You might assume Ann Voskamp’s New York Times bestseller One Thousand Gifts and book #37 in Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House series wouldn't have anything in common…but you would be wrong.
This week I read Dragon of the Red Dawn to Rowan, in which the book’s main characters, siblings Jack and Annie, embark on a quest to 17th-century Japan in search of the “secret to happiness.” In the ancient city of Edo, Jack and Annie meet samurai warriors and sumo wrestlers, ride the terrifying Cloud Dragon and befriend the famous Japanese haiku poet Basho.
“What’s haiku?” Rowan interrupts as I read. I explain the basic concept, and Noah runs to his room to write one, while Rowan and I lie on the bed and give it a try. He recites his first line: “I love my mom.”
“That’s good,” I tell him, but I remind Rowan that the first line should be five syllables. “How about ‘I love my mommy’” – I count the five syllables out on my left hand.
Rowan nods. That will do.
“Okay, now what do you want to say?” I ask him. “We need the second line of the poem – seven syllables.”
“I love my dad, too.”
“Okay, that’s five syllables,” I say, showing the beats on my fingers as I say the line aloud. “Let’s add two more. “How about, ‘And I love my daddy, too.’ See how that makes seven beats?”
I admit, I find explaining the concept of syllables to Rowan rather daunting. This is why I am not a teacher.
“You have one more line to make your haiku,” I tell Rowan. “What do you want to add?”
Rowan stares up at the skylight for a few seconds.
“I love grasshoppers!” he yells suddenly, pleased with the perfect conclusion. A rather dramatic departure from the family theme, but it’s five syllables, so it works for me.
Noah returns carrying a sheet of paper. I read his haiku aloud as the three of us sprawl on the bed, and then Rowan and I oooh and ahhh over it:
Lava lamp bubbles
It glows a butiful light
I like waching it
Now…lest you assume I’m the kind of mom who spins iambic pentameter with the kids in my spare time, let me remind you: I’ve prayed to God more than once to help me be a fun mom. Yes, that’s right, I have to pray to be fun. The reason this haiku extravaganza worked at all was simply because it was a spontaneous, in-the-moment moment. If I’d planned a haiku-writing session with the boys, the result would have been poetry rife with excrement and bodily functions. But because we embraced the present, the moment became poetry itself.
At the end of Dragon of the Red Dawn, Jack and Annie realize that the secret to happiness isn’t found in the big, exciting, extravagant moments – like riding the Cloud Dragon – but in the small:
As Jack and Annie started through the chilly woods together, Jack noticed things he hadn’t seen before. He saw tiny blue wildflowers sprouting up from the winter-weary ground. He saw fresh anthills in the dirt. He saw leaf buds on twigs and green moss on a rock, bright in the March sunlight. “I feel like I’m seeing spring for the first time,” said Jack. “Me too,” said Annie. “Not just for the first time this year,” said Jack. “But for the first time in my whole life.”
In the end, it turns out, Jack and Annie reminded me of something my kids show me every day. The magic is in the moment.
“This is where God is. In the present. I AM – His very name.”
Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts
a haiku by Rowan Johnson