Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Relatives Came

The Relatives Came By Cynthia Rylant and Stephen Gammell.
All Ages

In the past three years, my parents have visited us twice, staying with us for six months each time. My mother-in-law visited us twice, staying with us for six months during the first visit and for one month in the second visit. My aunt has visited us twice, staying with us for one month during each of her visits. All the visits were well-intended visits by grand parents and grand aunts to spend quality time with the children. During all these visits, the kids had a royal blast. They run to the my grand aunt whenever their evil mother is behind them with a glass of milk. They love bathing with my mother, go for long walks with my father and sit and recite songs with my mother-in-law. They love to curl with my parents or mother-in-law on lazy afternoons and sleep for an extra half-an-hour. They love it that they have a fresh, tasty, healthy snack waiting for them after their siesta. When you are in a situation in which you care for a child that you have not given birth to, you tend to be relaxed! This relaxed attitude is not spelt out in definite words but yet the children catch it and tune in to it.

But when it is time to say good bye, it is hard for both the relative and the child. The adult grieves that by the next visit the children would have grown up a little bit. They can’t bear to think of the things they will miss – the first step, the first word, the softness of their skin, the way they smell etc. They are unsure if the children will remember them and if they will bond again when they meet the next time.

Well…for the children….it is even more difficult. They experience the same uncertainties, insecurities, turmoil, but the worst part, they don’t have words to express their emotions. For the next month or so, the younger one is surprised that I am the only person who answers her cries. She tries crying a tad more and louder hoping against hope that may be grand mom/dad are sleeping and her cry will wake them. She is confused why she is not lifted and being fussed over for every single call for attention. The elder one, as soon as she is back from school, expects the door to open and a smiling face to pop out. Her face brightens the minute she sees idlis on her plate, she cries out in joy, ‘Idli!!! S patti where are you?’, thinking that my mom had come back and has started making her famous idlis. The anger comes cold, raw, powerful and real when the respective grand parents have reached India and we talk to them over the phone. My elder child refuses to talk to the ‘deserters’ and the younger one starts wailing when she hears their voice. All this despite of all the adults preparing the children and for the imminent good bye!

But life goes on…. teaching invaluable lessons of, ‘Each in their place’, ‘What happened, happened for the good and what is happening is also for the good’, ‘Out of sight is not out of mind’, …..oh, I could go on and on…

This is the crux of the Caldecott honor book, The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant. I wish I could quote every line in the book or scan every single picture and upload it…every word and every picture struck a chord in me. I am exercising immense self control and quoting a few lines as and when appropriate!

In this book, it is the time of summer vacation and the relatives come to visit from Virginia. They close down their house in Virginia, load their suitcases in their station wagon and leave in the wee hours of the morning. They drive all day long and all night long, thinking about both their closed down house in Virginia and the relatives they are going to meet at the end of the drive. When the relatives finally arrive there is much rejoicing, there are hugs and hugs and hugs.

The relatives just passed us all around their car, pulling us against their wrinkled Virginia clothes, crying sometimes.


You’d have to go through at least four different hugs to get from the kitchen to the front room. Those relatives!

Then comes the sleeping time. The illustration shows a huge bunch of people scattered all over, some on beds, some on the floor, some squeezed with hands and legs over the person next to them…..for some reason, the image it brought to my mind was my grand mother’s old village house-summer vacation time-whole family clustered in the hall-sleeping on make shift beds. And the author rightly puts it in to the words,

It was different, going to sleep with all that new breathing in the house.

When the vacation is over, the relatives load their station wagon and drive back to Virginia. After waving bye to the relatives, the family crawls back in to their beds, which now feels too big and too quite and goes back to sleep.

Whenever I read the book, I take poetic license and read to suit our context. One of the characters is picked to be grand mom or grand dad. I tell them that they can only visit us, but eventually they have to go back to ‘THEIR HOME’, so on and so forth. Message is being well received and the book has now been successfully renamed as ‘Thatha Patti book’. :)


Sheela said...

Awww... this brought back memories of my childhood sumer vacations when we cousins would all huddle in the open terrace and sleep sprawled out till the morning sun pierced us through the thin cotton bedsheets we'd pull over our heads :)

And, how lucky for your kids that their grandparents and grandaunts are frequently visiting and sharing their lives!

interesting pick - i should try to check it out from the library soon...

Meera Sriram said...

A wonderful subject to talk about and relive, with children. I liked the picture on the cover of the book. One of the books in the first bunch that I ever bought my daughter was "Going to grandma's" and she still loves it....

Praba Ram said...

Neat subject. Will check it out. thanks!

Oh yes, I've been there... Well - now thanks to grandparents visiting them from India, my girls are having a ball - fun to watch and hear them giggle when thatha takes them on that magic carpet ride each morning by simply dragging a cotton bedsheet the entire length of the room with K and S sitting right in the middle of it..and the art/craft sessions with paati..well - when it's time to leave - sigh...dont think I want to think about it now...:-(

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