“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.