The salamander room - FamilyEducation

The salamander room

September 27,2010
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

When L. was little, one of his favorite books was The Salamander Room, a sweet story about a little boy who finds a salamander in the woods, and then let's his imagination soar as he imagines ways to turn his bedroom into a fantastical habitat for the small creature. His mother gently talks him out of it, nudging him to think about how the creature would survive, without all nature around it that it needs. It was L.'s favorite books for weeks and weeks--no, for months and months, I think. I've read it to T. several times, and she loves it, too. But a reader's love and connection with certain books is a very personal thing. I think the book spoke to L. on many levels. He's always been a child whose imagination runs wild with the possibilities of a thing, and I recognized myself in the loving dialogue between mother and child--that oh so careful treading of the line between letting your child's imagination soar with the possibilities, yet gently teaching him about responsibility and care for the world around him. ************** On Sunday we woke to cooler temperatures, and when I opened the door to the screened-in-porch and propped it open the air settled around me and the relief was almost palpable. It's been so hot, and dry, and hot (have I mentioned HOT?)--the scorching temperatures (98 yesterday!) have made me feel even more drained dry at the end of each day. On Sunday, after pumpkin pancakes on the porch, we sent the kids out into the backyard, for the first time in months. All summer long the backyard sits, abandoned, the tire swing hanging listlessly in the steamy air. The backyard is too woodsy, too buggy, too jungle-like in the summer, but once the temperatures begin to drop the kids are all too eager to reclaim it as their own. Yesterday they raced down to our backyard creek, and found it dry as a bone, all the rocks and gravel lying exposed, bleached white from the sun. I was busy pulling ivy and weeds like a maniac when I heard L. shout: "Salamanders! We found salamanders!" They had turned a huge rock over and out scurried eight or ten little salamanders, yellow-orange just like the salamander in L.'s beloved book. They radiated out from the rock like spokes on a wheel, darting for cover. The kids spent an hour messing around in that dry creek bed, overturning rocks, building habitats for the little creatures. And as I listened and watched and oohed and aahed over the salamanders I realized that more than the air had changed around us that morning; a happiness had overcome L. again, and spread to all of us. DSCF6158