Monday, June 29, 2009

The Bookshelves

While N was in Boston, I decided to do something about the books in his room. It was a supposedly simple project that has turned into a tear-inducing angst-fest, of proportions even I would never have imagined.

(Yes, my dear girlfriends, I am still obsessing about this. Having spent several hours listening to me go back and forth on this exact subject last night in the park, you are more than welcome to stop reading right here, right now. Because the angst may keep on coming, but it doesn't actually CHANGE.)

Dealing with the books in his room was a Good Idea. There were too many of them, for one thing. They were piled on the floor and on the desk, and on top of the bookshelves, and on top of each other. I'd say half of them are books N hasn't looked at ever or touched in several years. Some of them were misguided gifts from far-away relatives who don't really know what he would like or read. And so I decided to go through them, get rid of the never-read ones, make some space for new books, including the ones I know are coming in an Amazon box from my stepdad, who wanted to send N a special end-of-the-year present.

(Someday, a post about my amazing stepfather, who was...don't get me wrong...the rock of my childhood, the source of any sort of male-based stability my life had, but not the world's most demonstrative or emotionally open person. And how his grandchildren turned him into someone who PLAYS and HUGS and is more than a little gooey in the center and who sends presents without my mother even knowing he's doing it, half the time. And how awesome that is.)

Back to the book dilemma. At first, it was going to be simple. But when I started pulling the "he'll never notice they're gone" books off the shelves, I knew it was about to get more complicated. Looking at what remained, I was forced to face the fact that a large majority of the books on his shelves are...well...'wrong' in some way.

There was the top shelf, for instance, which was an entire collection of board books. You know, Goodnight Moon, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Moo, Baa, Lalala. Eeesh. He's eight years old. Those should probably go away, I thought. He'll be upset if he notices, but he probably won't, and...well, I'm not going to get rid of them. I'm going top put them in the garage for the future. Considering the number of times we read Brown Bear, Brown Bear to both kids, I can't just give it away.

Removing the board books became a slippery slope, though. Because if the board book of Go Dog, Go is too young for him, is the actual book a no-go, too? What about the rest of Seuss? I just couldn't do it; he loves those books, up to and including Are You My Mother?, and I love them, too.

And that led to me consider all the other baby-ish books on his shelves. It was easy to decide to get rid of anything Barney or Teletubbies, because he left those in the dust long ago. He hasn't watched Sesame Street in several years; if I asked him, he'd want to keep those books, but if I don't ask him, he probably won't notice their absence. But what about Dora the Explorer? Clifford? Blue's Clues? He still watches Blues Clues when he can, and he LOVES Clifford. What about his collection of Curious George books, all of which he looks at regularly? What about all those wonderful old picture books, like Make Way for Ducklings or Ferdinand or Where the Wild Things Are?

So here's the thing: If it were up to N, he'd never give away ANY books. But if I could get him to give some up, it would only be a very few of the board books. He would never want to give away Blue's Clues books. Or at least not now. Which should have made the decision simple, right? Except that I had this vision of him having a friend over, and his friend seeing those books on the shelf...Barney, say, or Dora Loves Boots...and taking that information with him, using it against N at school, where I'd hazard a guess that the majority of third-grade boys don't spend a lot of time considering who Dora loves. It worries me, what might happen then. And so I decided I needed to intervene on N's behalf. But how far to go? What rules to use? It was so very hard.

In the end, I made piles. I kept about half the books on his shelves. Curious George is still there, for instance, as are Dr. Seuss and Ferdinand. Plus, of course, many age-appropriate Spongebob books. (Gag.) Of the other half, I put about 40 percent of those in a pile to give away. The other 60 percent went into piles to be taken to the garage. Moo, Baa, Lalala was in those piles, as were Barney and Dora and Blue. In some cases, that was because I'm not willing to give away the books that defined my kids' infancies; in others, it was so that if and when N asks me about where they went, I can show him that I didn't throw them away. I can tell him that I was making room on his shelves for new books that are coming in all the time...and that's true, though he might wonder if he really needs two completely empty shelves for that purpose. But as long as I can go and get him any of the likely-to-be-missed books he asks for, I think it's a decent compromise.

Except. Except I'm not entirely sure I really buy my own argument. Don't we all spend a lot of time bemoaning how our kids have no time to be kids any more? How they all grow up too quickly? Granted, hypermaturity is not N's problem, and likely never will be. But what am I saying by deciding for him that he should be done with Blue? That it's wrong for him to like what he likes? That his favorite books are embarrassing? And considering the amount of time I spend worrying about some of his not-so-babyish interests--including his never-faltering obsession with talking about guns and shooting bad guys--do I really want to take away the interests that have nothing whatsoever to do with flying bullets?

And so, instead, I'm trying to focus on what my friend Ambre was saying, that I need to make sure he's surrounded with books that are at or above his current reading level, so that he doesn't always fall back on books with three and four words per page. I tried to keep that idea in mind when I was doing the culling, but--truth be told--my prejudices came out in the end. Some of my babyish faves remain (I mean, how can you toss Danny and the Dinosaur?) and, I'll admit, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles books--definitely above his reading level and an appropriate challenge in some ways--made their stealthy way over to the "donate" pile.

He arrives home in a couple of hours. I'm a little afraid of how he's going to react. My fingers are crossed he'll be too happy to be home to feel upset or hurt. That he'll mostly be happy to see that the library book we were in the midst of when he left--Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid--is at his bedside, ready for us to dive back in. That the books from my stepdad will arrive in the next couple of days, and we'll have those to distract him from what isn't on the shelves. But we'll see. We'll see. We'll see if he notices. And we'll see if I cave.

Anything could happen.


Anonymous said...

My 13 year old still has his favorite toddler books. The books on his bookshelves run two rows deep.

More power to you, I couldn't do it.


kris said...

i go with what my son wants to keep. and he will tell you he is keeping books 'to remember' when he was young (he's 9 now). he has some pooh books still and all his dr suess books and all the syd hoff books and i hope he keeps those for his kids. if you need room on the book shelves than pack his old books up and store them but i would never give any away unless he agrees.

Anonymous said...

yeah, sorry. Can't ever get rid of books. Just can't do it. And therein lies our entire problem as a family. There simply aren't enough shelves or organizational systems in the world to help us.

How'd N do with the organizaitonal changes?

Anonymous said...

We made a rule that Holly couldn't buy any more picture books a while ago, because she would read them forever even though she's a great reader (as I've bragged ad nauseum, I know, I know). When her books got to critical mass, I involved her in sorting the books for donation and that helped. She has a baby cousin, so if she wanted to hang on to a baby book, I told her we'd keep it for Nora, but in a box in the basement. I think the reason you're obsessing is that you know it's not fair to give away a kid's stuff while he's not there. You're projecting that he's going to want to hang on to all these books, but you have no evidence that this is going to be the case.

Have I mentioned how much I love your delightful nuttiness and your awesome depression consigliere advice?

Anonymous said...

What we did was create two shelves of kids' books in another room. Easy access when wanted for daughter or a visiting kid, but no grounds for teasing on the playground. It made for an easy transition.

po said...

This is one area in which I am bizarrely (for me) unsentimental. Books that are not read are donated away. It's funny though: awhile back I was at the public library and saw the boardbook "Fall" on a display and I got all misty-eyed and internally said, "Awwww, we had this book! Matthew LOVED this book!" and then I realized, "Oh, I think this was ours..." :D

So how did N do with the changes?

Jo said...

I told her we'd keep it for Nora, but in a box in the basement. I think the reason you're obsessing is that you know it's not fair to give away a kid's stuff while he's not there. You're projecting that he's going to want to hang on to all these books, but you have no evidence that this is going to be the case.

Extenze said...

These kids can do great things. Books are a powerful thing and the sooner they read, the better it is for them. Nice blog.