Meet Miss Zinnia, Who Lives For Books! (And Whose Mother Finds Her Charming)

by Becky on November 2, 2012 · 18 comments

in Books, Parenting


My middle daughter is a bit shy of the camera, so we often have to broker deals when we photograph her.  Additionally, half the time, she’s buried in a book.  Do you know any girls whose mothers have to pry books from their hands, feeling guilty about it the entire time because they themselves would like to be buried in a book as well?  If you do, read on.  If you are that mother, then Hello!–we’re meant to be friends!

But back to the girl I used to call my Consolation Baby.  The story goes like this.  First, my older daughter was born on my mother’s birthday, a gift my mother affirmed was better than any she had ever received.  She (my mother, that is) arrived at the hospital just after I’d given birth, and when I spoke up and insisted she come into the delivery room, my daughter heard my voice, fell completely silent, and looked right at me, a moment my mother witnessed.  “Ohh!” said my mother, tearing up.  “She knows your voice!”

That was a happy day.

Then.  (Prepare yourselves.)  When I was pregnant with Miss Zinnia, who was due the same day as her sister, my mother–who had been battling lung cancer for nearly two years–discovered that her cancer had spread and that it was on its way to her bones.  And her brain.  You can’t imagine the terror.  Or the grief.  Or maybe you can.  Maybe you’ve lost a mother?

My mother passed away on July 21st, 1998, and Miss Zinnia was born just over a month later, on August 28th . . . her sister’s birthday, and her grandmother’s, too. A mother, gone, just like that. And a daughter, here, her little head completely bald and her eyes so blue you couldn’t help but feel quiet, and consoled, when you looked into them. I like to think Grandmother and Granddaughter embraced as they passed each other, which I believe they might have done, though I couldn’t say how. Miss Zinnia, aka Millay. Those who have always known her will tell you there never was a baby so easily made happy.

Once, years ago, a Bolivian woman who was describing the death of her own mother told me, “No hay nadie como la Mama”–“There is no one like your Mother.”  So unalterably true, isn’t it?  When my mom died, I didn’t even know who to be.  But when my Consolation Baby arrived, I figured that out again.

If you’ve lost someone you loved, may there have been a Consolation Child in your life. They are unusual, these children. At times, they seem to channel the loved one who had to go. Sometimes it feels like my mother is right there, and when I turn, I realize it’s not her but Miss Zinnia, no longer a baby, her blue eyes trained on what else?–a book.

I tell this girl that “Consolation Baby” is merely an endearment, not a job description.  I’ve never wanted her to feel like it’s her duty to make her mother smile.  But she did indeed bring something with her when she arrived, all seven-something pounds of her.  Do you have a child who brought something along with her?  Or him?  I’d love to hear the story.  Indeed, stories really power my family.  Maybe they do the same thing for yours?


Aurora November 2, 2012 at 10:57 am

I am the mom of two teenage boys (16 and 14) and a 10 year old girl.
Love your blog. This post made me cry.

Becky November 2, 2012 at 11:58 am

Aurora, thanks for checking in. I find myself wanting to know more about you!–about your kids, your family’s rhythms and traditions. I wish we could get together, those of us who are parenting teens in particular, and sip some hazelnut hot chocolate (I brew up a mean batch) and talk about this mothering business. Blessings to you. XO

Aurora November 2, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Hi Becky, I know what you mean. There are so many beautiful blogs out there but very few that are about raising teenagers! It is a unique and special time and I don’t know about you but I definitely have this sense that the clock is ticking… I feel as though my kids are growing up so fast and I just want to slow down and take it all in. More than ever I feel the need to really be present and enjoy them and be there for them because this time, when we all live together, won’t last forever. I love seeing the photos of your beautiful family and it’s really exciting that you are living in Spain! That has always been something that my husband and I have talked about and thought would be such a great experience for the kids. Is everyone learning a lot of Spanish? I’m Cuban and speak Spanish, my husband is American and the kids speak a bit of Spanish but a year in Spain would definitely help!

Raquel November 4, 2012 at 3:23 am

This post has truly touched me. I have a consolation baby as well. My Mom passed away when I was 15 & I spent the next ten years of my life truly lost. I missed her in ways unimaginable. I thought that this saddness would forever be a part of my life. That is until I gave birth to my baby girl, one month before I turned 26. I honored my mother by giving her my Moms name for her middle middle name. My husband & I were overjoyed with our new baby girl, but nothing could have prepared me for how loving her mended the hole in my heart. Mothering her healed me from the pain of losing my Mother. I love having the Mother/Daughter relationship back, even though I am now on the other end. She has taught me what it is to truly Love again.

Becky November 5, 2012 at 3:25 am


Another mom with a Consolation Baby! Lucky you! I was just talking yesterday with another mom who has one, too, and she shared some of the ways in which loving and raising this child have helped her reset after the death of her mother. Blessings to you and your daughter.

Dominique November 4, 2012 at 8:39 pm

It is so challenging to get my 12yo’s nose out of her books. Yep, we should be friends. This post is so touching. You’ve left me with some good things to ponder tonight.

Becky November 5, 2012 at 3:20 am

Dominique, what is your twelve-year-old reading?? I’d love to share ideas for titles/authors. Be fun to compile a list we could all select from. I’ve been reading middle grade and YA novels for years, trying to get a sense not only of the market but also of where I’d like to steer my kids, bookwise. Hooray for book love! XO

Dominique November 6, 2012 at 7:31 pm

I can only dream to read as much as my daughter. We homeschool, so I had imagined lovely afternoons lying around the park reading together and talking about books. In reality, maybe we’ll read a chapter, then she gets impatient and will consume the rest of the book within a day.

She’s currently reading Ender’s Game and plans to reread all of the related books. Her complaint is that there is too much science in some of the books. Funny, coming from her because she loves the sciences. She’s read some of Shannon Hale’s books and loved them, so I went ahead and ordered the new one based on your recommendation.

Before Ender’s Game, she had just finished everything Rick Riordan had published, again, the 5th time through the series, perhaps. She loves mythology, fantasy and adventure. I couldn’t read past his first book, yet I’m thrilled that the series continues to spark her interest in ancient history and all things mythological. She now wants to learn Latin and Ancient Greek. Oy. I don’t know how to keep up.

Harry Potter – of course, many times.

Becky November 7, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Dominique, you’re right in the heart of your day no doubt, and mine is winding to a close quickly (11:45 pm here), but I wanted to check in before I fell into bed. There’s plenty of book love at your house! I cannot think of anything happier. Not a thing. Tonight we bought the last book in the Percy Jackson series on the Nook for my 9 year old son. Thank goodness for e-readers! I wish we’d brought three with us–one for each child. They wrestle over who gets it. What do you read? Do you have a “top three” list?
Besos, Becky

Errin May 8, 2013 at 11:17 am

Becky!! This is Errin Clark Martindale! I have meant to write you for awhile now and say how amazing that you and your family moved to Spain!!! It has a special place in my heart and I long to return!
I wanted to also tell you that unfortunately my mother passed away February 22nd of this year– pancreatic cancer! I miss her dearly! But know that she is now without pain and I will see her again! I pray for the day to get my consolation baby!!
Loves and kisses!
Would love to email you more often, perhaps in español!?!
xoxox Errin

Becky May 9, 2013 at 7:59 am

Erin! So happy to hear from you! I only recently found out about your wonderful mom. I am so sorry. I think about her often, remembering how much we used to talk about you, your specialness, your talents, your future. Wow, did (and does!) she love you. I hope our paths will cross again, hopefully sooner rather than later. Besitos and huge hugs.

Jen May 15, 2013 at 7:58 pm

What a beautiful story….

Becky May 16, 2013 at 1:03 am

And you knew both of its characters. xx

Shannon June 14, 2013 at 10:03 pm

I’m finally making my way over to visit your blog, and I made a beeline to the first post I saw about books! And then to read this beautiful story about your mother and your daughter…. I’m looking forward to coming back to read more about your family and your adventures! And to get book ideas–we inhale books around here.

Becky June 15, 2013 at 1:26 am

Shannon, so happy you stopped by! We’ll have to swap book ideas. We’ve always got a serious case of book love going on at our house. The challenge is finding good YA for my older daughter, younger YA and good middle grade for my younger daughter, and high octane adventure for my nine-year-old son. Like you, I love poking my nose in other families’ libraries to see what they’re reading and what books get their kids’ hearts racing. xx

kylie June 19, 2013 at 1:25 pm

your daughter commented on my blog, which led me to yours. this story is so touching. i so look forward to motherhood.

Becky June 19, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Kylie! Motherhood is beautiful, hard, funny, demanding, amazing, fraught, brilliant. It’s just way more everything than I thought it would be. But it’s so gratifying to love children, whatever their age or stage. BTW, thanks for visiting my lovely daughter’s blog. She works . . . so . . . HARD on it!

May your day be just wonderful. Besitos from Spain.

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: