Clearing the Shelves

Yesterday, my kids and I needed a project. We’d spent the weekend on the beach and were all exhausted and sunburned and cranky. As a growing family of five, we have LOTS of to do lists, so we decided to tackle the curious bookshelf that lives between our dining and living spaces, the one that has become a receptacle for every bound page in our house that doesn’t have an exact home. It includes board books from when the kids were little, remnants of my mother’s YA library circa 1983, books I’ve begun reading downstairs only to be interrupted 8,000 times by any variety of downstairs distractions, sheet music, 19 Haggadahs, etc., etc. It also includes an unfiltered collection of books I’ve read from every genre, overflow from the four larger bookshelves I keep stuffed in my office.

Much to their delight, the kids quickly discovered that rarity of rarities: that mom was much more responsible for this particular mess than they were. Their piles were respectably large, but mine was this heaping thing that is now spreading its wings in several directions on our living room floor.

I don’t know about you, but I find that any unplanned exposure to my life ends up being a bit of a Rorschach test of how my kids perceive me. My youngest found my pile awesome, because it was big and it toppled. My daughter, who is 11 and figuring out what kind of young woman she’d like to be, smiled a quiet smile and told me how happy all my books make her. My oldest, who is 13 and is as brilliant and vocal as he is opinionated and loud, couldn’t fathom what he was seeing. “Have you really READ all these books, mom?” Not exactly (see: interruptions, above), but the real number is probably some multiple unfathomable to us both. “It looks like you read as much as ME!” A textbook thirteen-year-old observation, at least in my (no pun intended) book. They’re at that age when the patterns you’ve been hoping to instill in them finally take hold, but they think they invented them. “But where do they go? Have you memorized all of them? Are they all in your HEAD?”

I love that last question. Yes, they are all in my head, to varying degrees. But they are even more in my heart. I’m not a fan of the false dichotomies of head vs. heart, or intellect vs. emotion, or any other construction of the human experience that seeks to neatly categorize parts of the whole. And the lovely thing is, I’m sure that I don’t need to explain this to my kids. They may not understand it now, but when they feel their entire bodies and selves releasing into a story – last night it was Charlotte’s Web for my youngest, begun in the bathtub and dragged to the bed; it’s been The School for Good and Evil for my daughter and her best friend, who share the books like giggled secrets; and currently its anything Greek myth related for my thirteen-year-old, who lectures me on the gods and goddesses and their purpose (because he’s still wrapping his head around my thorough liberal arts education, something he’s sure he needs to build on) – I know this is one of those great truths that benefits from no explanation. It just is, and the more I get out of its – and their – way on this one, the better. So thank you for this, too, gods and goddesses of reading and writing and their gorgeously inconceivable intersections, thank you for giving me something to trust in, something I can give my children simply by stepping out of their way. As if you hadn’t already given us enough.

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