Now One Foot, Now the Other
Children's book review by P.J. Rooks
Watching the people we love grow old is one of the hardest things we do in our lifetimes.
Watching them deal with the effects of a stroke, however, just seems to extend and amplify the horror -- communication becomes a major hurdle and, to make matters worse, your loved one doesn't know who you are.
As if it's not enough that you feel the same loss and concern that you would when someone you love faces any serious illness, you have to deal with your own unusual emotions too.
Does he know who I am? Why is he yelling at me? Can he hear me? Can he understand? I don't know what to do for him. I guess I'll go, then. Am I being selfish? Are those tears about something I did? I must be a terrible person...
Then it's back to square one -- Does he know who I am?
This is tough stuff -- I know it (and well, unfortunately) because my much-loved grandfather had a stroke.
An incisive but warmhearted man with a doctorate in law and a late-blooming passion for frozen pizza and football, he called our house one morning and simply said that something was "very wrong" -- and that was the last lucid conversation we had with him for quite some time.
I was in college then, and it was hard to deal with, but for a young child to try to understand, I can't even imagine.
Tomie dePaola's book, Now One Foot, Now the Other brings the whole experience back with such clarity that it got rather difficult to finish for all my blurry, wet vision. A real tear-jerker, this one, but so, so sweet.
Bobby's favorite person in the world is his grandpa, Bob. Bob teaches Bobby how to walk, stacks blocks with him and tells him stories -- Bobby's favorite, as he grows, is the story about learning to walk with Bob, first one foot, then the other.
When he turns five, Bob takes him to the amusement park where they have a wonderful time.
Then Bob has a stroke. Bobby comes home one day and his parents tell him that Bob is in the hospital, won't be back for a long time and no, sorry, Bobby can't go see him. Bobby is, of course, devastated.
Months of sadness and loneliness pass for Bobby but finally, Bob gets to come home. What a bittersweet homecoming it is, though. Bob is confined to a bed or chair, can't walk or talk or even eat and little Bobby is afraid and sad. Bobby's first attempt to talk to Bob is frightening and he ends up running from the room to tell his mom that Bob sounded like a monster.
When Bobby returns to Bob a few minutes later, there are tears on Bob's face.
It is a moment of reckoning for Bobby, because he finds that he can talk to Bob and believes that Bob is responding to him, even if it is ever so very slightly.
The blocks and stories slowly come back out, only this time it is Bobby that is in the lead and eventually, Bob learns to walk again, just a little, with young Bobby teaching the subject he's known so well through his cherished stories, first one foot, now the other.
A beacon of hope, Now One Foot, Now the Other gently explains one of the many medical horrors faced by our beloved grandparents as they age. It is a sweet story of enduring compassion rewarded, a message to kids that sometimes we have to choose to love people more for who they were than what they've become.
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