The princess in fluffy yellow Belle dress pulls up a stool and perches, almost regal as she sits tall to grasp a handful of books from the third shelf. Like always, she grabs too many, and a few instantly drop to the floor. I watch from the kitchen as she flips through one, chunks it, then goes through another, looking at the brightly illustrated characters and remembering the story line. The more engrossed she is, the faster the other thin stories in her lap slip down the net skirt to join the others already lying beneath her.
My sons sit cross-legged on the living room floor, both competing over who reads what book first from yesterday's library bag. Like his twin sister, Emerson flies through the pages, looking at pictures and sometimes retelling part of the story aloud to himself. But Wyatt takes longer with his book, annoying Emerson who just wants him to hurry up already and share.
Simply put, my house is a constant nightmare of pressed wood pulp and ink underfoot.You could visit my house any hour of the day or night and find a messy pile of books scattered everywhere. If by some miracle you didn't stumble over one lying on the entryway rug, you would surely find a tottering stack in the living room, on the upstairs sofa, under a chair at the kitchen table, or (if it's a favorite) hidden under a sleeping child's bed pillow.
I can never pick them all up...never. Believe me. I've tried. Dozens of times each day. Even at the Christmas party where our home was more similar to a Better Homes and Garden photo than it will likely ever be again. Even then, halfway through the evening, I peeked in the school room and saw a half dozen children's books discarded on the floor, one flopped open, interrupted in mid-read.
When I had but one child, I was foolish enough to organize the books on the shelf--all the Cliffords, then Winnie the Pooh, then Thomas... Now? I feel blessed if I can keep separate the 15 library books checked out each week. (And that doesn't take into account the ones the children "borrow" from Oma or Grandmama or Grandmother.)
Bookshelves full of neatly lined up books, all the spines facing outward, are as irresistible as an unwatched chocolate cake to my brood.
And me? I can't complain too much because I know it's my fault.
Ever since they were born, I have waved books under their noses like Godiva-filled cookies, taught them that a sure way to get some undivided mommy attention was to guilt her into reading another and another and another book.
I've taught them that books are for living, not for mere reading, that books' story lines are to be mixed up and retold in puppet shows at the dining room table. Or better yet, they're to be lived out in family parties like the now annual Berry Blossom or Autumn Harvest festivals.
Last week it was the book Mr. Gator's Gumbo. Couldn't I just make some of that alligator's gumbo? With a possum. An otter. A skunk. There was a "recipe" on the back. See?
Sure...but I couldn't find the otter, so I had to substitute. Would that be ok?
Before that, it was a request to make an Amelia Bedelia "sheet" cake (yes...another "recipe" in the book). A month ago, Wyatt asked for The Magic School Bus: Ants in Your Pants book be transformed into his birthday cake. Why not?
I fuss about books covering the table at breakfast, lunch, and dinner when all I'm trying to do is serve a meal. I growl when there is no miraculous parting of the books so I can walk a dry path down the hall.
And yet, I can't help but smile at the mess, knowing it is necessary to cultivating both knowledge and the imagination, that it needs to be a bit messy if one is to learn how to take the written word and shape it into something useful for the world outside the typed page.
In recent years, it's been those times when I've had my own mess of Bible commentaries scattered across the floor that I've learned the most, too.
Not to self: Ignore the mess. Read another five minutes.