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Reading (With Children)

By Kris Woll

0-11It’s mid afternoon on a Saturday.  The windows are open and the warm air dances in through the screens.  Come sunset, that air will be cool—so cool the windows will need to be closed.  But not yet.  I’m sitting in my favorite chair and the breeze is at my back.  The weekend line up on Minnesota Public Radio mumbles a kind of white noise.  Just those radio mumbles and the breeze—the only noise in the house.  The toddler is still napping in her room.  The big kid is constructing his newest Lego set in his.  And I’m here, in the living room, about to savor a little time, about to read a book.

It is a peaceful moment, packed with promise and peace.  I look around my little house and feel grateful.  I open to the first chapter, considering as I do that this would be perfect if I had a cup of tea, and maybe if I also lit that new scented candle.  Yes, tea and a candle.  I scurry off to the kitchen to boil water and find a match.  I close drawers and turn nobs as quietly as possible.  The sun is blazing into my little kitchen.  It is bright and delightful in here, I think, and I wonder why I don’t notice that more.  While I wait for the pot to boil, I put away a few of the dishes that were drying in the sink.  I try to set bowls on shelves with steady hands, try to make no noise.  I keep an eye on the pot, hoping to catch the warm water before any whistle sounds.  A whistle would wake the toddler, would bring the big kid out of his room in search of a snack.  I light the candle and catch the water when warmed but not loud.  I pour my cup of tea and walk from sunny kitchen into my breezy living room, feeling triumphant.

I walk past the crumby floor where my children ate their lunch.  I try to ignore it, try to walk right past.  But when I sit down in my favorite chair and feel the breeze on my back, I notice the crumbs still.  They are staring at me.  They may have gotten bigger.  Did one of them move?  Is that a bug?  I take a sip of my tea and set it down on top of my book, the one I am about to read and really can’t wait to start, and walk to the closet to grab the broom.  The closet creeks, so I try to open it just enough to grab what I need.  I reach my arm into the dark and feel around.  I grab the long handle with minimal disturbance.  I sweep the lunch crumbs from the floor—only crumbs, no bugs after all—and walk to the kitchen to empty the dustpan.  I open the lid of the garbage manually instead of stepping on the erratic foot pedal; the foot pedal can send the stainless-steel lid swinging back too far and it can crash against the wall with a clang.  No clang—just the soft sound of dust and crumbs landing in an empty plastic bag.  I lean the broom against the fridge, not willing to risk returning it to the creeky closet.  Now I can read.

I wander back into the living room.  I sit down and exhale.  I pull a pillow onto my lap.  My tea has cooled just enough. The breeze still blows there.  The book waits, its pages still crisp, with just a little ring on its cover from my now-cooled hot tea.  I grab it and think all sorts of nice things—What a beautiful day!  What a great little spot to read!  What lovely kids I have, on this quiet afternoon!  What a well-swept floor!  What a nice-smelling candle!—as I open again to Chapter 1 and look out the window in satisfaction.  I wave at a neighbor walking her dog past our place.  I look down at the page and begin finally to read …

“Mom,” the big kid shouts from his room.  “MOM!” he shouts even louder when I don’t immediately answer.  I drop my book and hustle to his room.

“Shhh … You’ll wake the baby,” I say.

“I’m hungry, and I can’t find this gray piece …”

I proceed to the kitchen to get some pretzels before I join the Lego hunt.  I quietly open the cabinet; I try to control the crunching of the plastic pretzel bag.  I curse the smallness of Legos.

“MOM!” he shouts again.  “The baby’s awake.”

I turn to the kitchen door and see her standing there, rosy cheeked and drowsy eyed, dragging Cookie Monster with one arm.  “Carry, Mama,” she demands, and I lift her into my arms.  On our way to deliver pretzels to her brother, we walk past the scented candle.

“Birthday,” she says, and pretends to blow out a candle.   “Me do it,” she demands, pointing at the flame.  A little wave of smoke climbs from the jar after she blows the candle out.

We deliver the pretzels.  “I can’t find the piece,” the kid complains.  I want to do something else.

“Story, Mama?” the groggy toddler asks, and so we select a book—something by Richard Scarry, something they both like—to bring back out to the living room where we will snuggle up together for a few minutes to read.

Kris Woll is Minneapolis-based writer.  

Illustration by Christine Juneau

Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.


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