Of Board Books and Birthday Questions

We have a lot of board books. If you have no children, perhaps you can’t appreciate what “a lot” of board books looks like. It’s not ten, not twenty. It is, in fact, a whole crate of cardboard-paged little books. They are glossy and brightly-colored, often rhyming. Only a few of them tell stories, most focused instead on list-like exercises, like saying goodnight to various items in a bunny child’s bedroom, or explaining why the Nooth Grush on his toothbrush isn’t a terribly helpful housemate. They are board books, and their chief virtues are, in order, that they are:

  1. Short
  2. (almost) Indestructible

All that to say, Board Book Age isn’t my favorite. Just beyond it lie almost infinite adventures in reading, a time when people will sit still for longer than sixty seconds and will actually care what happens to Knuffle Bunny and Trixie, or Yertle the Turtle, or Rosie Revere. I love reading to my kids, but I have to admit that I love reading some books a lot more than others.

Among our board book collection, however, is one of my favorite books ever. It’s not about farm animals or opposites, going to bed or seasons. It is, in fact, about me. It’s called “Things You Should Know About Your Mommy,” and it is not about mothers in general; it is about me.

We all have been given gifts we didn’t ask for. These “off-registry” gifts are sometimes a source of amusement, sometimes unexpectedly useful, and sometimes, like this little board book, some of the best gifts we have ever received.

It’s a small book, the smallest we have, and the pages are painted in pastel watercolors. On each page, in handwriting I still recognize, there is a statement about me. “Your mommy is an adventurer,” reads one page, continuing “She climbs hills and mountains, and travels across seas.” Another page refers to my prowess at pie-baking (“apple and spinach are two of her specialties”) and another to my love of words.

The book was a Christmas gift to Luci, shortly after she was born, from a dear friend and former housemate of mine. It has traveled with us to Germany and back again, moved to various living rooms and bedrooms over the last four years. It has, in short, existed almost the whole time I’ve been a mother.

I’ve been reflecting a great deal these last weeks, as we approached and then celebrated Ellie’s first birthday, about this year of two children, which was also my first year at home full-time. On the plus side, I can say without much hesitation that, for me, the upgrade from one child to two has been easier and more fun than expected, ultimately a net gain in delight. So far, so good.

The year away from work, however, has been harder. Though this September found me a little relieved that I could keep enjoying the warm and slow days with my kids, instead of frantically preparing a classroom, on balance I still miss teaching. More than that, though, I have been surprised  (even a little alarmed, honestly) by the degree to which I discovered my identity tied up in my work as a teacher. In the span of about a week, two different people—one a stranger, one decidedly not one—asked, “What are you doing now?” and I froze for a half-second. It took effort to say I was raising two kids, that these days I don’t have a salaried occupation. Becoming a mother was a huge shift in identity, one I was prepared for; unbecoming a teacher has been a similar shift, but caught me off guard.

Which is why my eyes filled with tears the other night, while Timmy read “Things You Should Know About Your Mommy” to our girls. Yes, one of the pages says “Your mommy is a teacher,” but it’s one page out of ten. The other pages paint a complete portrait, a mirror to remind me that teaching isn’t the only or most important part of me. It’s just a page, one of many.

At my birthday dinner the other night, my sister insisted that I answer a handful of “birthday questions.” She knows that I don’t love being the center of attention, but as she put it, “I don’t care and this is important.” She asked me to think about the last year, about meals and sunsets and songs that were meaningful. She asked me to think ahead to the next one, to consider what I wanted to do or focus on in the months ahead. It was hard to wrap my mind around it, to step outside of the daily rhythms of life with little girls, to think about doing anything else. Hard, but important, like she said, to remember that I shouldn’t stop writing, baking, adventuring as I can. And if I’ve stopped whistling, perhaps it’s worth exploring why.

Both the book and the meal remind me, so sweetly, of the importance of community. As humans, yes, but especially as mothers, we need people to remind us who we are once in a while, or ask us to think beyond the tiny urgencies of this day and moment. For me, it’s easy to sink into whatever role I find myself in, to let that title eat up all the others. I have been English Major, Teacher, and now Mother. I need to remember that I am also Kristi. That, as my little book reminds me, I love to whistle and bake pies, climb mountains and write, that I am compassionate and that I have faith. I pray that we all have friends in our lives like these, reflecting us back to ourselves in the moments when we need it most.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. I had written this on Facebook but decided it was too long and more revealing than I wanted to post on Facebook! 😁

    Oh, Kristi, so poignant. What an awesome book. So did the author paint and illustrate the book herself and then write in it? What a fab idea‼️ And I 💖 how you and your sister (whole family) ask such penetrating questions. I have a friend who does that! I missed teaching our whole time at BFA (never the grading or lesson plans), the interaction with students. And I never figured out how to reconcile my dorm mom role with just loving on them. Anyway, I understand the tug. And in your case, you’ll have more opportunities to teach in the future. Enjoy motherhood for now.

    It was a wonderful post. I still need to take a creative writing class!!

    Love you!
    Laura

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    ________________________________

    1. Kristi says:

      Yes! My friend bought a blank book, then wrote and illustrated it. So beautiful! I really have the greatest friends (and sister!). You definitely had so much influence at BFA as a dorm mom, but I understand the longing; it’s just a different role.

  2. Karen Gielgens says:

    As a teacher myself I truly understand and as a mother of two, grandmother of 1 I have felt so much of what you so eloquently wrote. Teaching is not a job it is truly a part of who you are but I have come to know that my most important students are indeed my children and now my grandson.
    God uses all of who he created us to be!
    Please keep writing you truly inspire me and so many others.
    Thank you for your blog.

    1. Kristi says:

      Thank you, Karen, for these kind words. Writing is such an important outlet for me, so it’s wonderful to know that these words are useful for others as well.

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