In honor of my mom's birthday, I want to share a (long) personal essay inspired by that wonderful woman who raised me. Happy birthday, mom. I love you.
I have always loved books. Before I could read I would pretend that I could by holding Archie comic books up to my face and turning the pages at a pace that seemed similar to my older sister’s. I’d also listen in as my mom read my siblings’ required reading books out loud to us before bed. I’ll never forget the time we laughed, cried and snorted because of the line in “Swiss Family Robinson” that goes, “Look at those curious great nuts father has got!” Although my reading has improved, my maturity has not.
Once I started to get the hang of reading, my mom handed me a book that looked like a real book in my mind. It had a beautiful cover. I remember there were fairies and ice slides, but there were lots of words and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to really read it. The distinction for me was when I could understand the whole thing all by myself; there were plenty of books where I had just memorized the words I didn’t know right away after someone else told me what they were. My mom assured me that I would be able to read this one for real. I took it and skeptically began to read. I tested the waters a bit and was thrilled to find that this action-packed magical adventure was truly one that I could dive into. I read it about 546 times and then read it some more. I think this was the turning point.
I was ready now. I read a big girl book and I felt I could take on anything. It wasn’t long before I started receiving Babysitters Little Sisters books in the mail. Every month I would get a package full of new books, stickers and Babysitters paraphernalia and it would fill my little body and disproportionately large head with blinding ecstasy. I still remember the smell of the books and even a few of the storylines. Then came Harry Potter. Oh, Harry. I felt like I had such a deep connection with him because he and I were both 11 and our summer birthdays practically made us twins when I read that first book. I could not wait to receive my letter from Hogwarts. I went to a couple midnight releases of the books as I got older and my mom always came right along with me.
In elementary school, I was that nerd who couldn’t wait to receive a summer reading list like the big middle schoolers. Even in high school I looked forward to checking off the required reading – there’s a picture of me in Panama City for Spring Break senior year where I’m heading out to the beach with Ayn Rand’s “Anthem” in my hands (soon to be replaced by tequila shots, but that’s neither here nor there).
There’s something entirely unique and unreal about the connection I feel with books. I always liked being assigned books that I would never think to read otherwise. Even if it bored me to tears, I could never just abandon it. I slowed down a lot though once the requirements stopped. I think the book I received at college freshman orientation was the first “required” reading book I ever blew off, and there wasn’t even a consequence (my mom did, however, borrow and read that book. She enjoyed it thoroughly.)
Throughout college my passion for reading simmered and it wasn’t until I moved back home and basked in the glory that is my mom’s very own library (aka immense bookshelves surrounding the living room) that I picked it up again. I started flying through books while I was lived at home, and I continued right up until I moved cross-country in April.
I kept trying to get into “Casual Vacancy,” even before I left and I just couldn’t make myself keep going. I remember being on the phone with my mom and telling her how I kept putting it down and not picking anything back up. She had already read it of course and simply said, “Don’t pick it back up.” And just like that, I moved on. I just needed permission from my very own, all-knowing, book-loving mother. I haven’t picked it up again, but I have, however, finally started plowing through books again. Now that I’m safely nestled in an apartment with my very own mini bookshelf, I gave myself permission to let that part of me exist again.
I guess the times that I haven’t read have been the times of upheaval, uncertainty and perhaps vulnerability. When I first started high school and my primary, unwavering purpose was to make friends and not be the loser who sits alone in the cafeteria. When I got to college and was determined to find a sorority and a major that I loved and could grow with. When I moved away from my family and to a strange new place full of new, exciting and terrifying experiences. Oddly enough, these are the times when I put down the pages where I escape.
Perhaps a feeling of security is crucial to my ability to dive into a story and truly make a connection with it. Maybe I have to be at peace with myself and my surroundings before I can get lost in someone else’s.
Or maybe it’s when I feel overwhelmed, scared and small that I remember that books, much like my mom, are always there to make me feel safe, secure and whole again.
Thank you, mom, for instilling the deep love for the written word in me. I can’t wait to do the same for my children one day.
This post is in response to the following prompt: "Tell about periods when you haven't read. What were you doing? (OFFA, 160)" See more prompts from Megan here.