The summer heat glistened off white frilled curtains. I sat in a rocking chair my mom had rocked me in, now rocking my own baby girl. The repetitious creak sank into the carpet. The muggy air held the morning close.
And I turned the page.
When my son was born, within days, his tiny fists punched erratic holes in the air above our bed. His newborn feet kicked toward the ceiling as he lay on his back and listened to a story. It was the greatest gift. A moment of calm in the storm of new motherhood. I read “older” books to him. Not the ones with big colors and two words per page. His brand new eyes held, for a moment or two, on the sepia pictures in “Make Way for Ducklings.” As the days of his life turned to weeks, I read the words over and over.
And turned the page.
When my daughter was born, alarms sounded and welcomed her into the world in a frenzy of terror. An emergency c-section. She was okay (thank God). But things rocketed up and down and stories didn’t work like they had with my son. She screamed through every one.
But such is the beauty of books that I drove through the pain of healing. Mine and hers. And I held her writhing body, arched back and face as red as a beet, tears in her eyes, tears in mine, and I turned the page. I read whatever I could manage to grip in my hands. Calling out the words to her and feeling like a fool as we sat alone in my room with my son asleep and my husband at work and my friends and family nowhere around and the constant crying and the depth of loneliness that crying can carry a mother to… and with no other ideas, I turned the page.
With my son, reading a book opened a light in our lives. Connected us. His little feet kicked higher and higher when my voice rose to convey a heightened point in the story — he got it. When he cried and I had nothing around me and no one to help I held him close and recited the Dr. Seuss ABC book to him I now knew by heart. And the sounds and the rhymes and the rhythm calmed him and I said a prayer of thanks for the power of the story.
My daughter suffered months of colic and jaundice and lactose intolerance and reflux, her stomach distended, her body so rigid with pain I could hardly hold her and for those months I mothered 133 hours a week, 19 hours a day every single day tossed between her struggles and my one-and-a-half-year-old son’s needs and the one thing that tied us together was the Story.
Taking a book off the shelf and scooping my children into my arms is like going down the fastest water slide at the park. Reading is that great a force. I love it. I welcome it. I believe.
But as my daughter’s first birthday loomed, and I had yet to finish a book without her screaming or writhing or knocking it to the floor I felt a cavern of guilt open inside my chest. How could I have failed at this? How could reading be so, forbidden?
That’s how it felt. Something I wanted so badly to share with her, so impossible to achieve.
And then that hot summer morning, I began, again, “Waddle Waddle Quack Quack Quack.” In the rocking chair creaking like a ghost into the carpet. The sun angled through the filmy curtains and washed over the smooth pages. My daughter’s tiny hand shot out and slapped the page. Squeaked along as she dragged her hand over the words. I continued reading, ever hopeful, ever afraid and turned the page.
“What’s that pecking? Tap, tap, tap! Eggs start splitting. Crack, crack, crack.”
And as the beautifully illustrated ducklings hatched from their eggs a new love of reading emerged for my baby and me. She continued to swat at the pages, almost in time with the cadence of the rhymes. And before I knew it I had rocked her and read to her and in the glory of the rising sun we finished a book.
I will remember that morning as long as I live.
Now, almost two years later, I still cherish the rush of my children when I tell them it’s story time, and to go pick out a book. They push each other, vying for the best spot in front of the bookshelf, and clamber onto the sofa next to me, each demanding I read their choice first.
Through the years, through the tears, through the rainy days and the warm summer mornings. A storyline is so much grander than words in a book.
It’s the words of your life.