It is morning, and light is filtering through tightly-closed blinds. I snuggle my son closer, breathing in his little-boy scent as he sighs contentedly. I don’t want to wake him - he came in at three, carrying his lovey, and asked to sleep in mama’s bed. Instead of walking him back to his room, my sleep-weary brain lifted him up and under our covers, where he burrowed deep into the bed and fell asleep. Now he lays cuddled under my arm.
I can only snuggle so long before my bladder reminds me it needs to be emptied. Ever so slowly I pull the covers back away to slide out of bed. My feet don’t land on the floor. Instead, they land on the books Oscar brought in with him - books chosen carefully from the shelves in his room at three o’clock that morning.
I smile and pick them up. Today’s books are “Going on a Bear Hunt,” a favorite of mine when I was younger, and the ever-popular “Goodnight Moon.” I set them aside so we can read them when he wakes.
When I was pregnant, I hoped for just a few things for my growing baby: that he would be happy, that he would have his father’s eyes, and like me, that he would love books. Books are important to me because they let me go on new adventures, imagine, and show me new ways to see the world that exists around me. I wanted so desperately to share the richness of books and all they bring to life with my son, even before we knew we were having a son.
My husband and I started reading to him before he was born. As soon as the Ovia Pregnancy app on our phones announced “your baby can hear you!” I pulled out books I bought when I learned I was pregnant. Both his dad and I would read aloud and grin as our son kicked and rolled to the sounds of our voices. Well before he was born, we discovered one of our favorites was “The Going to Bed Book,” by Sandra Boynton, and the antics of the animals within. I didn’t expect it to be a favorite now, over two years from his birth. We read it almost every night at bedtime.
“The sun has set not long ago,” Boynton’s book begins, and now, my son sits, rapt, waiting to turn the page as we follow Boynton’s animals through their bedtime routine. We have hand motions for the book and his little fingers flutter through them, brushing his teeth, raising his arms up and down. He repeats words after me as I read, and when we get to the end, he whispers along with me “they rock and rock and rock to sleep,” while he sways side-to-side.
I stand in the kitchen and think about all of this while my coffee brews in the chemex, water swirling over fresh grounds. When he wakes up for the day we’ll read the books he brought, curled up on the sofa together with our shared bedhead. Our breakfasts sit between us when we read, and we nibble between books. Today we will go on a bear hunt, clapping a rhythm I learned twenty-nine years ago. We’ll drive a bus through town and we’ll talk about and act out our emotions with another Boynton book. I giggle when we both become “sad as a chicken,” and exaggerate sadness as we say “cluck, cluck.”
These books are pieces of his heart. They are pieces of mine. His books have become a heavy part of our daily routine, and our favorites change weekly. After a play-filled morning, he naps and I read one of my books chosen carefully during our “libirdy” days. We both love going to the library, coming home with dozens of books to read each week. Each book is a new world to explore and discover. Worlds crafted from carefully chosen words to excite the imagination. No wonder it’s among our favorite places.
As I watch him sleep on the baby monitor screen, I wonder if he’ll continue to love books this much. I wonder if he will be like I was in grade-school, taking a flashlight to bed to read surreptitiously under the covers. Even now I struggle with the idea of bedtime when there are so many books I have yet to finish. They tower precariously on the nightstand.
Before he wakes from his nap, I’ll finish a book and close the door on a new world full of magic and characters I love like they were my best friends. My book set aside, I watch as my drowsy toddler gets out of bed and stands before his bookshelf, pulling books out and putting them away. He selects each volume with care, and every day the post-nap books change.
His door opens and he runs to me. “Mama! Look what I found!” he cries. He always sounds surprised as he carries me the books that make up the pieces of his heart. Handing me a stack of books, we sit down in the floor, his warm, sleepy body leaning against mine. I pick one up, open the door to a new world, and we begin to read, warm in the afternoon light.