“We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” is a children’s board book that my friend Anne gave me to read to my first grandchild, Lucy. I read it to her for years. It never captured me. I liked “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” much better.
But Lucy liked the repetition of “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,” and when Adam came along, he liked it, too. “We’re going on a bear hunt. We’re going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day! We’re not scared. Uh-uh! Grass! Long wavy grass. We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!”
There were lots of challenges for these intrepid bear hunters who were just children, plus their dog. First there was the long, wavy grass they had to plod through. Then there was a deep, cold river. Then thick mud. Then a forest, a snowstorm, a cave. But at every obstacle there was this refrain: “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!”
The book was short and it had a message: Persevere! It also had a satisfying ending. (The children, upon seeing a bear — WHAT’S THAT! “One shiny wet nose! Two big furry ears! Two big goggly eyes! IT’S A BEAR!” — gasped and raced home and hid in bed, under the covers, declaring, in unison, “I’m not going on a bear hunt again!”)
The year 2020, it seems to me, was like this bear hunt. “We can’t go over it. We can’t go around it. We’ve got to go through it.”
And we did.
But now, it’s another year and it’s no longer “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” that we’re living. It’s “War and Peace” with all its ugly twists and turns.
As winter drags and the virus mutates and government spends its time bickering while its citizens are dying, it is hard to stay cheery. We want the streetlights to go on. We want to call it a day. We want to go home.
My son and his family moved to Scotland last week. My daughter-in-law is Scottish. She had lived in the states for 20 years. She and my son and their three children had planned to move last summer. But then COVID-19 struck and everything got delayed.
We said goodbye two days before their flight. They rented a car and drove from Manhattan. His sisters and their families came by. We ate Town Spa pizza, my son’s favorite, outside on our deck. It was 44 degrees. We sat at separate tables. We wore masks when we weren’t eating. We hugged, with masks still on, only when we said goodbye.
I don’t remember what I read to my son when he was little. It wasn’t “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” because he was 20 when it was published. What I remember is that he had a blue cardigan sweater, which he would put on when it was time to watch Mister Rogers every day. What I remember is that he said “Turn on VooVoo Vipers” whenever I strapped him into his car seat because he liked to shake his head to the rhythm of the wipers. What I remember is that he loved the song “American Pie.”
When he was 5 or 6, he wrote me a note in red crayon: “YOU BEEZ MEEN TO ME.” I don’t remember what I did that was mean. I threw his clothes out the window once but that was when he was older. That was mean. But he was my first, my first pancake I called him, I still call him. I made mistakes.
He bought me a small teddy bear sachet one Mother’s Day because he had a crush on the girl who sold them. I kept that sachet on my bureau for at least 30 years.
My son and his family are in lockdown until the end of January. All of Scotland is. I try to picture him there. He rented a small house. He sends pictures.
The Bear Hunt children. Why do I think of them in the days following my son’s move? Because they stumbled and tripped their way through danger? Because they hid from the bear? Because they had a good attitude? Because together they were strong?
Can I be strong if we are not together? I was prepared for an ocean to separate us. I wasn’t prepared for everything else that now does.
“What a beautiful day. We’re not scared,” the story book children chant as they make their way through challenge after challenge after challenge.
“What a beautiful day. I’m not scared,” I repeat out loud, hoping that maybe in a few days, or a few weeks, these words I say will be true.
Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.