Seventeen years ago today, I became a mother. My water broke in the middle of the night and I called my husband, who was working the night shift, to come and get me. It was time.
I was ready. More than ready. I had a bag packed with slippers and the new bathrobe my mother had given me, along with wee little onesies and sleepers for the long-awaited baby boy. There were a few toiletries and personals, diapering supplies, a couple dazzling white burp cloths, more than enough blankets….and on the very top of this pile in my suitcase, a copy of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, the Seventy-Fifty Anniversary Edition, illustrated by Ernest Shepard.
It was this top thing that seemed most important. I had lumbered my great-with-child self to the bookstore the week before to make The All-Important-Decision of what book would be this baby’s First Book. I’d been thinking about it since the moment I found out I was pregnant. I did not have the usual first-parenting jitters — I was confident in the areas of basic baby care, secure in my breast-is-best and cloth vs. disposable decisions. But it seemed very very important that I start this child’s reading off right. The duty took on a sacred sort of feel for me. Any anxieties I did have about parenting were fully focused in this one area. The book had to be just right.
I do not know why I chose The Wind in the Willows. I had not read it as a child. I’d been raised almost exclusively on Winnie-the-Pooh. I loved Pooh. We had decorated the nursery completely in poohness — Ernest Shepard’s rendition of Pooh, no less. But I chose Ratty, Toad, Mole, and Badger as my son’s first book companions. I read him the first two chapters before he was born. Later I would worry that maybe those first chapters had been too muffled in utero for him to fully grasp, so I read them again. As I waited for my husband to arrive that night, I amused myself reading us Mole’s expedition into The Wild Wood to finally meet the recluse, Badger.
When my husband skidded in on two-wheels, I closed the book, carefully marking the page, and zipped it into my overnight bag. I was not confident I would be able to read during labor (indeed, I did not), but I had every intention of taking up where we’d left off just as soon as they handed me my baby boy. Which I pretty much did, though I was so weary and bleary by then, I can’t think I did Grahame’s delightful prose justice.
I had children (in part, at least) to have someone to read to. My children are 17 (SEVENTEEN!) and eleven today. Here be the chronicle of our reading adventures.