He curves in against my body, an exhaled breath, a whisper of fingers on paper...in his hair, I catch the scent of ocean--sweet and salt and wind--he smells like the color grey. He offers me the book--this time about football, muscle, and mud. This bedtime story tells me something about his progress into his masculine identity--my boy-o loves the sweat, the blood, the physicality of the game. My son is growing up.
She unfurls her white silk blanket over her lap--dances her thick fingers through the ripples of fabric. Earlier, she wailed. Earlier she said,
"I don't love you, Momma."
Earlier she wrenched away from me, tears beading down her cheeks--frustrated, frenetic, alive with my "No" reply to her request. Outraged. A toddler storm. I weathered it, holding her until her body slackened against me again--until her fingers wrapped through the ragged tendrils of my hair and we both breathed deeply to steady our electric heartbeats.
Now, we read about the magical treasures down the back of the chair...she delights in the watercolor moon--the pastel baby eating a parfait--the vibrant striped snake--the elephant with lipstick. The day's struggles are gone...together, we read--night pressing against the windowpanes--my lap still just enough to cradle her.
This time, a chapter of the story we've been re-reading. My oldest girl and I peer again into the familiar life of another ten-year-old girl whose family is suddenly homeless in an apple orchard in California...she is right there beneath the moonlit rows of trees--the rich tang of rotting apples with each inhalation--the fireflies candling the boughs in the distance. In our character's pocket, the glass doorknob from her house's bedroom door--her security--her dreams. I pause in my reading of this favorite of hers for a moment and catch sight of the clear beveled-glass drawer-pulls on my daughter's cream-colored dresser...the ones she wanted after reading this bedtime story months before.
She has turned a piece of this fiction into tangible fact. Each morning, when she touches the cold glass, the novel is with her and she is thankful for her blessings...for home. She no longer needs to be read to...has had this ability for seven years, and yet every single night she listens to my dramatic delivery or her father's steady rhythm--reading the bedtime stories of her childhood.
I do not plan to stop this.
Let her come home with a broken teenaged heart from some boyfriend's house...I will pull Neruda from the bookshelf and tend to her wounds. Let him have a tough, bone-crunching game--his body bigger than mine--his flesh dotted with bruises...I will get out my Kerouac and read to his wanderlust and his open-mind. Let her fight with me--break against me--deny her love in an adolescent fit of rage...I will perch on her bed, even as her face is turned away from me to read Oliver's lines: "You do not have to be good..."
These words..their bedtime stories, frame my nights and show the children's growth...release our daytime struggles and illuminate the dark-shadowed trees with the blaze of a thousand candles...