An avid reader since my early years, I naturally began – as I suppose everyone does – with fairy tales and went on to read every book I managed to get my hands on, from romantic stories to crime novels such as Agatha Christie’s and the adventures of a charming thief called Arsène Lupin (yes, very French!); from my father’s collection about UFOs and other forms of extraterrestrial life to my grandfather’s Portuguese classics such as Eça de Queiroz; at twelve I had read Les Miserables by Victor Hugo and at sixteen I was reading (not without done difficulty) Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I travelled In space and time, from Pearl Buck’s early 20th century China to Balzac‘s Paris of the 1800s; from the Plantagenets to the Tudors and at a certain time I even enjoyed reading horror stories…not to mention of course my two favourites Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula!
No matter how many books I read I never ceased to wonder at the fairy tales of my childhood, and when I became a mother I decided it would never be too early to initiate my babies in the wonderful world of books, so among nappies and feeding bottles I also started buying them a collection of fairy tales, and I remember reading my elder son Afonso his first bedtime story when he was about six months old.
I used to put him to bed and stay there for some time until he fell asleep so one evening I picked up one of the books I had bought, with a miscellaneous of the most famous traditional stories such as Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, The Little Mermaid, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Cinderella, The Sleeping Beauty, and so on, and I began reading the first story.
I remember him sitting upright on his bed, looking at me with his beautiful blue eyes wide open in wonder. I was tempted to think he understood every word I said, but of course it was not possible; I suppose it was just the fact that he could see I was doing something new and was trying to figure out what it was. The truth is he really enjoyed it so it soon became a habit. By the time Pedro was born Afonso was almost four and well versed in many stories, that he listened to at night and watched on TV during the day. His favourite story and movie had become The Lion King, and we both enjoyed a collection of Disney classics in the book version; some of these stories were adaptations of the fairy tales he was already familiar with, so it was fun to rediscover them together.
For years we had that sweet routine. Some time after dinner I would announce “bedtime, boys” and they would climb onto one of the beds and signal for me to sit in the middle; then they would pick up the story they wanted me to read. Years after they had learned how to read they still wanted me to read for them, I suppose because apart from reading I made my comments about other possible happenings in the story, or about the facts and characters there, always trying to tell them about the ideals and values in the story. As there are many lessons to be learned from those apparently innocuous fairy tales.
A picture of those years I keep in my heart is that of the three of us sitting on the bed, red or green checkered bedcover according to which bed it was, their beautiful heads leaning on my shoulders and their eyes heavy with sleep but bravely trying to resist as they wanted the moment to last forever. As would I…
Then one day it was over. First for Afonso but soon – as in everything- his brother followed and those sweet moments were over, forgotten in their challenging teenage years.
But good habits certainly have a way of coming back. Years later my love for storytelling made me start this blog and write my first novel (still being edited). My boys, now two young men, enjoy reading my blog and giving me their feedback. And they still enjoy listening to my stories, as I was able to conclude a few evenings ago.
It was certainly past my bedtime. They had come from their rugby training and I had given them dinner and lingered on talking for a bit, making the most of these moments when we are together. Then Pedro went to bed and I noticed Afonso was watching a movie on Netflix – one that I had recommended, about Robert the Bruce, King of Scots in the early 14th century (Outlaw King). A lover of History and in particular that of Scotland, I stayed a while more, and all of a sudden Afonso, who has inherited my interest in History and feels a special bond with Scotland because I spent some time there when I was pregnant with him – began asking all sorts of questions. Both he and his brother have watched Braveheart several times (the motion picture about William Wallace, considered to be the greatest Scottish hero and a contemporary of Robert the Bruce) and Afonso had many questions. I replied but then found myself telling him the story of that bloody time for Scotland, but also a time of great courage and the recovery of the nation’s independence. Among other things I explained to him why Robert the Bruce had to be crowned at Scone, the sacred place of coronation for kings of Scots, and the reason why he had been crowned by a woman – as she was the representative of the most ancient noble house in Scotland, the House of Mac Duff. And I went on and he listened attentively and his eyes again I saw the wonder of so many years ago, as again I was telling him a story at bedtime.
Finally I had to go to bed, as it was quite late, and he turned his attention back to the movie, now more informed about the facts behind the fiction. I kissed the top of his head and said my usual “goodnight darling” and as I put out the light and rested my head on my pillow I was smiling to myself. What a happy moment. Talking to Afonso about the History of Scotland so late at night really made me go all the way back to those cherished evenings when my two boys cuddled against me as I read them bedtime stories.