4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
I love books.
I love to read them. I dream about writing one someday. My shelves are covered, covered, covered with books. Because once one has acquired a book, whether as gift or purchase or that thing I couldn’t find for a year so I never returned to the library and had to pay for but then found in the trunk of my car, well, no matter, that book is now mine. Forever.
And sometimes it seems a laudable thing. A life in books.
And sometimes it seems more a hoarders thing. I am weighed down by books, smothered in words I can hardly remember, pages that reek of my college library, that hunger for the oxygen that comes from actually being opened, books that pile up on my nightstand half-read or crying to be picked up.
Because truth be told, I hardly have time of my own to read anything more than a text these days. Truly. And even if I did, well a friend said it best.
“I’m reading this book, and I just hate it. It’s so good I want to stab my kids every time they interupt me. Stab them.”*
My mother always had a pile of books on her nightstand, too. She loved books, although except for my father’s Encyclopedia Britannica and Great Books of the Western World collection (neither of which was read all that much, by the way) I don’t recall there being very many books in our home, just two shelves with a bunch of engineering manuals mixed in, some cookbooks, a collection of Dr. Suess.
And I don’t remember her sitting and reading. Although I don’t remember her sitting at all. Which as a mother of five, two with pretty major disabilities, plus my father’s on-going illness, I guess it’s no wonder.
And anyway, what mother has time to read?
Tonight though, I read. In fact, every night I read.
I read to my children. And while the older ones once enjoyed Sandra Boynton board books and those old Dr. Suess books my mother had re-bound and brought to me, we’ve moved on. Even my four-year-old now is knee deep in our “big reads.” Anything from the Bobbsey Twins or Boxcar Children to Junie B. Jones and anything by Andrew Clemens (who writes so beautifully, it makes me want to be a better writer.)
I have such voices and accents. Junie B. is always a kvetching Jewish grandma from Brooklyn while anyone remotely magical sounds like a drunk Irishman.
We are nearing the end of Mandy right now, a book by Julie Andrews Edwards. And as amazing an actress and singer as she is, I have to say, I think she’s almost that good an author.
Somehow these very slow passages describing various English flowers, cottage stonework, woodland critters, they come so very magically alive in my son’s bed, as my four cuddle around me, that we are all riveted. Breathing slows. Our bodies become still in the here and now as our five spirits are transported away to this other world. At the end of each hefty chapter punctuated with the illustration of the little bunny, I send them off to their respective beds.
And then, once I’ve read one board book to my four-year-old, read a “Sight Words” mini-book with one six-year-old (all reading skills, no plot), and sung a lullaby to the other six-year-old (who can read her own damn books, trust me), I sneak back to my seven-year-old’s room for the really heavy stuff.
He’d found 1984 on a bookshelf a few months ago and begun to read it. George Orwell’s 1984? The dystopian nightmare? Did I mention he’s seven? And so, after I slogged through Chapter 1 with him and realized that I could not read such epically ugly things before bed, we got The Giver by Lois Lowry. Which was beautiful, and sad, and dystopian, and mysterious. He liked it.
Our amazing children’s librarian, aghast at 1984, had recommended The Giver to us, and then, knowing me like she does, she recommended Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper.
It’s the story of an eleven-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who cannot speak on her own, but her story is told in the first person here. And oh, what a story. We pulled for her and stayed up later than we should reading just one more chapter, one more chapter, one more.
And tonight, we finished it.
I’ll admit it, I cried a little. His eyes may have clouded up. Actually this sweetly powerful book has been a bit of a tearfest.
I cannot imagine having this book to read as a child, or to have had it read to me. It would have transported me. To have someone write about being a person with disabilities when I lived in a house full of people with disabilities? Spectacular.
I remember reading Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. I was maybe eleven or twelve myself, home sick with a stomach bug and so I’d slept on the floor of the bathroom, curled up on our pink bath mat, sipping flat Coke, covered in towels.
I remember finishing the book all by myself and gazing up at the underside of the pink porcelain sinks and formica countertop. That memory is so vivid.
In Flowers for Algernon someone had written words that lifted me out of that house of chittering televisions and incessant screeching, and I was seeing my childhood, and my retarded brother Butchie, from a totally different place. It flipped everything upside down for me.
Because books do that.
Nowadays at a cocktail party or playdate I’m caught off guard when asked if I’ve read anything good lately. They mean, have I read the new Pulitzer-winning novel? And of course, I have not.
I’m confident that someday I’ll read things of my own choosing again. I’m even (sort of) confident I’ll (try to) write that book of my own, too. Really.
But for now I’m just so glad to be going on these journeys with my children, taking them with me over the garden wall or rolling into my classroom strapped in my wheelchair, speechless.
“I’m surrounded by thousands of words. Maybe millions…
Words have always swirled around me like snowflakes- each one delicate and different, each one melting untouched in my hands.”
~From the first page of Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
*I may be either paraphrasing or projecting here, depending on whether you’re a therapist or an English teacher.