Thoughts on realizing you’ve read a book for the last time.
Last night before bed, I made a stack of books to read to Chapman, my three-year-old son and resident bookworm. There were a couple of current favorites, a Dr. Seuss book, a Pete the Cat book, and two old and battered board books that I can and have read with my eyes closed. We curled up with his stuffed giraffe and whale blanket and started reading.
When my daughter was born in 2011, our house had a grand total of two children’s books in it. One was about a little girl who couldn’t find her pumpkin and the other was about a family of children who get lost on a sailboat.
Since then, our collection of books has ballooned. Board books, pop-up books, stupid books, funny books. True stories about animals, attempts to make politics interesting and accessible to kindergarteners (that’s a good one — more adults need to read it!), adventure books, friendship books, dinosaur books. Books with lights and noise, books that come with stickers, short and tall books. Paperbacks and hard cover and these plastic-type books that are indestructible.
Periodically, I cull our book collection. I do it partly for space and partly because there are some really terrible children’s books out there that I never want to read again. I’ll always ditch the book version of Disney movies because they don’t even make sense. I have gotten rid of books that push the gender agenda a little too hard and books that have boring pictures and ones that just feel kind of condescending to me.
One book I’ve almost gotten rid of was written in the 1950’s and the dad is smoking a cigarette at the dinner table with his family. It’s not that I don’t want them to see someone smoking, it’s just how the the wife’s hair and makeup is so perfect as she serves dinner in a dainty little apron and high heels that really bums me out. But my kids find it compelling literature, so I’ve kept it.
Getting rid of these books has always given me a sense of relief. I know the empty spaces they left behind will soon fill in and I’m hopeful that there’s someone out there who will be thrilled to find a paperback copy of Toy Story 4 at Goodwill for twenty five cents.
Laying side by side in bed, we plow through the stack of books. Finally we were down to just the board books. One is simply called Tubby. Allow me to summarize: it’s the tale of a genderless child who takes a bath. End of story. The other is called A Good Day and it’s a story about animals who first have bad luck and then have good luck. For example, the baby fox can’t see his mother. Then he looks behind the tree and spots her. Real moving.
Both of these books and stories are utterly forgettable. Except for the fact that my daughter received both of them as gifts on her first Christmas when she was 9 months old. It is a reasonable estimate to say that I have read those two books more than a hundred times since then. Maybe even two hundred times.
Even so, I never thought of these books as being particularly special. So it should have been no big deal when Chapman pushed them to the floor and told me that they were for babies. Instead though, a pang of surprising grief spread across my chest.
Had I read Tubby and A Good Day for the last time? Is the board book chapter of my life drawing to a close?
I haven’t been sentimental about getting rid of any of my kids’ baby things. I don’t want to have any more babies. I’m ready to live a life that doesn’t involve carseats, meltdowns or doorknobs that are always sticky no matter what.
But for some reason, sliding those books to the floor felt like a real loss. I’m glad to be reading books with a little bit more of a storyline. But let’s face it, good storylines don’t come without scary parts and losses.
Part of me wants to pick the books up off the floor and keep reading them over and over and over. Wouldn’t it be great if life was really about taking baths and realizing that your mother is was there all along?
But we all — including Chapman — know that life’s not that simple. It’s the conflict and the hard parts that make the good parts sweet.
Spoiler alert — puppy gets found in the middle of a snowstorm and bear finds his friends after all. Let’s hope we can stick with these for at least a dozen years or so. I’m not ready for what comes next.
If you know young people who like to read and you also like to read, you should read this article about what to read to young people: