When I was a kid, from around age 10 until age 14, I read all the time. And by that, I don’t mean I read a LOT; I mean I read ALL THE TIME. I frequently read multiple books per day, and I was an anxious wreck if I left home without at least two books in hand; the extra book was just in case I finished the first before getting back home, which would have created the horrifying possibility of an eternal bookless void that would inevitably be filled with *gulp* human interaction. I could readily go for days without such interacting, if permitted. Such a delight, for an introvert, was not always an option, alas.
Because, every once in a while, my mom would look at my pasty white skin, weak eyes, and haggard appearance, and she would decide that I needed to be exposed to some sunlight for the first time in months, probably. She would order me into the great outdoors with instructions to breath fresh air and get some exercise.
Despite my eloquent protestations, I would nonetheless be forced into the wilderness to wander about like a feral dog. I’d mumble and mutter exactly what I thought about the outdoors generally and the concept of fresh air specifically, and begrudgingly walk past my mother’s glare and outstretched finger pointing to the front door and the wide world beyond.
Once outside, I made my still-grumbling way to a particular tree in the woods out in front of our house, bordering the quiet road. Up I climbed to a pair of limbs about twenty feet in the air. The bottom limb of the two was wide enough for a seat, while the higher limb was set just far back enough for a perfect backrest.
I took my seat with a sigh and settled in, far above the ground and away from prying eyes, feet dangling below me. Then, after anxiously checking to make sure the coast was clear, I pulled from under my shirt the two or three books I’d been forced to smuggle out of the house, like a well-read criminal with a bit of precious literary contraband. I’d had to tuck the books into my waistband and under his shirt, with my stomach sucked in as far as possible to hide the tell-tale rectangular outline. Even now, I can’t believe the lengths I was forced to go to continue on my journey of intellectual discovery and insatiable quests for knowledge of the profoundest depths, despite my parents’ undying efforts to thwart such a dynamic literary awakening. That newest Goosebumps book was not, after all, going to read itself.
Regardless of locale, my reading addiction soon outpaced the home library, so the local library was my only supplier and savior. I’m proud to say that there IS a limit to how many library books you can check out at once, because I reached it on what was the proudest moment of my life to that point.
But given the volume of volumes I was transporting, mere plastic bags just didn’t cut it. So my Grandma Meyer made me a special library book bag, fully tricked out with reinforced layers, extra thick handles for maximum weight capacity, and a book-themed fabric that drove the ladies absolutely WILD. Eventually she made me two more, since I wasn’t an amateur. I used those bags for years, and they never let me down, unlike the rest of my adolescence.
Ever since I’ve had kids, I’ve made every effort to fill our home to bursting with books of all kinds, especially picture books. I want Henry and Holden to always have ready access to a wide variety of literary adventures, because I want them to experience that same feeling I had as a child: a freedom to explore hundreds of fantastical worlds and thousands of amazing lives, to dive fully into the thoughts and emotions of another person, and to travel miles upon dusty miles in the furry feet of some plump hobbit traveling there and back again for the seventh or eighth time.
And so, a few months ago when I rediscovered my old library tote bags, buried deep in a box of my old stuff, I knew immediately that I wanted Henry to have them. I wanted him to have something special to carry his own books back and forth to the library, something that was crafted with a grandmother’s love and with a very particular understanding for exactly what type of gift my odd, 10-year-old self would most appreciate.
He may not understand now why Daddy was so excited about giving him those bags, but hopefully he will someday.
And in the meantime, at least he looks way more boss holding that bag than I ever did.