Some things just slip off the radar when you enter Grad school in the midst of raising six kids. Cleaning my youngest son’s bedroom was one of those things. This past December, I decided the time had come to tackle this 9 x 12 section of my home that held enough contents to fill a room twice its size.
My son was at school, making it safe to enter the room with a large black trash bag, all-purpose cleaner, and paper towels. I was determined to downsize, clean and organize the remains. After filling the trash bag, and two large plastic toy bin drawers, I faced the worst part of the job, a large, white, pressed wood, floor-to- ceiling shelf unit serving as toy/book storage.
As the youngest of six, Aidan had inherited all the children’s books and toys that ever graced the entrance to our home. His shelving unit was filled with a mass of childhood treasures, but mostly books. If I tossed old, long forgotten, and disregarded books, Aidan might have room for his burgeoning Lego collection. Throwing away old books seemed like a reasonable idea, in theory.
Fortunately, only my oldest daughter has inherited my obsession for books. The other children, when streamlining their bedrooms, rationally place outgrown, copies of Dr. Seuss or Corduroy the Bear, in donation bags with old clothes. I routinely follow up by foraging through the donation bags, motivated by a desire to rescue precious texts. I helpfully suggest a more practical and responsible act would include giving the books to a younger sibling. This “pass it on” practice saves me the agony of wrestling with bibliophile issues. Salvation ended, however when I ran out of children. As I look at Aidan’s messy shelves, I realize they represent twenty-two years of childhood.
Sighing deeply, I know what needs to happen. I begin to sort, wondering how I can part from board books filled with“special edition” illustrations drawn by former two year olds. Their worn edges and cracked binding tell a story of a different time. Countless Scholastic paperbacks with missing pages hold reminders of young children pouring over thin newsprint catalogs, dreaming of a new book to call their own. A worn copy of Five Little Monkeys delivers a memory of distant bath-times and squeaky -clean toddlers with wet heads smelling of coconut. I remember the feeling of little warm bodies pressed against my chest as I rocked and read. And this. Moo, Baa, La, La, La– Didn’t I recite this for at least 1,000 naptime reads in the middle of the day, while guiltily wishing for a break? Even then I knew I needed to savor the moment. I knew this day would come.
The toddlers that once held these books are now in high school fretting over AP exams and college choices. The pre-schoolers are in college fretting over GPA’s, tuition prices, and graduation requirements. The baby is eight years old. It is time to deal with reality and place these books, these memories, where they belong.
I realize I am fortunate. By having six children, I have managed to extend cuddly reading time, the life of these books, way past a normal experience of the average family. But now, the truth lies in my hands. The books are aged and truly need to be discarded. The little children who once held them, read them, and treasured them have moved forward in life.
I survey the remnants of childhood and feel their power. These pieces of cardboard, paper, ink, staples and glue are so much more. They are the gentle sway of a rocking chair and a warm, snuggling child on my lap. They are a Christmas morning squeal, a Spot the Dog birthday celebration, a naptime, and bedtime ritual. These seemingly insignificant, worn texts hold within their pages treasured memories; a record of childhood and early motherhood.
As I pick through familiar titles of stories once memorized, I am overwhelmed with emotion. The brevity and shifting evolution of life is an ominous foe. These little pieces of literature remind me of snuggles in bed before a thousand kisses and “I love you”s to chase away the monsters. They speak of giggles and joy bursting forth from a shared love of poetry and prose. They reflect long afternoons of “just one more story” that I thought would never end. These treasures are the captivating peace and beauty of a sleeping child whose breathing slows as you whisper, “And good night to the old lady whispering…hush”
I dust off the titles gently and place them in neat stacks on the floor. These books are my Velveteen Rabbit of mothering. They are precious and loved because they no longer represent crisp, pristine copies of unknown stories and adventure. They are precious because they remind me of the power of language, the written word, and my great love of reading,. This love, shared and transferred to my children, is a powerful force. This love has transformed raggedy books into real, precious artifacts of life.
The streamlining of childhood toys will have to wait. I need to find a tote box to house the worn, tattered books. For some day, I hope to sit in a rocking chair and once again hold a precious child. I will smell their sweet, wet head and enjoy the weight of their body resting on my chest. I will gaze at the miracle of life and patiently recite the words held on the pages “one more time”. I will stroke their hair as they drift off to sleep and know what only a grandmother can know. Time races forward, but through written words we freeze it in a perfect, precious memory.