February 16, 2016

Unkindest cut

Dear Children,

When you were newborns, I nursed you, changed you, and diligently washed your sensitive little backsides with mild soap and water every day. You got tummy time every day. I stuck to a schedule and took you out for walks and burped you between sides. And, most importantly, from the very first week, I read to you.

Admittedly, in those first months, you frequently slept through the books, but I kept at it. Eventually, you caught on and took an interest. And then more of an interest.

Eldest, we used to read you four books at bedtime. The last one was always Goodnight Moon. “Goodnight comb, and goodnight brush. Goodnight Nobody. Goodnight mush.” Then, one night when you were eleven months old, I pulled out the familiar green and orange book, and you pushed it away. Decisively. Emphatically, even. You were having none of it, because you realized that when we read you Goodnight Moon, the jig was up, and you wanted book time to continue on and on. Let that old lady whisper “hush” to some other sucka.

Middle, your favorite book was Blueberries for Sal. For months and months. The other books in your evening repertoire might vary, but every night we read that one. I’m pretty sure it was because of your blueberry obsession. Little Sal and her mother, climbing up one side of Blueberry Hill, while Little Bear and his mama climb the other. “Kuplink, kuplank…” and together we would say, “kuplunk.” That satisfying sound of berries in an empty bucket.

Youngest, you, my dear, went through a tragic Karen Katz phase. Which was not as awful as your brothers’ Berenstain Bears and Richard Scarry phases, except eventually you inherited and made me read those books, too. You redeemed yourself with a love of The Lorax, Owl Babies, and Room on the Broom. You especially loved that owl mother swooping in to Sarah and Percy and Bill.

My children, oh how you progressed! When you turned five, I read each of you The Wizard of Oz in turn. Middle, you made it through quite a number of those Oz books, but the other two never showed much interest past the first one or two. And then there were the Little House books, beloved by each of you in kindergarten. You knew Almanzo and Laura were going to get together, but somehow the anticipation was delicious all the same.

But the seasons they go round and round, and that painted pony? It goes up and down.

You grew into Harry Potter. Each of you began by letting me read you those books, and then decided to continue on your own. “Decided” might be too measured a word. Mostly, you snuck under the covers and the next morning the bookmark was three chapters further on and I couldn’t get you out of bed for school.

After Harry Potter, you began to diverge. Your tastes were different when you read to yourselves. Eldest loved Dan Gutman and Percy Jackson, Middle disappeared into The Hardy Boys, and Youngest, enough with the damned fairy books already. Yet, when it came time for me to read, there was overlap. Narnia and The Secret Garden and The Little Princess. Perhaps you loved it so much because it was your time alone with me, but I like to think it was my superior reading skills. No one can read The Night Pirates quite like I can.

“Down, down, down the dark, dark street they came…”

Each night, I went from one room to the next. Youngest with Dealing With Dragons, then Middle with The Sixty-Eight Rooms. Then Eldest, with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Bean Trees.

I knew I was living on borrowed time. I knew it was pretty damned special to have a kid who let me read to him long enough for us to get around to The Chosen. To try to make it last a little longer, I threw in The Reading Promise.

Denial. River in Egypt and all that.

Lately, Youngest, you are openly objecting. You don’t want to stop reading and come out of the world you are in, and you want to be alone with the characters. Eldest is at least humoring me, but I can see he’s long since outgrown having his mother read to him. Only Middle still wants it… as long as he’s not reading something else.

I know, I know, that the time has come. I understand that you were bound to outgrow it. I’m so thankful that you’re all wonderful—nay, magnificent—readers. I love that you read me bits of The Warriors series and insist I read this Garfield comic and summarize for me the entire plot of The Silmarillion, which I can’t follow at all. I respect that children grow up and away.

I’m not ready. Of course, I’ll never be ready, but that’s beside the point. I wanted to end on something perfect, and instead you’re all squirming to get back to your own books.

I’ll let it go. I’ll let you go. And I’ll try to sneak it in here or there, reading you The Onion or the SCOTUS blog whenever you’ll let me. But know that it pains me. Deeply. Know that I want to hold onto those days when we snuggled in with a book. Know that I want to be intimately involved in your reading lives, while at the same time I know I have to let you have your own reading lives. I’m bleeding internally from the separation. I’ll do my best to keep it internal.

In the great green room, there was a telephone, and a red balloon, and a picture of the cow jumping over the moon.

What I wouldn’t give to have you ask me to read you The Berenstain Bears or even that infernal Richard Scarry. Just one last time.

Soft and silent, she swooped through the trees to Sarah and Percy and Bill.

Someday, there’ll be grandchildren.

Kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk.

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