16. Stories and Play

by Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty

Descriptive Title

Stories and Play


Chapter Sixteen of Cardinal Mindszenty's book, The Mother.

Larger Work

The Mother



Publisher & Date

Radio Replies Press, 1949

God created the heart of a mother for love. The only reward of this love consists in the happy knowledge that she loves and is happy in her child. Mothers find their greatest happiness when the child begins to develop physically and mentally. Then the child is in the springtime of life, when the buds open up and blossoms and blooms appear everywhere, when the seed is sown in the damp ground and the song of the lark is heard.

So the child, budlike, unfolds. It is beautiful. When it bursts forth into early childhood it seems more beautiful. But all this is surpassed at the dawn of reason-a time of great happiness to the mother. Until now she gave the child of her own blood, but now she can give of her own soul. Before, there was the same stream of blood in both; now she can speak soul to soul.

The heart of a mother is the greatest and best pedagogue in the whole world. We bow in reverence before her greatness. You, as a mother, note the first dawn of reason, you see its wants as a wise mother, as ready to fulfill the duties of your calling. This small helpless child rests for a second time in the bosom of your spirit.

Questions And Questions

When once a child begins to ask questions, it takes great patience to listen and give the correct answers. How important and significant these questions seem to the child. The wise mother does not tire listening. She does not crush the spark impatiently, nor does she put out the glimmering light. She herself asks questions, and in these questions she reveals her soul to the child. She opens the door to fairyland.

With dances and fairy tales
One after another
Thus were my slumbers
Wooed by my mother.

(Mecs Laszlo)

For the little aches and pains of a child a fairy tale is always a certain remedy. Even when two or three years old, the child still enjoys them. The child, restless as mercury, stops and listens when mother begins to tell a story.

Mama, Please, A Story

Mother as a storyteller is one of the most refreshing memories of childhood. Goethe in his old age remembered the time when he sat at his mother's knee, playing and listening to her stories. There are undoubtedly many great story tellers in the world of literature, but who can compare with a mother? Who can tell stories about giants and gnomes, about princes and princesses, about fairies and enchanted castles, better than a mother? Why even the most uneducated mother, although not versed in literature, can tell the most wonderful tales to her child. She must tell fairy tales because she is a mother. The large open expectant eyes of the child are upon the mother. A wise mother will not answer the question of a child in cold harsh words; she has a story ready to make her answer clear.

At different times and in various quarters the telling of fairy tales has been decried. "These silly stories about animals appearing and talking like men should have been discarded long ago. They should be superseded by simple questions taken from practical life." But we are fully convinced and in perfect accord with the opinion of the celebrated pedagogue, Leander de Celles, that fairy tales must be fostered, not only from an artistic, but also a moral standpoint. Were these tales to disappear it would be an irretrievable loss. They are not only an aid to the memory, but they also tend to form the moral consciousness of the child. In real fairy tales, evil is always despised and punished, while the good is praised and rewarded. It is especially in those formative years, when the conscience of the child awakens, that these tales prove of inestimable value. The mother must, however, be on the alert that the child does not get the habit of lying.

Alban Stolz contends that these tales have their dangerous side. He seems to think that when the child awakens to the fact that there are no enchanted castles and wonderful princes in the actual world, it might then be inclined to place the stories of the Bible on an equal basis with fairy tales. But it seems to us that this danger can be removed by bringing out the truths and reality underlying fairy stories as the child advances in years. The beauty of these tales does not consist in the talking animals, but in the way they bring out the difference between good and evil, light and darkness, love and infidelity. Fairy stories must not be ruled out in these days of the atom bomb, because they should accompany us all through life. For they not only serve the purpose of entertainment or pastime, but they build up the world of the soul in the child. It is just at the time when we are relating such stories to children that we capture their wonder, their love and attachment. When a child has listened to fairy tales for some time, it begins to retell them to others, and finally makes up stories of its own. Such a child does not necessarily become a great poet, but such a child is on the road to become a man of intellect, a thinking man, without losing himself entirely in exterior things.

Your Own Story

Besides this great treasury of fairy tales, there is a story that a mother should often relate. That is the story of her own childhood, when she, resting in her mother's arms listened to fairy tales herself. This is the fairyland of her life, in which many tears were shed. My own mother told me about the fight for independence in 1848, and about my grandmother. This may not be interesting to others, but to me it has been a very treasure trove. She related how the black robbers came, while grandmother was engaged in kneading dough. Without further thought she attacked the intruders with her doughy hands and drove them out. Ever since then as I look at her photograph before me, I revere her as a great heroine.

The stories a mother tells make the day brighter, are satisfying to the soul, and open the door to a better world. Selma Lagerlof, the renowned Nordic poetess, writes: "Have you ever watched a child in its mother's arms, while listening to a story told by its mother? While telling about the cruel barons and passionate princesses who were robbed and led away to the robber stronghold, the child's eyes open wide, its head is raised, it listens attentively; but when mother speaks about happiness and glorious sunshine, the child closes its eyes, slumbers and dreams, resting in mother's arms." A story makes the child happy, while a game is work to the child. What happy days when the child says: "Mama, tell me a story."

Off To Play

Play also belongs in the paradise of childhood. As long as there are children on earth, children will play, for it is the gate to childish happiness. Play is of even greater significance than fairy tales. Here the child must be independently active in a creative way. Goethe says that a child can create something out of anything. A cane becomes a gun; a piece of wood, a sword; a bit of cloth is turned into a doll. Any corner can be either an enchanted castle, or a kitchen. The work of the parents, the doctor, papa and mama, all are introduced into their play.

In their play the mother foresees her children's future. As the gardener visualizes the fully developed tree in the seed, so the mother foresees the future man in the play of her child. How she enjoyed the fine plans she makes for us, how she painted our future in the most vivid colors. The character traits of the child show themselves while at play. A future teacher, doctor, priest, a capable housewife and mother can be recognized in children by their play. Their games are ideas from God, which vaguely outline the future. Will these promises be fulfilled?

Perhaps it is for this reason that we as adults are so moved by the games of the little ones. Perhaps we look back with regret to the plans of our youth, which by some mischance were never carried out. Occasionally the child is free. It can follow its own inclinations. To grant a child this inner complete freedom is something not to be undervalued. The child should be allowed to play until tired out. Since the establishment of the large playgrounds in Chicago, the number of juvenile delinquents has gone down thirty-five per cent.

Play is the finest preparation for future work. It awakens the creative faculties in a child. Play is, so to say, the very air that the child breathes. When still young it listened to the rooster's crow and the song of the birds. Then, grown older, it tries to imitate these sounds in a playful manner. This is truly play. When a child is six months old, it will play with a box for hours, open it, close it, and finally takes it apart.

A girl will play with her dolls; she will have them speak and relate stories, they will cry and complain to her. And the child will comfort them like a mother. Occasionally great misfortune arises, a doll will break a foot or an arm, and the little mother must bind up the wounds and care for it. She will watch over the sick doll with maternal love.

We might suggest that the mother be not too generous in providing toys. The child will become superficial soon enough. When a child has fewer toys, it will learn to keep better order, which is of great value.

Even though play forms a large part of the child's life, the child itself should never be made a plaything. It must always be taken seriously. The mother must not be a toy to the child, even though the poets call her the child's loveliest toy. The mother is there to supervise the play of her child. By watching the children at play, she soon learns which child is brave or timorous, which one has a good disposition, which one not. If there are no playmates, then the mother is its best playmate. The lives of many children are sad because they have no playmates.

When children have grown, then they seek their own playmates among other children. In company with others, whether on the streets or in open fields, they form a world of their own away from the grown-ups. They have a great children's republic, to which their elders have no entry. However exciting their play may be, they soon tire of it. Then a certain inner chord calls them back to mother. "Play and comrades, good bye. I must run home to mother."

Early Experience

Children love to play, but they also have the urge to work. A child wishes to imitate the parents in their work. The boys take after the father. The girls imitate the mother. Next to spiritual development it is well to remember that the body must also be developed. Work and sports make for a healthy and elastic development of the body.

Many homes have a children's playroom. At furniture exhibitions many expensive arrangements are exhibited for such playrooms. But why? That life may make adjustments necessary? The playroom should be simple, light, airy and clean. The science of education consists in bringing good influences to bear on the children. But man is more deeply influenced by his surroundings. Therefore every playroom should be adorned with a picture of Our Blessed Mother and the Guardian Angel. Mother's picture should also have a place of honor there.

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