The day my mom plopped Autumn onto her lap and began reading, it looked awkward. My daughter was so tiny, the words – even small ones – seemed big. But also, it made me wonder.
Should I have begun sooner? Reading to my fetus? Was Autumn already behind? Because while I don’t know exactly what it says, I know there’s research. There’s always research.
Well whatever the research said aside, fast forward a few years and Autumn is devouring books, ordering 10, 12, 13 to be read all before breakfast. Her nanny and I balk at the library’s reading challenge.
“1000 titles before kinder? Try before April!”
And while I’m thankful for the libraries’ willingness to lend such sustenance, there’s something to be said about owning, knowing there’s no expiration date. And so, every few months, it’s off to used book sales I go, rushing in with hundreds of others – in our minds all searching for exactly the same books, which are, of course, in limited supply. Like Trader Joe’s the day before COVID closures, people clamor and grab, stuffing baskets and bags. A connoisseur of literature, I trust my taste and judgment, often only flipping a few pages prior to determining worthiness for Autumn’s consumption. And often, I do well. Wolf in the Snow – a wordless tale about perseverance and kindness, and Out, another pictures-only book, themed with friendship and love – have become two of our favorites. And then, the other day, along came Bluebird.
It started off like any other story. A kid. A problem. An animal. And then it took a turn. The bullies threw a stick. The bird flew toward it. The two collided. And there, lying in the corner of the unnumbered page, was death.
“Why hadn’t I previewed?” I asked Myself.
“Laundry, dishes, work, dinner…and more dinner…Every. Night. Dinner!” Myself responded.
It was too late now. All I could do was pray that on the next page, Bluebird resusitated.
But she didn’t.
The bullies ran. The hero cried. And I wondered.
What have I done?
But also, is this an opportunity? To preheat the oven? To prime for – if things go in the natural order – the inevitable? Being left on earth orphaned – the thing I’ve feared most since I was old enough to understand. The thing I fear quadruple now that I have a young daughter whose two favorites are seasoned AARP-ers.
Two days after Bluebird, I feel a pit in my stomach. I blame Bluebird, and tell everything to my therapist, because surely she’ll have a fix – not only for the nausea, but also the mortality – because yes, she’s that good.
But instead she waxes poetic – blah blah blah – about the fragility of life, staying in the moment, the non-promise to anyone of even one more day, at which point I offer her more money to tell me something different. To which she chuckles – we both know there is nothing different because every package of life comes with a guarantee of its ending.
I think back to how I handled the rest of Bluebird. Feathered friends flew down, lifted her and she flew – high, so high, higher than any bird’s wings could propel – up into the heavens.
“Oh look!” I said. “She’s okay!” And left it at that.
So for now, we skip Little Gym for Papa’s waffles, rarely miss Nana’s chicken, and every Sunday, gather for Lou’s pizza. For now, we take millions of photos and gorge ourselves on together time, drinking in the moments, savoring each morsel.
And also, for now, we remove Bluebird from the menu.