I take a deep breath. I close my eyes, but only briefly, because my daughter is standing by my knees, her arms stretched up up up. She has just dropped a hard book in my lap for the fifth time, and no, it is not a different book. It is the same book, the one I would never choose, the one the doctor’s office gave us to teach her about musical instruments. She couldn’t care less about the musical instruments, no matter how much I try to connect the real live piano with the representation of a little red piano in her book. She flips past these pages with a determined goal: to get to the pages with babies. Once there, she points her perfectly straight, amazingly tiny pointer finger smack-dab in the middle of their faces and shouts “bahbah” as loudly and joyfully as I’ve said anything in my life.
And here she is, begging me to read this book again. To say the instrument names over, even as she hurriedly turns the page before I can get the words out. I think for a moment of the good old days — last week — when her book of choice was From Head to Toe by Eric Carle, or even further back, The Very Hungry Caterpillar? How could I have been so foolish as to bemoan reading those colorful, sing-songy, semi-narrative books? Oh to go back to last week!
Do not worry. Of course I picked her up. Of course I set aside my desire to read my own book (On Beauty by Zadie Smith, and my, I am now reeling at the end of it) and instead managed to read-in-full three of the ten pages before she lost interest, snapped the book shut, and shimmied down my calves to the rug, off on another living room adventure. Every time this happens, I stare at her, my head a bit tilted in awe that this darling creature thinks nothing of abrupt demands and even more abrupt declarations of utter boredom.
As with most things right now, even this has two sides — one annoying, one endearing. I’ve been reading How to Raise a Reader (“The New York Times” has an online guide), and the authors state that even this flipping through, this gazing at pictures, this baby-babbling is, indeed, reading. The other day, just as I sat down in my white chair with a bowl of cereal, she toddled over with a book grasped in both hands (this one, I think, was Chicka Chicka Boom Boom), and I said, “Evangeline, Mama’s eating breakfast. I’ll read to you after, okay?” I said this with no thought that she would listen, understand, and back away peacefully. But she did. She looked at me a moment, then turned around, plopped down on the floor, and opened the book on her splayed legs. She read to herself, and I chewed my outrageously loud granola and watched with wonder. Maybe the monotony of reading the same book all day for a week was instilling some sort of independence. Maybe I wouldn’t regret the majority of the time I stop doing what I’m doing to gather her in my lap and read. Maybe I’d never have to read that silly musical instrument book again.
This is Day 36 of our social distancing, Day 36 of us waking up together in our cozy home (when the furnace doesn’t stop working in the middle of the night), Day 36 of oatmeal with apricots for breakfast and Zoom calls and FaceTime and hollers across the street with neighbors.
There is so much the same. Over and over again, I do laundry (well, really, over and over again I should do laundry), and the number of dishes this tiny family accumulates by the end of the day is monumental. I simultaneously wish Evangeline would please, please, choose another book, and look back with nostalgia at the various little things she’s already outgrown. I have an up-close look at her movements through time, and as I watch her try again to stack a book on top of her sippy cup, I think about how she has no idea what is going on in the world. To her, this is some lucky turn-of-events: both parents home, all the time, and in no rush to go anywhere. She doesn’t understand when we listen to the news in the morning, when I get melancholy in the afternoons, or when she reaches out to touch her grandparents’ faces, why all she feels is a screen.
I remember a poem I wrote after college. The main event is washing brown eggs in the kitchen sink with the pads of my fingers, but the underlying feeling is repetition. I tried to write about the mundane, repetition, and joy. I thought I knew what those things were, how they overlapped. I didn’t know yet about Brother Lawrence or his book The Practice of the Presence of God, and so it was like discovering something for the first time with my own heart and hands (I am growing more careful to value these discoveries as different from those made second-hand; it is too easy to dismiss personal revelations [non-divine] because others have already had them).
Now, nearly ten years later, and I am re-learning the soul of my poem. I am re-learning the wisdom of Brother Lawrence. Evangeline knows nothing of this, or, maybe, she knows it all — the joy on her face when we do the simplest things.