Just after Hurricane Sandy hit, the kid’s class held a read-a-thon, the first-grade equivalent of a healthier lemonade stand or bake sale.
It featured all the same do-goodery, just with fewer cavities and spazzy children.
Teachers are wise.
“Will you donate?” the kid asked, pen poised over a pledge sheet.
“Of course,” we replied.
We even made a few pledges on behalf of her grandparents and uncle, thinking our familial magnanimity would amount to a few extra bucks. We might as well have patted her on the head and sent her on her way.
We should have known better.
During recess, she remained in class to read. She didn’t play at lunch. She sat huddled on a corner pillow most of the day, flipping page after page after page and probably thinking what I would have thought: “People are paying money for this? Suckers.”
At the end of the day, she presented us with a pledge bill.
We owed close to $300.
We were unbelievably proud and mortified.
Hand a kid a book, and she is immediately lost. We’ve had to become almost cagey when presenting her with new books, as she won’t put them down until finished. She’s walked entire city blocks with her nose buried in some ghost mystery, or made herself car sick because she wouldn’t put down a thriller-lite.
Every now and then, I’m hit by a spasm of parental jealousy, thinking about all she’ll get to enjoy in the coming years of childhood: summer vacations, sleepovers, summer camps, first dates, first kisses, first dances.
But nothing makes me so green as thinking about her book discoveries to come.
To be able to read the Grapes of Wrath again for the first time, or Of Mice and Men or The Pearl. To ride a raft on the Mississippi or white wash a fence. To laugh at a ham-shaped pageant costume and cry for a reclusive savior named Boo.
I ache at the thought of approaching these books with a tabula rasa, to be able to discover them all over again.
If there was one gift of childhood I would reclaim, it would be the innocent ignorance of what’s to come and the slow-dawning appreciation for greatness that sometimes hits about 10 pages in.
Her characters now are fitting for her age: Jack and Annie or Ivy and Bean. She giggles at the retelling, as if she had joined them in adventure, as if they are her friends alone.
I know the feeling, and it makes me envy all the friends she is so close to meeting: Harry and Hermione, Katniss and Lyra, or those who will quietly sneak up on her over the years, taking up residence and staying forever — cerebral house guests that will color her soul.
Falstaff, Prince Hal. Buck. Tom, Huck, Jim. Holden, Gatsby, Anna
I want to crawl behind her eyes and hide, just to selfishly tap into that potent drug of literary encounters.
Which ones, I wonder, will strike her quick? Which ones will become so a piece of her that sometimes suddenly, out of the blue, a secret smile will flash upon her lips, as if she’s remembering a good friend?