Ida B…and her plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World.
by Katharine Hannigan
Last night we finished this little gem of a book, and though I’ve mentioned it several times, I thought it deserved its very own post. The power of a treasure like Ida B is that reading a couple chapters at the end of the day can make you smile even if the rest of the day has been hard. But even though she is quite funny, Ida B also kind makes you feel like crying, in a warm, heart bursting kind of way. Mary Polly pointed this out as she was reading ahead of us. She cannot bear to wait and just enjoy the anticipation of the next chapter, so even though she still sits in and listens, she usually sneaks our current read aloud and finishes it before we are half way through.
There is an incident near the beginning of the book regarding Ida B’s name that stood out to me this week. She goes to her first day of kindergarten and when she points out to the teacher that she is actually called Ida B, not Ida, her teacher says that Ida B is just a nickname and that in school she will be called by her given name. When we were reading this part of the story, I thought that it was kind of archaic to think a teacher wouldn’t call a child by a different name that what was written on their official paperwork, but last week when Cole and I abruptly left his school on Friday, he realized after we got home later that he had forgotten to turn in his name badge. It is a badge he has to wear every day but is not allowed to take home. When he discovered it, he held it up and said, I don’t know why they couldn’t put “Cole” on this. Now everyone calls me Colvin. Cole was officially named after Shawn Colvin, a singer-songwriter that Taido and I both love and especially loved when I was pregnant with Cole. When I was about 5 months pregnant with Cole, we went to a Shawn Colvin concert in one Chicago’s cozier theaters. We had great seats and she is so endearing in concert. The whole evening was a little fairy tale vacation from a year that was in many other ways very tumultuous for us, as Taido was finishing his last year of seminary and we were facing wondering what we were going to do with the rest of our lives, and bringing a baby into our world of unanswered questions. Anyway, even though we named him Colvin, we have almost always called our first born Cole, as have all of his teachers. In fact all of our school aged children go by names that are different from what’s written on their birth certificates, and it has never caused them any grief. When Mary Polly saw Cole’s name badge and heard him lamenting that it doesn’t say “Cole,” she disdainfully remarked, Oh great! I’m going to have to wear a name tag that says “Marion” when I’m in sixth grade. That’s it! I am NOT going to that school. The whole conversation reminded me of poor Ida B seeing the sea of years and years of schooling ahead of her in which she would be forced to be this entirely different person, this person called Ida instead of Ida B.
I realized that maybe having this new name that wasn’t mine wouldn’t just be for today or this year, but it might be my not-for-real-and-not-anything-like-me-but-I’m-stuck-with-it name for every school day for the rest of my life. That, I knew, was a whole lot of days of being Ida, and not being Ida B. So many days of being Ida that I might forget what being Ida B was like.
And with that thought a bad feeling came over me that started in my stomach and traveled out my legs and arms and ended up in my toes, my fingers, and even my tongue. Like everything was being tightened up and shrunk down and squeezed into a too, too tiny space.
I looked out the window and saw all of that sunshine and air and room to move, and I swear I could hear the brook calling to me, over that distance and through those closed up windows. “C’mon home and play, Ida B. I’m waitin’ for you. C’mon, c’mon, c’mon.”
Later in her life, Ida B has a teacher named Ms. Washington that redeems Ida B’s kindergarten heartaches. She calls her Ms. W, and she loves the way Ms. W reads.
Ms. Washington would read to us every day after lunch, and her voice was like ten different musical instruments. She could make her voice go low and deep and strong like a tuba, or hop, hop, hop quick and light like a flute.
When she’d read, her voice wrapped around my head and my heart, and it softened and lightened everything up. It put a pain in my heart that felt good. When she told stories it made me want to tell stories. I wanted to read like her, so I could have that feeling anytime.
This week Ben reminded me, as he periodically does, that he wants to be homeschooled next year. Not right now, next year. Because right now he has Ms. Somers. And Ms. Somers, he said, well, she reads like Ms. W. You know, her voice goes up and down. I don’t want to miss any days of her reading. I laughed when I thought about his comparing his teachers to Ida B’s teachers, and I love that he is thinking that way.
Ida B’s strong personality has penetrated our thinking and our conversations, and we are the richer for it.