We all took some deep breaths at the dinner table today. The children were over excited about their after-meal treats and became demanding. Fortunately we had read children’s books for Wesak that provided excellent reference points to focus upon gratitude and find calm.
Under the Bodhi Tree: A Story of the Buddha relates a very brief biography of the Buddha, focussing upon his revelationary meditation under the Bodhi tree. Also, the book opens and closes with a young girl’s narrative about preparing her lotus flower light to celebrate Wesak with family and friends.
We recognised the story of the Buddha’s birth and his name Siddhartha from The Sound the Hare Heard and Other Stories so we keenly returned to the rest of the book. Its title story about the hare who thought the world was breaking up is very short, and we love the longer retelling in The Rumor, so we went on to re-read that.
During our reading we chatted a lot. We discussed how the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and the Buddha could make good friends but acknowledged what the former may hope/pray for the latter. We talked about floating candles and paper boats on a river and how we might catch them. We pondered what people mean by the title ‘holy’.
Inspired by the Buddha’s meditation, I asked, ‘Do you ever feel like you want something so much and when you get it you want something else, and when you get that and you really want another thing?’ My six and five year old children readily conceded they did. For months, we have talked a lot about their cycle of longing for toys, followed by new interests, and then not wanting to let go of anything. We’ve tried many times to break these habits of never being satisfied for long. However we haven’t really focussed on searching inwards to find calm.
All my children love Each Breath A Smile but actually we haven’t used the book much. The book calls for children to remain quiet, listen, and think, which is rarely the style of our reading sessions. Sometimes I feel my children take dialogic reading further than my head can handle when I read them new books and they all voice questions about the same points. On the contrary, returning to known stories and favourites is a pleasure. Reading The Rumor was a relatively quiet event, for example, although it is not a calm story.
I saved Each Breath A Smile for bedtime. Through the afternoon I remembered lost practices of using Calm Kids and Healing Stories for Challenging Behaviour. I looked forward to bedtime in a way I haven’t for a while.
And it was a bedtime worth looking forward to. Now, feeling grateful and calm myself, I am looking forward to the next Buddhist children’s book that I’ve ordered. I don’t expect it to be a treat, but rather, insha’Allah, that it will become integral to our good evening habits. Perhaps you’ll hear about it around Dharma Day in July.
Elizabeth Lymer is the author of Religious Rhyme Time, an Abrahamic children’s interfaith book, as well as Islamic Nursery Rhymes. She loves eating chocolate while she writes, and, with strictly chocolate-free fingers, she also creates Muslim and interfaith children’s gifts for book people at her Etsy shop, BarakahBedtimesUK. Elizabeth is a member of the Muslimah Writers Alliance. She’s on Twitter @elizabethlymer.