron willed lady who with the aid of her handy and extraordinary staff, subdues  the children, wins their affection, and assists in averting several  disasters. In the way of all magical caretakers,  Nurse Matilda disappears at the end of the story, but not before the family is settled in a happily ever after fashion.

Another book which has its place of fame in our family is The Old Nurse’s Stocking Basket (1931) by Eleanor Farjeon. My youngest daughter, Susanna (in her late teens now), and I still read the stories out loud to each other. “‘Children,’ said the Old Nurse, ‘stop quarreling, or you know what.’” This gentle threat was sufficient because “you know what” meant there would be no bedtime story. The Old Nurse’s method of story telling is unique. While she narrates her poignant and fanciful tales, she mends the children’s stockings. A little hole means a short story and a big whole means a long one. It isn’t hard to guess which type the children like best. Susanna and I especially love the very last tale, The Sea-Baby, a haunting story of childhood and the realization that  growing up may involve letting  something precious pursue its own destiny.

Keep cool and safe and enjoy these hectic but memorable summer months. Tell me about some of your favourite children’s books!

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