I sit on the floor in our bedroom on the second story of my in-laws’ house and dig in my backpack, pulling out the few books we packed for this trip. Ten days and a handful of books. We’ll have them memorized by the time we get back to Texas next week.
“Which book do you want?” I ask Oscar, laying them in front of him. He’s perched on our bed, waiting to read.
“That one!” He points. “Llama Llama SNOW.” His emphasis on the weather amuses me. I pick up the book, Llama Llama Holiday Drama, and start to read, falling into the familiar cadence of the Llama Llama books we love so much.
Oscar grins and crawls under the covers, perching on a pillow as he curls up by my side.
“Is Llama Llama sad?” He asks, looking at an illustration.
“What do you think?”
“I think he’s ready for Christmas.” He replies solemnly and turns the page. When we finish the book he looks up at me.
“Mama, we read more?” He reaches for another book, opens it, and starts to read. This one he has memorized. It’s a Boynton book, and he reads to me about ten dogs - and one cat before closing the book and asking if we can sing before we fall asleep.
Two rounds of “The Wheels on the Bus” and three of “Twinkle, Twinkle,” and he falls asleep curled up beside me. I smile and move him to his bed, tucking him in with his lovey before I go to gather the books and ready them for tomorrow, when we’ll read them again.
Reaching for my e-reader, I take a moment to think about how normal this is for me - packing books for long trips. When I was a child we traveled often from Ohio to Maryland or Tennessee to visit my grandparents. My backpack then was full to burst of books, and when I got older, books and a discman. All for the long car ride and trip ahead. It’s always made sense to me to pack reading materials, especially for bedtime.
The night before we flew, my husband and I stood in our living room, picking up toys that missed the pre-bed cleanup. I sat holding the stack of seven books the three of us read before tucking Oscar in for the night, trying to decide which ones to bring. With a fifty-pound checked bag and two-carry-on-per-person limit, I couldn’t bring all of them, as much as I wanted to.
“Which should I pack?” I put the books on the coffee table and scanned the stack. We had Boynton’s familiar tales, two Llama Llama books, “Goodnight Moon,” and a library book. I set the library book aside for return as we assessed the others.
“Which does he choose nightly?” My husband asked. I smiled and sorted out four of the remaining books. We would be getting more books on our trip as gifts. I didn’t want to pack too many, but also didn’t want to pack too few, either. The books I chose for him were the familiar - ones we’ve all memorized and still read, night after night.
I often choose the books we pack for Oscar this way, yet my books are nearly always new, even if they’re by favorite authors. I love devouring new reads when we travel, but I know our son wants familiar. It’s hard to be out-of-routine when away from home, and a familiar book or two at bedtime go so far toward creating a sense of normalcy.
Before taking my e-reader and the baby monitor downstairs, I stop and think about how much I love this nightly ritual of reading. Two or three of us curled together on a couch or bed, deep in the illustrations of a new or familiar book. There is something comforting about stopping everything for a few minutes for a story before settling into dreamland. Thinking about how Oscar read to me tonight makes me smile as I switch on the nightlight and head downstairs to dive deep into my own pre-bed reading.