Bedtime was an elaborate affair back then (particularly when it was my night; I was a softer touch than Charles on the matter of lights out). Ariel would arrange and rearrange his stuffed animals at the head of his bed, giving prime placement to the current favorites, before sliding himself under the covers in the small space he had left for himself. I’d sit on the edge of the bed beside the menagerie and read a story, maybe sing a little song, and then I’d ask: “What was your favorite part of the day?”
Our little boy would scrunch his nose and look off for a few seconds until a memory jumped out. These were simple moments, because he was a small child, and that is the nature of special times. It might have been building a fort with Lincoln Logs, or playing with his cat Rex or his friend Jeffrey, or eating French fries with me at the old Woolworth’s downtown.
“And what was your least favorite?” I’d ask, to which he’d reply, as if he hadn’t asked this many times before, “What does ‘least’ mean?” This, too, was part of the ritual. He knew that the more we talked, the longer it would be until I turned out the light and left his room.
Stretching out bedtime was, no doubt, Ariel’s favorite part of Favorite and Least. For me it was about taking a pause at the end of the day to note the moments we particularly appreciated, and those we wished had gone differently. I suppose it was a subtle form of bedtime prayer.
I hadn’t thought about Favorite and Least for years until early in the summer when Jone Hallmark suggested homemade books as her Kids’ Page project for this issue. She proposed calling these “smile books,” with instructions for a child tell his parent something that made him smile that day, which the parent would then write in the book. (We decided to keep the book open-ended, for you to use as you wish, but her idea roused a few old memories.)
Ariel is 24 now, in grad school down in Albuquerque. I asked him recently if he remembered Favorite and Least.
“No, I don’t remember that particular game” — as he called it — “but I vividly remember the game of trying to keep you from leaving the room. I even have a mental picture of it. I was in my old bedroom, in my old bed with like 20 million stuffed animals around me, seeing you in the doorway about to turn off the light and trying to think of ways to keep you from leaving the room.”
I laughed, remembering some of his delay tactics. One of his most effective was saying in a plaintive voice, “I’m worried about ‘ever.’” This was his version of the word “forever,” a word he had heard in the context of the afterlife, and the concept scared him. No matter how much fun he might experience in the Hereafter, the thought of doing it forever gave him the whim-whams.
“Plus you knew it was a good Mommy-hook,” I chided him, “because you knew I wasn’t the type of mom to say ‘Look kid, we’re all gonna die. Go to sleep!’”
He laughed. “I guess Favorite and Least was a little like a prayer,” he said, “because it was a way of saying ‘thanks,’ and ‘it was worth it.’” Putting a little spotlight on our best parts of the day makes the hard or boring parts seem valuable, too, he explained.
Articles in this issue will no doubt invite you to be more attuned to your own Favorites and Leasts. Victor LaCerva, co-founder of the New Mexico Men’s Wellness movement, invites dads to direct their awareness and make deliberate commitments to their children (His article, “The Journey to Conscious Fathering,” page 24, elicited the most conversation among Tumbleweeds’ editorial team, particularly about whether his suggestions really are unique to fathers. My personal opinion is that they are not irrelevant to moms, but that they have a special resonance for dads — not only because our relationships to our children are indeed different, but also because the parenting conversation is still framed largely by women for other women. I am glad to provide room here in Tumbleweeds to expand the conversation.)
If you walk or ride bikes to school with your children tomorrow (see Anna Philpot’s article “Fancy Footwork,” page 12, about Eldorado Elementary School’s “Walking School Bus”), I bet you will have material for Favorites.
Eileen Richardson, a new Tumbleweeds contributor, draws on her experiences as a step-, adoptive and biological mom to help other parents facing exceptional challenges (“Building the Team,” page 26). Her work, as a Family Support Coach, focuses on helping parents turn Leasts into Favorites.
Will McDonald’s article (“Awakening Wonder,” page 14) reminds us all, whether or not we still have school-aged children, of the role we can have in the community’s “big project of education.”
A few nights ago, I asked Charles before we fell asleep what his Favorite and Least were that day. His Least was cleaning the cat’s throw-up off the bedroom floor. He had two Favorites. One was walking home with me that evening in a warm summer rain from dinner at the house of our friends around the corner, taking off his shirt and draping it over my head (then urging me to walk faster because he was freezing!).
The other was watching me at the kitchen table, after we got home, making sculptures with the fingerling potatoes and cherry tomatoes that he brought in from the garden, seeing how many I could balance on top of one another.
Remembering that seemingly forgetable moment of stacking the tomatoes and potatoes made me smile. Picturing him watching me so attentively and storing it away in memory made me feel loved.
Never in a million years would I have guessed that these were his favorite parts of the day, but that’s kind of the point of Favorite and Least. Most days, our best and worst moments aren’t life-changers. They’re the little points of ordinariness that somehow catch our attention, like butterflies dancing in the air in front of us before they fly off.
A nighttime ritual of noticing and sharing our especially good and bad moments can be a reassuring point of reference at the end of the day.
And if you feel inclined to write some of yours down and send them to Tumbleweeds, you know we’ll be interested!