To say I am committed to routine and repetition is almost an understatement. I love to eat the same things over and over, watch the same movies multiple times, and have a structure and rhythm to my days that I can follow easily. I feel happy in the anticipation of getting to experience, again, something I already enjoy. Each year, I reread Jane Eyre, along with many other books that I take real pleasure in revisiting. Knowing exactly what is going to happen and, in some cases, knowing the exact dialogue between characters like Jane and Miss Temple only adds to my love of the story. It is like hanging out with old friends, or with my sister, whose sentences I can easily finish.
Despite my love of routine, I was unprepared for the repetition involved in parenting young children. I knew schedules would be important in terms of feeding and sleeping, but I had no idea how many hours would be spent playing peek-a-boo or how many times I would have to read the same book.
One of the books I read most was The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. It is a wonderful Caldecott-medal winner with delightful illustrations. My son received it as a gift at his birth and I’ve read it at least 100 times since he was born. It is one of those books that at first you don’t mind reading repeatedly. The story is engaging and it doesn’t repeat or rhyme in an annoying way – but, by the 20th reading, I was not above trying to skip sentences, whole pages even. By the time my son turned 2 he had memorized the book and I was no longer allowed to fudge any of it. So, with each additional, full, read through, I found myself becoming resentful of the little house and its unwillingness to adapt to the realities of the city growing up around it. I was frustrated that the house had to have it all quiet and peaceful in the country, like an idyllic pastoral life was the only life worth living. I knew at that point The Little House and I needed a break. So when we moved from Cleveland to Detroit, I packed all of my son’s baby books away and just never unpacked them in the new house.
My son, who turns 6 this month, recently found this box of baby books in the basement and dragged it upstairs in great anticipation. He was delighted to find all his old favorites and, a lover of repetition like myself, he was thrilled to hear, again, the books he had heard countless times already. We re-read The Little House. But this time, I was once more able to enjoy the touching story of a house that feels abandoned and neglected. I had a lot more empathy for the feelings of displacement and fear that so much change brings (especially having moved a number of times since I had packed the book away).
The school year is beginning and I am sending my son off to Kindergarten. I am thankful I was able to cultivate his love of reading and re-reading while he was young – even if it led me, temporarily, to resent something as harmless as a children’s book. And I look forward to the day when my son will be able to read The Little House to me – even if that means listening to it another 100 times.
Image: Cover Art by Virginia Lee Burton (1942) via ala.org