Papa, please get the moon for me

Of all the Eric Carle books in our bookshelves, my favorite is Papa please get the moon, a circular and inspirational story taking its structure from the phases of the moon. It is drawn richly in the palette of twilight with the strokes evoking wind. It is told and illustrated simply enough to interpret in many ways…

I remember when our son was younger he would act out reaching out for the moon at night, as the character Monica did in the story. I wondered how our son saw himself within the context of his world, before any knowledge of space and scale. Can the moon really look like something reachable? And if so, what greater responsibility is there to be the parent thought to be able to reach it?

If I could get the moon for him, I would. I could fully denounce all the facts I’ve traded for magic as I have grown. This is a major opportunity in parenthood, mending your child’s perception of the world and yours. How clear our job becomes when you understand this chance at the core. We demand daily of our children and they give us a chance each day for us to join in their world through their imagination. These are chances where we can teach subtle life attitudes through their own ideas, behaviors, and our reactions to them.
Monica’s father understands this. When she asks for the moon, he figures he just has to use a very tall ladder. Up and up and up he goes, yet the moon is still too large. The ladder and the moon are, in fact, too large for the pages of the book. So large they have to fold out of the story! A unique layout of this book that illustrates scale.

But the moon helps out with this problem. She tells him that each day she gets a little bit smaller. She gets a little bit easier to reach. When she is just the right size, he gets it for Monica. The spread for this part of the story is beautiful and for me represents a happy childhood in all its imaginative power, given as a gift from a thoughtful parent, one that has taken the time to know the importance of his role in his child’s dreams. Monica plays, hugs, and dances with her moon. But then, the moon continues to get smaller until it disappears all together again. Is Monica growing up?
Later one night, the moon comes back, growing each night, until it is too big to reach again. Will Monica try to reach it for her own kids as her father did? My feeling is yes, because of the example set by her father.

We may not always act as Monica’s father. Maybe, it is because of timing. That carefully thought-out bug catcher designed 10 minutes before bedtime never quite seems opportune no matter how clever and how impressed you secretly are. Especially when it involves using a water bottle that is still half full and going outside in ready for bed clean feet. Or maybe, because it seems all of our kids’ wonderful ideas involve some sort of mess, an insane amount of tape, or a power tool they are too young to use. Well, at least that’s the problem in my house. Especially the tape! What is the fascination with the tape?!

But the real reason is that the moon sometimes gets too big for us. Too big, too real, and unable to fit in our grown up world. By the time we have children ourselves, we understand logistically all the ways an idea or thought becomes unreachable. But when we have children, their pure, boundless, scale-less, and time-conscious-less way of seeing their world bursts into our life with energy that is hard to contain, that is, unless we do. And so we shouldn’t deny the moon. Always and every day, and especially when we fail to ourselves. Because we are the ones who they think can reach anything. And if we don’t, soon they’ll grow to think they can’t too. Anything can become too hard, too messy… too “why bother”?

Sam, I will reach the moon for you. And I will offer my shoulders to all of those who may not for you so they can see how possible love and care makes reaching.

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