For a few months now, my youngest daughter has been regularly asking me to prepare her some tea. She often asks for wulong tea, though she sometimes prefers Japanese or Korean green tea. Recently, as I was drinking pu’er tea, she wanted to taste it. Her sister, two years older, is not really fond of tea. I hope one day she will. And if she never enjoys tea, well, that’s life.
A few days ago, while we were in the car, Older Sister was surprised to learn that tea can be drunk with milk, cream, and sugar. No wonder she was : I never add anything to my tea.
So, I took advantage of the trip to explain them how tea is prepared and drunk around the world : the English style (with milk and sugar), the Russian/Turkish/Iranian one (with the samovar), the Japanese way of tea (matcha), and the Chinese ceremony (gong fu cha), the student’s ritual (when you nuke water in a huge mug, before dipping a cheap teabag in it), the Indian chai (plain or masala), the Mauritian milk tea. Oops, I forgot the Tibetan tea, with yak butter and barley flour…
What was most surprising was how carefully they listened to me, while this topic is quite tough for a 8-year-old and a 10-year-old. And it was not only because they were unable to get out of the car ; they let me talk without asking me to stop, which they very often do. I think they were genuinely interested.
As for literature, we have had a ritual since last year : I read my daughters a book aloud at lunch- and dinner-time, when their dad is not at home. Of course, if they don’t feel like it, I do not read : being together is more important !
That’s how I’ve had them discover His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman (all 3 books, more than 1000 pages ; it took me nearly all 2018 !). They were not especially attracted by these books on the shelves, since our edition is worn out : the cover is crumpled, the paper has turned yellowish… But, they do not mind listening to the story, to the words. They let themselves be carried away by the sentences, the music of the text, they feel what the characters feel… and are very, very, frustrated each time I stop reading when there is suspense, which I always do. Otherwise, it would not be so much fun – for me -, would it ?
I let them use my teaware as well. They get used to handle and respect delicate objects. That is what Soshitsu Sen, a Japanese tea master, did before beginning his apprenticeship.
And now you are wondering : what is the link between these 3 points ?
For me, it is the joy to see them being enthralled by texts, beverages and objects that are not ordinary, and that are different from what they would easily be attracted.
For them, it is the pleasure to touch, handle real objects, not toys. The pleasure to enter longer and more demanding texts than the ones they usually read.
Yes, this joy is won through some effort : they must listen, concentrate on difficult texts ; they must be careful when using ironstone or china teaware ; they must accept to taste and smell unusual beverages…
But this effort, through tea drinking, dinner playing, and listening to texts, is not trying ; it is not an effort, it is a game. A game with complicated and demanding rules is a rewarding game.
And I am so delighted to see them create a gaiwan with their dinnerware set, or « steal » the book I read them, because the suspense is unbearable, because it is too hard to wait until the following day…
It is, mainly, accepting to see them grow, trusting them by accepting that they handle delicate and sometimes expensive objects. I keep telling myself that, as pricey as teaware can be, it is only that : teaware, things. And that the most important is what they learn from me, what I learn from them, and the memories that are created.