Last fall I shared with you that my nephew’s first grade teacher had invited aunts and uncles to be “mystery readers” for the students. (Read the original post here.) The big day has come and gone, and I wanted to tell you that it was everything I’d expected…and less.
I ended up choosing one of my favorite stories, “Atalanta” by Betty Miles. Since the book I have only has two pictures, I decided instead of reading to them, I would invite the students to act out the story with me. Together we posed like the proud king and clever princess, ran in a great race, sounded the trumpets, and cheered with the crowds. I’m not sure the feminist theme of the story got through to anyone (it’s about a princess choosing for herself who she will marry—or if she will choose to marry at all), but I think they all had fun.
I had fun. I practiced for weeks, perfecting my lines, working out character voices and sound effects, pausing for dramatic effect. My husband helped me rehearse in the car and in our living room till I had every beat memorized, because my greatest fear was that I’d get caught up in the performance, lose my place in the story, and muck it all up.
Actually that wasn’t my biggest fear. I’ve had a lot of experience with public speaking and live theater performances, so I knew I’d be fine once I got started (and I’m pretty sure I nailed every bit). What I actually feared the most was that I would be a bucket of weepy emotions. All those sweet faces looking up at me, all the innocent questions and funny comments. The rush of painful reality that I would never have a cute 6-year-old of my own with whom to share my favorite stories. I imagined getting teary-eyed in the classroom or curling up in the back seat of my car for a sob fest afterwards or going home and drowning my sorrows in a bottle of limoncello.
I was fine. One cute thing asked “Are you Jake’s mommy?” and I answered, “Nope, I’m his Aunt Kath.” That was easy.
At the end of the storytelling, I asked the students about the books they were reading, I answered questions about my dog (who so needs his own Facebook page), and then Jake invited me to walk with him to his after-school program. He reached for my hand, and together we crossed the playground. I didn’t feel sad, I didn’t feel lonely. I felt lucky. Lucky to have such a sweet boy in my life, lucky that I live nearby and can be part of his growing-up years, lucky that I have the time and opportunity to do things like be a mystery reader for him and his classmates.
I also am very lucky that Jake’s little brother will be in this class in just two years. I’m already thinking about which story I’ll share with him.
Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is wrapping up a memoir about how her experience as a temporary single mommy to her nephew helped her make peace with her childfree status.