Turn the Page

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.

Any 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.

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42 thoughts on “Turn the Page

  1. Your love of story, and the immeasurable gift you’ve shared with your children is, itself, a beautiful story. Thank you for telling it, Melissa, and doing so with such warmth and elegance. I’ve read several of your posts, and this is my favorite — so far. But I intend to keep turning the pages.

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    1. Thank you, Charles! I know you believe in the power of the story, too. It’s never just words on the page. It’s always a chance for a connection, a memory, an open door…

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    1. I haven’t read that Llama one — but we have read “Llama, Llama Red Pajama” — I wonder if they’re part of the same series? I’ll have to check it out. And yes, “Merry Christmas Curious George” is a year-long hit at our house too!

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  2. My daughter is bilingual, so she has two sets of books, Swedish ones that I read and Dutch ones that my husband reads.

    BTW I love old books like the one on the photo!

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    1. Thanks, Reeling! And I’ll have to check out Ferdinand the Bull. I actually haven’t read that one. I remember something from the 70s as a cartoon — Warner Brothers and Bugs Bunny? Have to check that book out.

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  3. Gosh, Melissa, just when I thought you couldn’t get any better! You’ve brought tears to my eyes… I can’t even think of anything to say, I just wanted you to know how much I liked this post and how much it moved me. I would have pressed the ‘Like’ button 100 times, if I could. x

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    1. Wow — thank you, Didi! What a beautiful thing to say. I’m so happy you liked the post, as it was definitely meant to be read from the heart. And I know you and your daughter love reading, which is so wonderful. You mentioned a book to me a while ago, about a dog? I can’t remember what it was. But I’d love to read it if you could remind me of the title…

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      1. Hi, Melissa, and sorry for the late reply, I’ve been so busy with work that I completely forgot about your request. Luckily, I’ve saved the comment notification in my inbox…I guess you’re referring to the only dog book I’ve written a review about so far, which is ‘The Hundred-Mile-an-Hour Dog’ by Jeremy Strong. It’s actually part of a 4 book series, all about a greyhound called Streaker, and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s absolutely hilarious…All of Jeremy Strong’s books are very funny, Brianna’s got almost all of them on her bookshelves. I think your kids are a bit too young for these books, but I have no doubt they’d love them when they’re a bit older. Of course, you’re not too young to read and enjoy them 😉

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  4. Melissa just when I think you have reached the pinnacle of writer’s perfection you outdo yourself. You speak to every emotion a woman goes through with her babies from the joy to the sorrow. You speak so beautifully on what saved you and carries you and yours through…reading, stories…books.
    It almost sounds like prayer.
    My second son born was with a heart defect. I know how frightening it is when the baby is not well. So scary. He is okay.
    Now He is in medical school after graying my hair with a short stint in bad company and alcohol. It took me years to accept that his life was HIS life, and not mine. God grant Me the serenity.

    My children’s favorite baby book was Goodnite Moon and Hurrah We’re Outward Bound.
    Funny thing is even as adults we still read out loud to each other.
    Rose has been reading to me Harville Hendrix, Getting The Love You Want, and I have been reading to my husband Mitch Albom’s, Have A Little Faith.
    Reading out loud to one another for us has just become another way to connect. It’s low stress and easy and keeps our connections flowing.
    Thank you for another inspiring post.
    gmom

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    1. Thank you so very much, Gmom. I’ve read this comment of yours over and over — not sure what I did to deserve such kind words, but they really mean a lot. Thank you.

      Sounds like your son’s journey was just the right one for him — but trying for you! Since right when he was born. I wish him all the best success in medical school. And I admire you for working through those difficult times. I’m not sure where I’m going to get the strength when my children are teenagers! Like you said, I’ll remind myself of the Serenity Prayer (which was my grandfather’s favorite).

      Side note — my husband likes to joke around, and when he thinks I’m being “difficult,” he’ll say, “Grant me the strength to change the things I cannot accept.” 🙂

      And that is so great that you and your family still read aloud to each other! I love it! Of course we know Goodnight Moon, but I’ll have to check out that Hurrah book…

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    1. Thank you! I so appreciate your support. And will definitely be checking that book out. You’ve told me it’s a beautifully written story for children, about bullying. I can’t wait to read it, as I think this is definitely something that even little children should read about and understand.

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  5. I’m sorry to be so late reading this post, Melissa…it’s very beautiful! I’m so glad your daughter finally started to enjoy books! My granddaughter just recently started sitting still for stories, and now constantly brings people books to read to her!

    My oldest daughter’s favourite book was Beatrix Potter’s “Peter Rabbit”…she had it memorized from the time she was about 18 months old. She also enjoyed the “Little Monster” series by Mercer Mayer.

    My middle daughter’s favourite author to have read aloud was Babette Cole (“Princess Smartypants”, among others). When the youngest came along a few years later, we discovered Helen Lester (“Tacky the Penguin” and many more). Robert Munsch books were also enjoyed by all of us.

    My granddaughter’s bedroom theme is Dr. Seuss, and she has all the books (in addition to some that belonged to her mom and aunties!).

    Wendy

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    1. Isn’t that the best? When they bring you a book? 🙂

      We’ve read some of the Mercer Mayer stories too — they’re great, and I’m glad they’re still in print.

      Thanks for taking the time to list all the other suggestions! We’ll have to check them out for sure.

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  6. Melissa, I am painfully inept at understanding the emotions a parent goes through, since I haven’t experienced them. But I do understand how it feels to see a loved one suffer. To share healing, growth and familial love through stories and books is the best gift you could ever have given your babies. And yourself.

    Every word on this page makes me want to give you a big hug, and tell you that you have the power to have a person keep turning the page.

    It is an absolutely beautiful tribute to those times, and a foundation for the beautiful ones to come.

    P.S. I’d read this post, and remember responding to it, too. Perhaps the comment got lost as spam? This picture, and the image of your daughter slapping the page at Waddle Waddle Quack Quack come back to me sometimes. I didn’t remember where I’d seen or heard it, but now I will.

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    1. Hi Priya, Thank you so much. I’m honored that you think I “have the power to have a person keep turning the page.” You know, I thought you’d read this post too! I can’t imagine what happened to your comment. But I appreciate you taking the time to leave such a nice new one. 🙂

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  7. What a beautiful post is this one! for me this one is your best post among those i read. It is as if you put all your affection for your children in one page, that too in the best possible way. As you wrote “What’s that pecking? Tap, tap, tap! Eggs start splitting. Crack, crack, crack.”
    I just feel after reading this post of yours, you deserve a big round of applause for this one “clap,clap,clap.” !!

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  8. Hi, I found your blog through a link on Arindam’s blog. This post is so beautifully written, and so touching, that it brought tears to my eyes. When I was a little girl, reading was immensely important to my mother and I, and I am so glad to hear that you have been reading to and with your children since they were born – I, too, believe in the power of story. My aunt gave me the Tolkien trilogy when I was about 11 years old, and I still remember her inscription to me: “Reading will take you wherever you want to go”. It’s true – always reading, always learning, is the most important thing we can do for ourselves. Thank you for sharing your story!

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    1. Thank you very much! And I love that inscription from your aunt. So true. (And she sounds like a great person, giving you books as presents.) Glad you stopped over, and I look forward to checking out your blog too.

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  9. Really like the new site, Melissa. I just now saw it, having been challenged with the big move from No Cal to So Cal.

    Great job. Look forward to reading more and to your books!

    You are quite talented, my friend. I have added you to my reader.

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      1. Getting there, slowly.

        Moved to be closer to the ocean in southern California. Have always wanted to make it back this way – I lived in northern San Diego county way back when. Overall loving being here.

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        1. Closer to the ocean sounds wonderful! That’s why I love living where I do, too. The time I spent in Idaho was amazing, but it was so ODD to be landlocked. I did, however, completely love being surrounded all year long by snow-capped mountains. That was just magnificent to see. But the ocean? Can’t be beat. I wish you many happy years in your new home!

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    1. Thank you! I’m glad you can relate. Storytime is still one of my favorite times of the day, and I know it always will be. Even if we did have such a difficult start! Sounds like you know — it was all worth it.

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  10. It’s very touching. I love to read but sometimes I forget to extend this love to my kids. They love it when I read to them but sometimes, I don’t know maybe from stress, I forgot to read to them every night before they go to sleep. But thanks to you, I will never deprive them of this gift again.

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