As a single mother to Frances and Gloria, I have very specific routines. None of us do well when we are not on a routine. The girls feel secure knowing what will happen next, what will happen tonight or tomorrow. Those routines keep us organized, keep us going, but can also frankly be exhausting. Sometimes we trudge through the routine only because we are used to its predictability. On the blog Mommy Shorts, Ilana has created a series called Wednesday Evenings in partnership with Allstate, and I love seeing it. She chose all kinds of families, and sent a photographer to document their routines (there was also a series documenting family mornings too). I find it so soothing to read this series - we are all in the same boat, where we do homework, eat dinner, read and give baths, no matter where we live or what we look like.
What Happens on Wednesdays is all about family routine. The preschool girl who narrates the story begins with this line: "What happens on Wednesdays is I wake up when it is still dark out." The mother in me groans at that idea, but there is the little girl, being swung out of her bed by her mother. The other thing I love about this first page? When the mom tries to kiss her daughter and is informed "...today is not a kissing day." And with that statement, they are off. The little girl revels in the structure - "Then she drinks her coffee and I drink my milk and maybe we have some strawberries while we read stories on the couch." Even though this book shows one particular Wednesday, you get the feeling that for this little girl Wednesdays are blissfully similar.
After they wake up her dad, he takes his daughter out to the park to play before school. Her mom has already gone to work on her computer in the back room of their apartment. Another very developmentally appropriate thing about the narrator is her love of detail. They don't just head off to school, they "walk past the store with the toy mouse you can ride for a quarter." If you know any preschoolers, you are familiar with how long it takes them to recount something that has happened to them. It is never straightforward and simple, the way busy adults prefer. Instead their stories are embellished with all the details that they have noticed, all the details that are important to them. And the details the little girl reports give color to her world. When she and her mom stop at the library that evening, after swimming, she notes that it "has a stuffed duckling that's big enough to ride on. There are shelves of scary grownup stories that spin around if you push them." These are the details that make up our lives and that Jenkins celebrates here.
The day has many components to it - the morning routine, the school day, the afternoon (books, nap, swimming), and evening. Sometimes the little girl notes where things are the same as every other day of the week - she lists out the school day schedule and then comments "Which is the same on Wednesdays as any other day." Or sometimes she explains what's different about Wednesdays: "What happens on Wednesdays is Daddy comes home early." The routine is predictable but still has some flexibility in it. "I put Band-Aids on Looga, my stuffed elephant or I make a puppet show, or I build a swimming pool of blocks, or I go through the laundry and try on grown-up clothes. It is different every Wednesday." The other thing this daily routine helps the little girl manage is what is expected of her. She knows that in the above quote, she is playing by herself while her mother cooks her dinner. She must come up with a way to keep herself occupied until dinner is ready.
I noticed too that the parents are depicted having a very easy teamwork. They often tag team in caring for their daughter. I'm sure the handoff isn't always as seamless as it seems here, but while her mom gets up with her, her dad does school drop-off. Her mom spends the afternoon with her and then her dad puts her in the bath after dinner. "And what happens on Wednesdays is I can pick who puts me to bed. So I pick Daddy." The routine is very tied to her parents. The book has a cozy feeling of family love in it - they are focused on their little girl's needs, but there are still other things going on. They make dinner, return library books, empty the dishwasher - all those "other" tasks that need to be completed.
Lauren Castillo's illustrations for this story suit it perfectly. Readers can look at any page and know exactly what's going on, even if their family doesn't look the same. The routines depicted here are universal and comforting. And the illustrations are packed full of the details the narrator finds so important. There is the mom getting her daughter out of bed, still in her own pajamas. Once the little girl pulls her dad out of bed, they go down to pick up the newspaper. The dad is sporting mismatched pajamas and slippers as they head back up. While the mom gets dressed and tidies up, the dad stays rumpled and unshaven all day (although he does change out of his pajamas!). The illustrations work perfectly with the text to create that feeling of real, authentic family life.
While Wednesday isn't a special day - not a holiday or a day to be celebrated - it is a day full of love. It is every day and yet it's a day that will be documented and remembered thanks to this lovely story. I love the celebration of family life - it was comforting to the girls and to me as a parent. It's a great choice for a Wednesday night or any other night for that matter.
What Happens on Wednesdays. Emily Jenkins; pictures by Lauren Castillo. Frances Foster Books: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007.
borrowed from Lewis & Clark Library