It struck me recently that I couldn’t remember the very last time I read a goodnight book to my son, Joshua. I asked him if he knew. As a teenager now, he couldn’t remember either.
“There was probably a night where you couldn’t read to me, Mom, because you were busy,” he said. “And then the next night we forgot about it. And the next.”
“So, it just faded away?”
“Yup.” *Mom choke-up*
Since then, I’ve been bothered by the fact that:
1. I desperately want to remember when and what that last goodnight book was.
2. If I’d known it was the last time, I would have cherished it.
3. Bedtime reading to my son is forever gone and I’m just realizing the significance of this now.
I mourn something now long disappeared that I had not even known was gone.
Along with bedtime reading gone of current children’s books with my son, so has the reading of books to him that I received as a child over 40 years ago. My mother wrote my name in mine, the year I received it, and who gave me the book. The Tooth Fairy brought me books from Beatrix Potter to Laura Ingalls Wilder to Roald Dahl. These books have now long been collecting dust on my son’s shelves.
“Mom, can we pack these books up now?” he asked, pointing to his bookshelf of old and new.
“Never!” I protested and gently dusted of books, taking them to my office where children’s books will never die.
These included my son’s best-loved books like Wonder, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, Warriors, Flat Stanley, Goosebumps, Genius Files, Joshua Dread, Captain Underpants (the lunch signs are the BEST!), and Charlie Bone (Mom, this is THE best series EVER! You have to read it). And I’ll never forget my son’s excitement when he found out that the Charlie Bone series author, Jenny Nimmo, was blurbing my first middle grade book, Joshua and the Lightning Road.
All too soon for me, my son left the middle grade world. He moved on to reading dark, dystopian young adult novels.
And I realized, sadly, he also moved on from all of our kid shows: iCarly, Big Time Rush, Good Luck Charlie, Pair of Kings, Drake and Josh, Sponge Bob Square Pants. Watching them with him made me nostalgic for my own shows I grew up with like Little House on the Prairie, The Love Boat, Benson, Greatest American Hero, and re-runs of The Carol Burnett Show and Leave it to Beaver.
Occasionally, I bring up our shared favorite episodes to him of middle grade shows buried in tv-land dust.
“Can’t we just watch a Sponge Bob episode tonight? How about the Frankendoodle one or Pizza Delivery or Best Day Ever?” I asked.
“No, Mom,” he laughed. “That’s kid stuff.”
“What about iCarly where Spencer pranks everyone and does the prank song?” I started bopping around.
“No, Mom.” He gave me an eye roll.
“Okay,” I said with a sigh.
It’s true that I’ve grown with my son as he’s grown, but in doing so I’ve also relived many of my own childhood paths through his middle grade books and shows – and I don’t want them to end. I’ve returned home to a place where I will always be young, laughing myself silly, on magical adventures, and experiencing so many wondrous ‘firsts’.
As a kid growing up in the 1970s and 1980s there weren’t books categorized “middle grade” and so I downed Sidney Sheldon, Stephen King, Jack London, Paul Zindel, and V.C. Andrews (all soooo not kid-friendly). They were my “middle grade” then, but now I have my son’s books, too (and age-appropriate!). And someday, I hope he’ll come back around to them just like I did. Maybe with his own children. He doesn’t need to relive his childhood now. He’s living it. And I realized, my son and his book world set me on my own journey as a middle grade author. What a wonderful legacy he gave me, even though he’s moved on.
He also doesn’t need me to be home anymore after school. He has his own business and drives to his restaurant job. He doesn’t need me to read him bedtime stories or cut up his meat. He doesn’t need me to do his laundry. He can do that simply fine (good!).
Don’t misunderstand me; I am enjoying the new phase of things. Watching him go to work, open a bank account, clean his room because he wants to (faint!), and calm his frazzled mom down when writing deadlines loom.
“It’ll be okay Mom,” he now says. “You’ll get it done. You always do.” He even helped me years ago in writing my first book when I got stuck on plot and character.
He may have said goodbye to middle grade for now, but I love sharing in the continued new wonders with him. I just won’t ever stop loving middle grade, not since I fell in love with it again through my son. I’ll keep writing it and reading it—and waiting for the day he comes back to it. *fingers crossed*
Have you ever mourned moving on from a phase in your child’s middle grade life? What were some of your favorite books as a child? What are some new favorite children’s books now?