Category Archives: books

Living texts

            A year before we had Zachary, friends visited with a wee tyke.  The cringed as she pulled up and cruised around our coffee table.  “You might want to move that book,” they told me.

            “Why?” I replied.  “Books are meant to be used.  She won’t learn to love books if we keep taking them away.”

            This is a policy to which we have adhered, sometimes to our dismay as our sons ask us to read for hours on end.  One of the drawbacks of all that reading is a certain verbal facility that we could sometimes do without.  But, we stick to it.  Books are not sacred objects – they are living, functioning items that cannot enrich our lives if we are so worried about their physical being that we cannot absorb their magic.

            Unless, of course, the book is a sacred text.  You know, the kind of text that you can only touch the underside and outside, and you have to touch the words with a silver pointer because it is too holy for human hands.  Like the kind of text that is so revered that entire congregations stand up every time it is brought out.  Like the kind of text that the truly orthodox don’t let women touch because, hey, they might be menstruating and could defile it.  That kind of a sacred text.

            You know, like the Torah.  Then, I can understand if maybe people don’t want grubby little people getting too close with their snotty noses and their peanut butter residues and their propensity for tearing things.

            Which explains my surprise last week on Yom Kippur.  This was our first High Holy Days at this synagogue, and, due to the tiny new person in our house, we didn’t make it to a lot of the services.  Zachary and I, however, did go to the family service on Yom Kippur, sleeping Lilah in tow.  Near the end of the service, the Rabbi instructed all the families to bring their children to line one of the aisles. 

            What followed was like nothing I have ever seen before in all the Yom Kippur services I have attended.  After stationing proctors along the human tunnel and admonishing parents to keep a close eye on their children, the rabbis, the Cantor, and the preschool director proceeded to unroll the Torah the entire length of the aisle.  Yes, right through the passageway of rambunctious children.

            The children seemed to understand that this was not a moment for impishness or levity.  All their destructive urges had been left behind in their seats.  They stood there, two-year-olds on up to ten-year-olds with serious little faces, palms upraised to support the underside of the sacred scroll.  Not a single child that I saw even considered tearing, wrinkling, or running through, although the Rabbi’s wife did utter a horrified “NO!” at one point, which leads me to wonder if one of his daughters might have tried to touch the forbidden top part where all the words are.

            I am not sure if the children really understood what an extraordinary experience this was.  While this congregation does it every year, I have never heard of any other doing something as audacious as exposing their Torah to hundreds of germ-laden hands.  Their Torahs may be a little better-protected, but you can bet our kids are the ones who will grow up believing the Torah is a text to be inhaled, understood, and lived, not just worshipped from afar.

Better than a cuddle

            The problem with reading to your children is twofold.  One, it encourages verbal development.  I see some folly in encouraging any more language development in my kids, at least until they start talking to one another instead of to me.

            Two, they come to like books.  A lot.

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            They are not supposed to be out of bed before 7:00, and Zachary has a digital clock by his bed to ensure compliance.  If they need to pee, they are to leave silently so as not to wake one another, but neither child actually gets up to pee.

            Lately, we have been bending the rule.  It seems to be now that, if we are approaching 7:00 and you get out of bed without disturbing the other child, you get to climb into the big bed.  On the weekends, there is still a parent or two in the bed to snuggle with.  On weekdays, I have been known to climb back into bed to share an early morning cuddle.

            Unfortunately, Zachary is a smart little bugger, and this policy seems to be encouraging him to get up earlier just so he can get some quiet cuddle time.  We’re going to need to revert to the earlier standard, if only because pretty soon there is going to be a baby demanding that 6:30-7:00 slot. 

            But not quite yet.  And so it was that on one recent morning, the little man and I sat together quietly on the living room couch, a rare moment when he allowed me to embrace him.  After a few minutes, he whispered to me, “Mommy.  I have an idea.  We could do something better than a cuddle.”

            I knew what was coming.  “What’s that Zach?”

            “It’s something next to the couch.”

            “You want a book, babe.”  I couldn’t help but smile, even though it also made me a little sad to know that already, at barely four, he classifies that as superior to hugging me.  “Go ahead and pick one.”

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            Usually, we join the library immediately upon moving somewhere.  But, this move has been so protracted and so overwhelming that we hadn’t gotten around to it.  Maybe the lousy libraries in our London neighborhood had spoiled our interest.  Or maybe we were just overwhelmed.

            Our nanny, however, is subversive.  First, she started talking about the library with our kids.  She planted the seed, encouraging Zachary to subtly request a library card.  Then, she started bringing over library books she had checked out.  Finally, she quietly left two applications for library cards on the kitchen counter.  No comment – just the applications.

            I got the damned cards.  The library is walking distance, and she takes them there all the time, returning one set of books and checking out another.

            She’s encouraging the habit, you know.

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            He sat on my lap while our nanny gave Zachary snack, on the same couch where I had read to his brother in the morning.  “Want book,” he declared.

            “Go pick one.”  He thumped down to the floor, ran over, grabbed The Lady With the Alligator Purse.  I sang it to him.

            “Want ‘nother book, Mommy.”  This time it was Sandra Boynton.  We finished it.

            “’Nother one.”  I despise those books with the full dinosaur names that I cannot pronounce.

            “ Want ’nother one, please.”  A book of British nursery rhymes, which always shock me in their excessive violence, what with carving knives and mice tails and whatnot.

            “Want ‘nother book.”

            “’Nother book.”

            “ Want ‘nother one, Mommy.”

            At least this child lets me hold him while we read.