How Parenting Changed My Bookshelves

We all expect that becoming a parent will change things. Stretch marks, sleep deprivation, going out in public with vomit in your hair. Carrying no fewer than four changes of clothing in your purse along with 3 pacifiers and crushed Cheerios, studying poop — we expect these things. But the one thing I never expected was how becoming a mom would drastically change the contents of my bookshelves as well as how I perceive the books on those shelves.

Back when I celebrated my first Christmas with Mister Soandso, he helped me put my spindly Douglas Fir twig into the neck of a 3/4 full 2-liter Coke bottle and hang green and red balls from its 8 “branches”. (Seriously, I’ve pulled bigger weeds.) My gift to him sat under it until the appropriate time. What was it? Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree.

That spring he and I drove to the bookstore and he purchased a book to mail out to his mom for Mother’s Day. The winning choice? Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever.

Let me tell you, my ability to read those books dry-eyed as a 22-year old seemed normal. As a mother to three children, there is no way to stay dry-eyed during today’s readings of them.

Because both books capture the joy and pain that loving someone brings us because time and aging changes them as well as ourselves…but not our hearts.

When Littlest was born on June 4, 2006, he came home to a house with two older siblings, a cat, a dog, a tank full of fish, and lots and lots of books. There were all of the books we had purchased for Biggest as well as all the books purchased and given to Middlest, and the crop of new books that had arrived for Littlest. Bookshelves full of books to be read to small children.

We had our favorites, the ones read over and over. We had duplicates, the ones with one copy in the car, one in the diaper bag and one next to the rocking chair. And we had the ones that made me cry every time I read them.

That was the first thing I was unprepared for as a book-reading mom. Books about children growing up can make me cry now. It isn’t that I want my children to stay babies. I love the ways that they are evolving into people who are interesting and wonderful and so dang cute I can’t stand it. But they are growing into their “big” selves and those bigger versions don’t fit on my lap quite the same way they once did.

Being a parent also changes what you include on your bookshelves. As Biggest and Middlest get bigger, our book selection reflects a family with a 12 year old boy and an 8 year old girl in addition to a kindergartner. That means there are the Pendragon series as well as all of Laura Ingalls Wilder sharing shelf space. And what does Littlest read? What they did.

The other night I went upstairs an hour past his bedtime. He was hunched over a book, light still burning in the night. He looked up at me and smiled, “I love this book!” The book he was reading at 9 pm on a school night? Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I asked him if he was actually reading it or just looking at the pictures. He told me that he was but “skips the really big chunks of words sometimes.”

Same here buddy, same here.

It’s hard to keep everything “age appropriate” when there are multiple ages of kids and one frazzled mom. Factor in Littlest’s reading ability as well as his ability to scale bookshelves and he reads what he sees his siblings read, especially if it catches his interest. I know that I’m probably breaking all kinds of “good parenting” rules here but I think fostering the love of reading trumps most of those rules.

Besides, I’ve got Hunger Games on my bookshelf where it doesn’t look nearly as tempting. Yet.

Littlest drinking some soda-pop with his silly-straw-glasses.

Today is Littlest’s birthday. Oddly enough, there are no books wrapped up and ready to be opened tonight after his birthday dinner of sushi and strawberry-rhubarb pie. But he’ll read before bed anyway. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll let me pull him onto my lap and read to him a book that will make me cry into his hair.

These days he smells more like a sweaty little boy than baby shampoo. But when he wraps his arms around my neck and thanks me for reading with him, I can still pretend he and I haven’t been changed by these past years…at least not in the ways that really matter.

I’ll love you forever…

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6 thoughts on “How Parenting Changed My Bookshelves

  1. OMG. Love You Forever continues to make me cry and my kids are 20 and 17. I often give that book as a baby gift. My youngest and I bond over books. It started with Harry Potter. Now, he brings me home his high school reading assignments and we compare notes. (He thinks he’s pulling one over on me. 🙂 ) He introduced me to HATCHET and WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS, which is now a favorite of mine.

    • Books make the best gifts – because they last so long in our hearts and memories! I totally can see myself driving across town, and if my boy is really, really asleep then I will pull him onto my lap and say… 🙂

  2. Great post –

    A-Boy is also much enamored of the Diary series. I think he was probably about the same age when he started reading them (except the big bunches of words).

    He got a “Big Boy bike” this last weekend (20″ wheels). I just came from watching him ride it up and down the sidewalk. He seemed so confident and so happy to be going “fast”. Remembering how long it took him to ditch the training wheels on his first little bike.

    My oldest, Amelia, is thirty now, and every time she calls me Daddy I get a lump in my throat. Sometimes i swear I hear or see that adorable little girl from a quarter century ago.

    Yes, they say in the end it’s the blink of an eye. I’m here to tell you – it happens much sooner than that.

    Thanks for this, Kristina

    • Alas, I know how fast the moment between baby and adult is in hindsight. Sigh.

      I can only be thankful for having the chance to be a parent not once but three times. Talk about receiving gifts…

  3. Just watched a video I made of me reading that book to Josiah, when he was 2, while we rocked in the rocking chair. We have a little song to the chorus.

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