April 5, 2012

Railroad Train Pajamas

“What do you like to read?” he asked.

“She has three kids; she doesn’t have time to read.”

But I do.  I do read.  I read the paper at the table, fighting my daughter for the front section of the New York Times.  I spend extra time in the bathroom to finish an article in Brain, Child.  I’ll stay on the elliptical because it’s where I read Ms. It’s been well over a decade since I last finished an entire issue of The New Yorker, but I keep trying.

At night, no matter what, I read a book in bed. It used to be tensensible minutes. But it’s grown and grown, and I don’t really get enough sleep any night and sure as hell not enough last week when I was reading The Hunger Games.  I maintain a book blog that no one reads – my private labor of love.

My TBR shelf is thirty books long, and yet I keep buying them.  There is possibility in a new book, in a library card.  There is the promise of time to sit and read, even though I know I won’t have it.


Yesterday was Literacy Day at the boys’ school.  The school literacy guru got up and talked to us about helping promote literacy.  I sat there thinking What I really need is advice on where the hell to put all the books.

“I have this handout on how to start a home library!” she offered at the end, as parents shuffled out to head to their children’s classrooms.

I caught up with her near the door.  “My second grader, Zachary, just finished organizing his books on his shelves,” I told her.  “He decided he needed a TBR shelf like mine.”

She smiled.  “Would you like a handout on how to start a home library?”  Clearly, she didn’t realize she was talking to a woman who organizes her books into categories like “Memoir,” “American Literature,” and “Random Shit My Husband Bought That’s Not Allowed In With My Books.”

We’re all about promoting literacy around here.  Zachary has taken to making long lists of verbs, nouns, and adjectives.  He spends hours a day reading, for which I envy him a little.  He came into the kitchen last week moaning: “Oooooh… If I could just think of a topic for a book, maybe I could get published.”  Right, kid.  Because it’s just that easy.

He’s been nagging me about those damned companies where a parent can pay for her kid’s work to be published into a book.  “Writing grows with experience,” I told him.  “Now is the time for you to be honing your craft.”

Translation: read.  Read all the time.  Read everything you can find, touch, smell.  Live with words.

Last night I caught him with his nightlight long after bedtime, rereading The Son of Neptune.  The rebellious reader, living with words.


I have a Kindle.  I tried.  It didn’t work.  You could call me old-fashioned, but I prefer the term “fetishist.”


Lilah has hit the Berenstain Bears age.  It happens to them all.  They give up quality shit about ducks in Boston and become obsessed with those moronic, sexist bears.  What’s with the goddamned pink hairbow and polka-dotted blouse, Sister?  Don’t you animals ever want to put on a different outfit?

I have had it up to here with the Bears after three children.  There was a time when I amused myself by making up titles to imaginary Berenstain Bears books: The Berenstain Bears Try Smoking Dope, The Berenstain Bears and the Swingers, and my personal favorite, The Berenstain Bears and the Dykes Next Door.  It made those books more palatable to have a bit of fun at Mama Bear’s expense.  At this point, though, I’m done.

“I’m going to pick a book, too,” I said tonight.  I sat in front of her shelf, scanning the spines of hundreds of picture books, the collection of a bibliophile on her third kid.  What to choose?  She’s too old for Please, Baby, Please and Send It. She’s moved beyond so many of my favorites.

Benjamin, at five, is reading us The Magic Treehouse, and when we read to him, it’s all chapter books with the occasional scientific treatise on crystals thrown in.  I can stomach the bad grammar and inane plotlines of Magic Treehouse because I still have one child in picture books.

But as I sat in front of Lilah’s books, I realized my days with The Gruffalo and I’ll Love You Forever are numbered.  There are a finite number of evenings – 200? 450? – before I’ll one day cull Blueberries for Sal and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel from her shelf.  I need to make every night count.

I chose Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.


I’m not a patient mother.  Some days, I manage.  And then there are days like today.  Benjamin seemed determined to find and push every button I had.  There were the toys he took from his sister and the call I had to make to AAA because he’d left the light on over his seat and the fight over half a stick with his brother.  And then he dumped out all the shaved Parmesan cheese at dinner and I cracked.  I just cracked.  I haven’t lost it like this in a very, very long time.

It’s through books and stories that I can connect to my kids, show them that I respect them through all of our combined imperfections.  When Zachary comes downstairs when he’s supposed to be sleeping and says, “Which book is it when the arm comes out of the fire?” I know he’s talking about Dolores Umbridge and I know he wants me to remove The Order of the Phoenix from his room before he can sleep.  When we’re having a rough morning, I can tell Benjamin the story of Les Miserables on the walk to school.  When Lilah chortles at the picture of Papa Bear running from the bees or shouts out “Swiper, no Swiping” on the last page of a Dora book, it goes a long way to helping me forgive myself for losing my temper with her for hiding in her closet giggling when it was time to get her teeth brushed because her brothers had sapped every last ounce of patience out of me and all I had left were the coffee grounds at the bottom of my sanity.

Some days are like that.  Even in Australia.

You Might Also Like


  • Reply Catherine April 5, 2012 at 1:39 am

    Yup. Me too. All of that.

  • Reply Marnie April 5, 2012 at 1:46 am

    Emily-I’ve been reading since I came across your post on Motherlode and followed over to this site. I realized afterwards that I had read some of your work in the Penn Gazette (I graduated the college in 2005). I also keep a book blog which no one reads and prefer physical books to reading on a Kindle. And Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is still one of my favorite books and resides in my apartment (I’m 28 and single). I love everything about this post. You so beautifully explain how books, and stories can connect us to others in such a magnificent way. I used to be a middle school English teacher and I loved sharing books with children. It’s something I hope to be able to do more of in the future. Also I find myself thinking of Alexander and his mantra often. I hope tomorrow is a better day.

  • Reply alejna April 5, 2012 at 3:56 am

    I love this post so much, Emily. It reminds me of why I love you and your writing so very much.

    (Also, I love books. Our house is overflowing with them. I fantasize about having a library with floor-to-ceiling shelves.) (Also I want a door hidden in the bookcases, but that’s not totally germane to the topic of books.)

    • Reply magpie April 5, 2012 at 4:19 pm

      I would like a secret door too. But where would it go? To the secret room I haven’t yet discovered.

  • Reply Heather April 5, 2012 at 11:37 am

    I read your book blog.
    Ugh… the berenstain bears! 3 of my 4 have loved them at one point or another. For a two mom family to spend so much time reaading about a family where the dad is idiotic was painful. What if they took a message other than the one being preached and thought all dads are morons?
    AAA is great. I wish they didn’t know me so well.

  • Reply Katie Friscia April 5, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Loved reading this Emily!!! Soooo tired of magic tree house… Sigh. Better than junie b jones ( have you had the pleasure???) though which drives me insane and I refuse to buy!!!

  • Reply sarah piazza April 5, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    This sounds uncannily like my house.

    Lovely post, Emily.

  • Reply WendyElissa April 5, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    I love Junie B. Jones, Katie:).

    Emily, I too love reading to my daughters at the end of the day when I may have lost my patience and that quiet, close, time makes up for whatever happened earlier that day. I love that my girls have inherited my love of books and reading because books make life better and more manageable.

  • Reply magpie April 5, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    I have a really hard time with the book culling. I know it should be done, but…she still pulls books off the shelf that we’ve read hundreds of times. It’s like an old blanket. Her room is a disaster what with toys and dolls and books strewn everywhere. Oh well. On the other hand, I am very good at saying no, so we have no Berenstain Bears books – we had one once, but it didn’t last long because I can’t stand that simpering shit.

    How about The Wizard Of Oz series for your 7yo? There are lots and lots of them, and I think I read them all.

  • Reply WendyElissa April 5, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Another thought: one day you will have grandchildren to read your favorite books to:).
    Also, I just read a good book you might like called the Reading Promise by Alice Ozma. It is about a girl whose father read aloud to her every night from the age of about 9 until she went to college.

  • Reply Painted Maypole April 6, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    it baffles me that any grade school child would not already have a home “library”

    MQ recently went thorugh a bunch of her books to get rid of. As always, I set a few aside for the “never ever gonna get rid of this book and you darn well better give me grandchildren so I can read it to them” pile. A few went into the “pass down to the godchildren” pile. And the rest will be sold at a garage sale, for a quarter each, so another child can have a huge library.

    books. love ’em.

  • Reply niobe April 9, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    My oldest never had any interest in reading. I mean, of course, he did the required reading for school, but he just didn’t like books all that much. Not much like me as a child, but I found it kind of charming.

  • Reply Lauren April 10, 2012 at 1:07 am

    So now I need to find Please, Baby, Please and Send It and Blueberries for Sal. We haven’t read any of them! But we have a wonderful collection and lots of great British works too.

    I do like my Kindle– in fact, it has helped me rediscover how much I enjoy reading. But I have so many TBR on my shelf that I also want to read.

  • Leave a Reply