Let’s say you fashioned an artwork of unparalleled beauty. Your creation came out so perfect that exposing it to the imperfect world is a deeply terrifying prospect. Surely, it will be damaged beyond repair, and you are the only one capable of offering the vigilant protection required.

You can relate to this scenario because you made a child and then had to face the reality of leaving the hospital or your house with that child for the first time.

Would the air be safe enough for his tiny lungs to breathe? Would the car seat cradle her head as gently as your palm had done? Would everyone you pass on the road sense the treasure in their midst, focus their divided attention, and slow down? Would people stop acting crazy, stop pretending to be invincible, and realize that life is fragile and worthy of reverence?

Probably not.

This is what it feels like to be inducted into parenthood: to have all your vague, assorted fears suddenly coiled into the urgent necessity of keeping another human alive. Your human, the one that carries your biological code in each of his impossibly small fingers and toes.

PRINCESSCORA_cover
PRINCESSCORA_A
PRINCESSCORA_B
PRINCESSCORA_c

Parent Co. partnered with Candlewick Press because they believe even parents benefit from reading to their kids at bedtime.

So, you are born into a new reality along with your child. Your life realigns around her needs and just as quickly becomes an exercise in backing off as your perfect creation learns she is separate from you and takes bigger and bolder steps away and into the chaos of her life – a life you want to claim as your life, but can’t.

Instinctively, you hang on a little tighter. You make everything okay too often. You over-engage. You want the best for your child and then realize “the best” is your idea, not his. You want him to believe in his strengths because you know – you just know – what he is capable of. But you knowing and him knowing are very different things.

You will swing from this fulcrum of care and concern and love and longing for the rest of your life. And strangely, you will feel lucky for it. Because that beautiful artwork you so painstakingly bore will have taken on new kinds of beauty that not even you, the creator, could have rendered.

This helps you find your feet again and learn how to release your hold, little by little by little. You still feel as terrified as you did when you first cinched the straps as tightly as they would go over her small-boned bird-like shoulders, but now, at least, you’ve seen that the tears dry, the cuts heal, and the demons stay under the bed for the most part.

Sometimes you wonder whether it’s possible to love your children too much. Could you hurt them with all of your loving? Your mom says no. Your friends say depends. Studies are general and inconclusive.

faces of children who discovered their own personalities

Then you read “Princess Cora and the Crocodile” and the answer is a brazen yes. Written by Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz and illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Brian Floca, this picture book does the rare work of addressing some big, hard, heart-wrenching themes in a way that speaks to both parents and children. Namely, it shines a light on some common parent anxieties and how they tend to backfire.

I love being caught off guard by the poignancy and adaptability of lessons in books designed for children. In fact, my favorite children’s books are the ones I still enjoy reading as an adult. They nudge me out of my neuroses and sharpen my wits. They shove the cluttered furniture of my self-important adulthood out of the way and clear a space for candid honesty and imagination.

This is as it should be. Kids understand more than most give them credit for. And they will carry these understandings forward with them through life. E. B. White understood this. So did Roald Dahl and Dr. Seuss and Madeleine L’Engle and Maurice Sendak and Edward Gorey. So does Ursula K. Le Guin and Philip Pullman and Kate DiCamillo.

Laura Amy Schlitz takes the classic cloistered princess conundrum and turns it on its head, offering a release for Princess Cora’s natural wildness, stifled as it is by her parent’s uncompromising efforts to groom and shape every moment of her life. The King and Queen focus on what Cora must become, and in doing so, ignore who she is. Not a sound or safe course of action, parents! Point taken. And, like most beefy literary themes, it’s harder to heed than it seems.

But what’s most interesting to me about the book and about parenting and about my own rebellious exploits as a little girl, is that sometimes you get more than you bargained for. The Princess wishes for a dog and gets a larger-than-life crocodile who eats everything in sight. In this way, the fun is made all the livelier by the fear that comes with it.

Before becoming a parent, I associated this fun-fear-factor with things like climbing and rafting and being alone in the wilderness. Now, the complicated clash of these sensations crops up for me every day, and always in relation to my growing boys.

They push against me and pull back in. They ignore my warnings, and then get angry with me for not preparing them for the danger. They climb too far out on limbs not strong enough to hold their weight. They swim into the deep end before they’re ready. And I stand by watching, full of terror and pride, resisting the urge to go after them.

PRINCESSCORA_cover
PRINCESSCORA_A
PRINCESSCORA_B
PRINCESSCORA_c

Parent Co. partnered with Candlewick Press because they believe even parents benefit from reading to their kids at bedtime.

PRINCESS CORA AND THE CROCODILE. Text copyright © 2017 by Laura Amy Schlitz. Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Brian Floca. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA