Monday, March 9, 2009

Max's Books

Although generally I am keeping anecdotes relating to my son off the blog (since he is a minor, and as his parent I am ethically bound to protect him and his privacy) . . . still, there is one early memory I have of him that has been on my mind a lot today for some reason, and I have decided to share it to illustrate a point about my family overall. I am sitting with my son in his room (the one in a former apartment that still had the look of a nursery about it), and we are reading Maurice Sendak's classic, Where the Wild Things Are. My son is not yet three years old. He's following along with the pictures, and suddenly he stops the story where Max has been sent to his room by his mother, and the boy's bedroom is about to transform into a dense forest. My son asks in a genuinely concerned voice: "Where are his books?" I'm thrown by the question, a complete non sequitur, and I look hard at those same illustrations that I grew up with and cherished a generation ago. I am somewhat stunned. It's true: nowhere in Max's room is there a single book—not on a shelf or on the floor, nowhere. Mostly I'm stunned (and suddenly feeling extremely humble), because my toddler son is the first person in our family's history to have noticed this. In fact, he's the first person I've ever heard of who's made this observation. My son looks around his own room, then looks again at the room drawn in the story. He comments next that this lack of books is "kind of sad." I remember that this is where my chest puffed back out a bit. For all the mistakes I had already made as a first-time mom (and there were many!), I had to have done something right if books were just a given in my son's life, and if he found it strange that there should be a room without them. And this is also where, in the next breath, I deferred taking any credit at all, because although I was not quite so observant at his age, I have had to recognize in his experience the theme of my own childhood—rooms with books—and of course this did not begin with me. In my own childhood, my parents supplied the books and therefore the myriad doors they opened in my mind. I don't think there was a room, ever, in any of our residences, that did not have books. (OK, I take it back: there have been dining rooms and bathrooms with no books, but that is all.) In the kitchen there were cookbooks of all sorts, some of them looking more like travel tomes with their exotic, enticing photographs; in the living spaces, always there were built-in bookcases that took up a growing square footage in each successive home, plus there was usually a coffee-table collection; the bedrooms, mine and my parents', were also overflowing. A few family legends about books have persisted: first the bibliophile's war cry, "Money spent on books is never wasted!" (though now I try to use the library much more often!); second, I remember that the men from the moving companies always hated us, and it became a badge of honor, how we made those poor guys really work at heavy lifting for their pay. There are many book-related memories, but overall, at the moment, it's just the fact of their omnipresence that I cherish. I grew up with books, and my son is doing the same. The memory of him is one that I love, and when I'm frustrated by his (increasingly "big boy") antics, it's the one I try to drag up to immediate consciousness to remind me of who he really is: a boy who loves books, who has a great capacity for detailed observation, and who exhibits (often, still) a wonderful sensitivity to conditions in which he and others live.

1 comment:

  1. there are so many houses where i live (surrounding me, drowing me) that simply do not have books in them, EXCEPT in the children's bedrooms - so after the children grow up, there is no need seen for books...