Monday, January 07, 2008

turning pages, unwinding scrolls

Nora turns 20 months old this week. What can I say? Every stage with her has been an adorable one, but each one seems more endearing than the last. She is starting to sing and jabber all the time. We were watching White Christmas the other day and I swear she was trying to tap dance. As I type this, she has found the box of too-small clothes that I left out and has gone to town with it, taking each item out and tossing it over her shoulder, then sorting and re-sorting everything into different piles. From the look on her face, this is a project of sobering proportions. She’s thinking: Good grief! When will I ever get a handle on all this laundry?

Nora also loves books. Obviously, she came to the right family. She has hundreds to choose from (and pull off the shelves, and tear pages from and shuttle from room to room…). Last night I read a whole stack of stories to her and then put her to bed. This morning when I went in to get her out of the crib, she was pointing to her bookcase and whining for more. What a delight it is to pass on my love of reading to her. When I become first lady (not president; too much work) I will be the first lady with the big campaign about reading to your kids every day.

I'll willingly admit that I frequently fall short of the ideal mother mark, but when I’m reading to my kids, I feel like—at least for this moment—I am doing something right.

I found this painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner a few weeks ago while looking for new Christmas art. I was drawn to the way Mary and Jesus, as they lean in to read together, form a single mound. The scroll they are reading echoes that shape. The two readers share a moment of solid attentiveness; they are at one with their task. Mary is teaching Jesus to read, but she is also passing on tradition, knowledge, and a love of the word.

The parchment is rolled up on the floor on one side of them, but the other end of it is off the edge of the painting, as if it has no end. Time, and the passage of it, are implied in the sense of words having been read and words yet to come. But time has also been suspended, as mother and child focus their eyes on the phrase before them. They are paused at the top of the arc of the unwound scroll. They are—to use a trendy modern phrase—living in the moment. This is how I feel when I set aside my stacks of things to do, ignore the phone, turn of my laptop, and sit down next to a pile of books with one of my kids. It doesn't matter if we're reading Isaiah (as Mary probably is) or There's a Wocket in my Pocket. It's a good moment. And I'm going to hold onto it as long as I can.


Dedee said...

Beatiful post. I too feel that those times that I'm hanging with my kids, reading out loud to them, are the times when I most feel like I'm doing it right!

Luisa Perkins said...

I've never seen that painting before; I love it.

Insightful and lyrical as always, JulieQ.

Cakes said...

I love those times, too. "Treasure them all in your heart."

The Lazy Organizer said...

I don't think there is a better feeling in this world than sharing books with my kids. I often get butterflies in my stomach on the way home from the library just thinking of all the fun books we have in store for us.

MLB said...

I love to read.
I read to my son (6 months) but I have a problem... When I read aloud I YAWN- constantly!!
What is that? Does anyone else experience this?
It makes me nuts!


mindyluwho said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mindyluwho said...

Reading aloud makes me tired to Marni, but I too feel like it is mothering at it's best! I always feel guilty when I get to the end of a day and realize that I haven't read to my children. Beautiful picture and post JulieQ!

edj said...

I LOVE that picture--I'd never seen it before.

And a big part of the reason I love it is that I love those times too.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of a sampler my mother had hanging on the wall in our home:

Cleaning and scrubbing can wait 'till tomorrow

For babies grow up, we've learned to our sorrow

So quiet down cobwebs, dust go to sleep

I'm rocking my baby and babies don't keep.

Jennifer B. said...

You said it so well.

Lovely painting and insight.