When I was pregnant with Matthew, my fabulous colleagues in the English department threw me a shower. As per our tradition, everyone gave me a children’s book for the baby’s library. One of my colleagues gave me Horton Hatches the Egg, and on the card, she wrote about how it was one of her favorite books because it is a story about the value of loyalty.
It is indeed … and it’s a book that relates to parents in a particularly special way.
Horton, of course, is the kind and generous elephant who happens to be wandering by just as Mayzie, the very lazy bird, is sick of sitting on her egg. She sweet-talks him into “babysitting” the egg for a short time while she’s gone, and Horton promises to do so. Problem is, Mayzie is the bird-equivalent of a deadbeat mom, so seduced by the glamour of new places that she stays away for months. Meanwhile Horton, the loyal elephant, stays sitting on that egg through sunshine and rain, through snowstorms and derisive taunts from the other jungle animals, even through serious physical danger in the form of hunters who show up and point their guns straight at him. “I meant what I said and I said what I meant … an elephant’s faithful one hundred percent!” Horton says, every time.
In the end, Mayzie happens to fly by just as the egg is hatching. Now that the hard work is over, she’s ready to claim the prize, but there’s a surprise: the baby bird is a mini-Horton, a diminutive elephant with wings. Horton’s delight knows no bounds, and he and the baby go off and start a new life together. At last he is happy, “one hundred percent,” the narrator tells us.
This is definitely a story about loyalty, and about keeping a promise. I love that Horton’s steadfast nature is rewarded at the end with a gift he never expected. Call me mean, but I’m also glad that the shallow Mayzie flies away empty-handed (empty-winged?). It’s such satisfying comeuppance.
And I like this story too because the process of hatching the egg is not all fun and games. The novelty of it wears off for Horton, just as it did for Mayzie, but dadgumit, he sticks by his promise and keeps on sitting there. Isn’t that parenting, in a nutshell? Yes, there are moments that are beautiful and transcendant and that make you feel like you are brushing the hem of the divine: the sweet hugs, the astonishingly wise observations that kids make, the whispered “I love you, Mommy” at a moment when you feel most unlovable. But let’s face it, a lot of parenting is just drudgery. It is simply not fun to change diapers, to break up sibling squabbles when you’re in the middle of composing an email, to cajole a hysterical toddler into eating two more bites of banana. It is not fun to be awakened in the middle of a deep sleep by a child who has had a bad dream. And yet every parent makes a promise, implicitly: I’ll be there for you. I’m in it for the long haul. We know there are rewards that come from this job, even if they can be hard to remember when we’re right in the thick of it all.
This is why I love the story of Horton. It reminds me that parenting takes strength and fortitude. It takes not giving up. And it takes the unspoken promise that we make at very start of it all, a promise that even in the face of rain and snow and hunters and boredom and exhaustion and frustration, this mom will be faithful, one hundred percent.