“Again?” I ask. But she brought me the book and now she is looking at me expectantly. I know I will be reading it again…now and at least two more times before dinner.
“Two chocolate tarts for two turtles…” I continue reading, she’s still invested at this point, babbling and pointing to the turtles.
The story of Pudge Pig continues with donuts and ducks, gumdrops and gophers. Pudge, the young pig temporarily in charge of his uncle’s store, manages each alliterative order. But my daughter? She’s barely able to contain her anticipation by the time the five hedgehogs order gingerbread houses – and not because the alliteration ends at five.
She acknowledges the ball the hedgehogs have floating above their tango line, but only halfheartedly.
She knows what’s coming next.
I turn the page and her babbling turns higher pitched and faster paced.
This is her favorite page!
“Six cherries in spice for six merry mice!” And she waits, just barely, for me to count the cherries and mice before the pointing and the chatter commences.
This is her favorite page.
I try to turn to the next page to read about the barrels of butterscotch for the bears, but she stops me and goes back to the cherries. I know that once again, we will not finish the book. Once again, we will not read about how Pudge is able to manage elephants’ ice cream sundaes or the cat’s candy canes. We will not read about how Pudge gets ten treats when his uncle comes back up from the basement. Because… this… is… her… FAVORITE…page.
“Where’s Lorelai?” I asked, waiting for my daughter to reveal herself.
She pulled her hands away from her eyes, already excited. “There she is!” I said, for maybe the twentieth time.
With her arms still open wide, she walked closer to me. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t the hug I got. She wrapped her arms around my neck and squeezed. A real hug! In her fifteen months, this was the first real hug I’ve gotten and it came without prompting. Not a lean or a cuddle because she was sad. A hug!
After a beat, I realized the nurse was calling your name, just pronouncing it wrong. Again… “Let’s go, baby girl, it’s our turn,” I said to you as I gathered all the things we brought in with us.
You grabbed your pen and card and started heading to the door the nurse was holding open. I hurried to finish collecting everything and followed you.
“Right down here,” the nurse said as she walked down the hall, leading our small chain. I watched you walk all by yourself, realizing that this was happening. You were walking yourself into your 15 month doctor appointment. How have you grown up so much already?!
“Go ahead in here,” the nurse told us as she gestured into the room.
Without any more direction, you turned into the room and walked over to the chair. I followed.
This is how it’s going to work with you and me, Lorelai. You’ll lead and I’ll follow. You’ll say hi and smile at strangers and I’ll be there to hold you when you get scared or hurt. You’ll keep growing and I’ll be there to watch. To marvel. To enjoy every second because I know. I know it goes by way too quickly.
But other times, my heart is cool. I bob along gently like a balloon on a string. My heart feels lazy and slow, as quiet as a snowfall. This is when my heart is calm.
I stand in Barnes and Noble, reading these words from In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek. I stand here holding my daughter, as my son wanders the store, and I realize that this is how my heart feels right now. This is how my heart always feels when we wander here.
Sometimes we come to Barnes and Noble on a mission to find a specific book, sometimes in search of something new, and most often just to wander. This store is a happy place for us.
Barnes and Noble was there when Troy was little and more interested in playing with the train than finding a new book. It was there for us when he needed the next book in the A Tale Dark and Grimm series and he couldn’t wait even a day. It was there each time he finished a book and needed something new. It was there when he finally decided he was ready to read Harry Potter. And it was there last year when he was struggling and needed a safe place. It has always brought both of us a feeling of peace when we needed it most.
I stand here reading this book, holding my daughter in my arms as my son wanders. And I am filled with gratitude for this store full of books. This safe place. The calm we can always find regardless of the storms raging within. And I am filled with gratitude for all the memories that have occurred within these walls, surrounded by stories.