Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Power of Mama's Smile—Mothers in Literature

The setting is Lower East Side New York prior to World War I. The characters are five endearing girls, members of a Jewish family with little money but lots of love and imagination. In the All-of-a-Kind Family series we read of their enjoyment of each other, many different Jewish holidays and customs, and life in general. These charming books bring a different time and place vividly to life. Unfortunately only the first book is in print but all five are well worth hunting down at the library or used book stores.

While the girls are definitely the focus of the books, their stories would not be complete without their hard-working, jovial papa, the playful little brother who joined them at last, and their patient, wise and understanding mama. Whether she is diligently keeping the home running smoothly, baking mouthwatering traditional Jewish food, or making chores fun, Mama is a beautiful example of the Proverbs 31 woman to each of her five daughters.

But even Mama gets busy and pre-occupied sometimes. One day, while the girls were all still at school, she was busily putting the house in order, baking bread and cake, and cooking a special dinner in preparation for the Sabbath. Little Charlie was constantly underfoot, tugging at her skirt imploring her to play with him. What mother hasn't been there? She'd given him a box of empty spools to play with, but as he got bored of them they were kicked farther and farther across the kitchen. The more Mama stumbled over them, the crosser she became. "Charlie, pick up the spools and put them back into the box!" she commanded.

When Mama was too focused on her tasks to answer his questions and after she scolded him for getting into the rising bread dough with his grubby hands, Charlie had had enough. He didn't know why Mama's face was so scowly, her voice so angry. So, much to Mama's relief, he decided to visit Mr. Basch who kept the store downstairs. Solemnly Charlie shook hands with the cheerful man. "My Mama don't smile on me," he said. Mr. Basch offered a cracker. Refreshed, Charlie decided to see how things fared upstairs.

Mama was sampling soup at the hot stove. All Charlie heard her say was "keep away!" Back down the steps he went. "My Mama don't smile on me," he said again. Quietly the two of them shared some chocolate snaps. Then Mr. Basch suggested, "I tell you what, Charlie. You go upstairs and tell Mama you'll be a good boy and see what happens."

Once again Charlie climbed the stairs. Mama's work was going very well. She was even humming a little tune. Hands on hips, she turned around and studied the small boy. All her babies had been adorable, she thought, but this one, he was such a little love of a man. My goodness, such a serious expression on his sweet face. She smiled.

Charlie rushed back to Mr. Basch and exclaimed, "My Mama smiles on me!" Then he rushed back up again to see if the transformation was real.

Mama found all this coming and going highly amusing. When Charlie planted himself in front of her and gazed questioningly upward, she gave him a great big smile. Once more he had to go tell the shopkeeper, who also felt lighthearted as he watched the joy that now filled the little boy.

When Charlie came back to Mama, she nearly doubled over with laughter. He felt so good as he buried his head in her skirts. Finally he laughed too. He laughed and laughed!

I love how this story shows a busy mama from her little boy's point of view. It's so easy as a mother to get caught up in the demands of the day. When there are tasks to get done and schedules to follow and dinner to get on the table, the children just seem to be in the way. But they don't know about the to do list and the deadlines. All they see is Mama not smiling. As pressing as they may be, chores will come and go but our children are eternal. May we never forget the power of a smile.


  1. And what power a simple smile has some times more than others!
    Thank you for this review, I am making up a list of books :)

  2. Thank you so much for sharing, I really needed to hear this. God Bless you!