In the summer when I was a kid, my favorite thing to do was to sit on the comfy lounge chair on our shady patio, reading books and eating snacks. (I’m sure I snacked on other things, but my clearest memory is of eating peaches while I read.) In the summer we’d have our gymnastics lessons early in the morning, and then we’d sometimes go on a hot, hot one-mile run around the grassy track at a nearby school. So I’d be hot, and tired, but fresh from the shower and feeling like I had accomplished something.
Sitting in a comfy spot with a book and something delicious to snack on, without any of the nagging guilt or “you should be doing something productive” feelings that adulthood brings, is one of the true but fleeting joys of childhood.
During those blissful summer afternoons, I would read my book. But sometimes I’d daydream, too. Imagining forward, when I would be the grown up, and I’d have my own daughters, and I’d know exactly what books to check out from the library for them. They seemed so entirely real to me, those future moments with future people. The conversations we’d have over books, or the times we’d spend just sitting together, reading. I could very nearly see their faces, and so one of the things I looked forward to the most about being a mom was sharing books.
Except, as usually happens, life didn’t give me exactly what I imagined.
I still have shared books with all of my kids. And we have had those moments of sitting together and reading. But my kids’ relationships with books and reading are entirely different than mine. They don’t need books like I did (like I continue to do) and they aren’t always reading. Haley’s reading tastes have always been different from mine, too, so we never bonded over Anne of Green Gables or Little House on the Prairie like I thought we would. (We bonded over different books instead.) At first this was hard for me, but as my kids got older and became more and more themselves, I started learning they are, each of them, who they are, not just smaller copies of myself, and that they need different things from the world, and that is OK.
A couple of years ago, my library friend Julie went to England, and I asked her to buy me a copy of Noel Streatfeild’s book Circus Shoes. All of the other books in that series—one I read many, many times during those summer afternoons—are still in print in America, except Circus Shoes. She brought it to me, and then I waited for the perfect time to read it. That time came in February, when my mom was in the hospital and then long-term rehab after her spinal fusion surgery. The thing I’ve learned about taking care of someone in the hospital is that a book is an absolute necessity, as there are a lot of empty hours to fill. But the type of book is equally important. It has to be what I think of as “comfort reading”—books you’ve read before and so know the story, and the characters are liked old friends, and their adventures don’t give you any anxiety because you already know how they will turn out (a thing that isn’t true with the “adventure” you’re having the hospital).
So I took my copy of Circus Shoes, a book I hadn’t read since I was ten years old, and read it while I was with her. I read most of it at the hospital, in fact. I was a little bit worried that the story wouldn’t hold up to my memory of it…but it did. Especially I was glad to read again Santa’s transformation from sheltered girl to a tumbler, and how she fails to practice but then is motivated to improve on her own. I fell right into the story, even though I could feel that reading it at 43 was definitely different than reading it at 10. But that was part of the pleasure of it—a sort of rediscovering of how I used to feel, a little time travel via book.
I read most of the book at the hospital with my mom, but I finished it one night, late, in my living room with everyone else at home but asleep. When I closed it, I thought of myself all those years ago, reading alone on the patio and imagining my future kids reading the same book. How real those future daughters felt to me! It was one of my first instances of feeling just the very edge of how time seems to fold in on itself, sometimes. And I realized with a start: it wasn’t my future kids who I would connect with over those books I loved. It was me. My adult self, looking back at the kid I used to be. And just for a second, I was filled with a feeling I don’t have a name for, a sort of string-like feeling, like the thread on a strand of pearls, and that Amy reading so long ago was just along the thread that connected me to the current Amy reading.
Which sounds a little bit crazy, written like that. But It brought me such peace—like I took a deep breath for the first time in more than thirty years. Like I found a missing part of myself.