People complain about television. They always have their reasons, but mostly parents worry about its impact on children. Anyone can see how that might be true. But let me tell you about an astonishing connection Maggie made through television when she was a toddler.
This begins with my mother who became a widow at forty-six, burying her heart and her hope in my father’s grave.
Until we brought Maggie home from China.
My mother’s life as a grandmother beamed bright enough to make the sun squint. She adored that baby and held her hours on end. “Mom, you can put her down,” I whispered. “I don’t want to,” she whispered back.
As Maggie got older, they discovered Nickelodeon together. They rocked together in my mother’s chair, solving the mysteries of Blue’s Clues. But Little Bear stole the show. I’ll admit to using TV as a babysitter, except for Little Bear, based on books by Elsa Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak. I often watched it, too. Sweet and simple, it gave anyone a reason to believe in the goodness of life. However brief it might be. And my mother’s time with Maggie was brief.
She died when Maggie was two and a half years old. It was awful. Maggie would lead me to the door and say we had to go find Nana. Or that we had to find a doctor who could help Nana. How do you explain death to a toddler? Religious answers, however easy they might be, were not our framework. Still, I think someone must have talked to Maggie about heaven, where Nana had gone, being faraway in the clouds.
Here’s what happened. We told Maggie we were going on vacation in North Carolina to stay in a mountain cabin. She looked very serious. Later that day, she announced that we needed to buy a compass. Puzzled, I asked her why. She said we would need it in the mountains. I assured her we wouldn’t get lost.
Days passed. She mentioned the compass again and pantomimed holding one and walking as if she were following its arrow. I couldn’t grasp her point.
Days later she tried again, insisting we needed one. She looked distressed. I sat down and waited because I could tell she was struggling with words. Finally she explained it had to do with Little Bear and Father Bear who had gone on a mountain hike with a compass. She told me it would help us find Nana up high in the mountains.
That child’s determination to find the grandmother she loved all but killed me right there. Maybe I cried. I don’t know. I cried a lot back then. So did Maggie. I told her that Nana was farther away than the mountains. Farther away than the clouds. That we could only see her now with our hearts. That she would be with us in a different way.
We went to the mountain cabin. I don’t think she said anything more about the compass.
Years later I found her at her bedroom window one night. She pointed to a full moon and said, “Look, Mama, I see Nana.”
And I believe she did.