The Rat Book

January 21, 2009

They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

At this point, many of you readers have been with me for a couple of months now, and I haven’t shared too many personal stories with you. You may at this point be wondering, ‘Just what is Matt’s deal? What did his mother do to him?’ Either that, or you’re wondering, ‘How does he do it? Where does all this brilliance come from?’

Honestly, I’ve been wondering the same things. Both of them.

Then the other day I was digging through some old boxes which I was required to get out of my parents’ basement. Parents sure like to keep a bunch of stuff from their children’s growing up years, just to inconvenience them with it later. Makes me think of that legend about child-Jesus where he’s sculpting those clay birds. (This one isn’t in the Bible, but it is an actual written legend. It was written by some dude who wasn’t supposed to be writing a Bible. He got on Orpah’s book club, but then his memoir, er, Bible was revealed to be a big phony bunch of lies.)

I picture Mary thinking those little clay birds are so precious, she just has to pack them up in newspaper and stick them in the basement for 20 years so Jesus has to deal with them when he’s got a basement of his own. Well Jesus knows he’s not going to be able to pack up a bunch of childhood art work and junk when he’s grown up. His buddy Peter has a pretty sweet house and even has his own room and TV, but it isn’t very big, so Jesus knows when he moves in over there, he’s got to pack light. So he sneaks the birds out of the house and turns them into real birds. And while Mary is standing there, brokenhearted as the birds fly away, Jesus goes in the house and finds the clay handprint he made last summer in VBS and turns it into a real hand. Mary makes him throw that away. That’ll teach mom to be so sentimental!

So I was trying to decide what useless junk to pitch and what to keep so as to inconvenience my children with it when I am gone and they are cleaning up after me. As my wife looked on, I came upon something unexpected: a stack of very sweet cards and letters which my first babysitter had written to me. Some of them included hand drawn pictures. There were a few of the letters which were written from college after the girl had moved away. Today, I remember this person’s existence and that my brother and I were very attached to her. But I have not solid memory of her or even what she looks like. I had tears in my eyes, attempting to comprehend how someone I do not even know could have cared for me so much.

The next item to be pulled out of the box was a few plain white sheets of paper, stapled together to fashion a book. The text on the pages was written unmistakably in my mother’s hand. She has very neat handwriting, being a teacher. She quit teaching for several years when I was born and I give her all the credit for the fact that I was reading at a very early age. She was a very loving and patient teacher to me and my brother.

The book she had written was titled, “The Rat Book.”

Though I had not read these pages in well over 20 years, I suddenly remembered The Rat Book, and could have recited all of its words by heart without looking at a single page.

The Rat Book had all the qualities of a classic children’s book. It employed simple words, repetition, and familiar and approachable characters. It was about myself, my brother Aaron, my Dad and Mom. With my wife looking on, I read the book, which took about 30 seconds with my reading abilities today, improved slightly over two-year-old Matthew. It only had two sentences on each page. It read thus:

The Rat Book
by: Mom

Is Dad a rat?
Yes, Dad is a rat.

Is Aaron a rat?
Yes, Aaron is a rat.

Is Matthew a rat?
Yes, Matthew is a rat.

Is Mom a rat?
No, Mom is not a rat.

Suddenly, upon reading these words, a rush of memories came to mind, and suddenly the path I took to become the person I am today was not so hazy.

Here’s to mothers teaching their children who they love how to read. What unique or memorable parenting techniques did your mother use on you?