Book Murderer

It’s such a painful thing to throw away books. It almost feels like throwing away a living being.

With all these kids, we get a lot of donations. People like to bequeath their old clothes, toys, and books to us. I’ve even had people buy up books at library sales and dump them on our doorstep. While I appreciate these gestures, if you factor in that my husband and I are both book hoarders, and that we already owned thousands of books between us when we got married (many of them obtained for free from library trash bins, or for pennies from library book sales) it becomes a problem.

We have a sun room and bedroom filled with nothing but boxes of books (that no one reads, because they’re totally unorganized). The garage is half filled with massive plastic containers of books. Most of those books are adult books (not that kind of adult) or textbooks. I’ve made every effort, over 17 years of parenthood, to liberate the children’s books into the wilds of the house. Every bedroom except that of my 5 and 2 year olds has bookshelves packed with books. And in the common spaces there are large moving boxes (years old, from when we first moved into the house) overflowing with children’s books.

So I finally took it upon myself today to sort through the cardboard boxes and throw away books. I’d already established rules. Keep in mind ALL these books are in poor condition (up to 7 kids and 17 years of abuse) and couldn’t be donated or sold.

1) Anything we got for free would be tossed, unless it was a truly outstanding book.

2) Any book where I didn’t like the art would be tossed (take that, lousy illustrators).

3) Anything my 2nd grader received through a “special” program would be tossed. It’s amazing how much money is poured into educating the lower achieving strata of students. She’s brought home countless learning kits, parent guides, and learning libraries from her various intervention programs. If only that kind of money were spent on high achieving students. We’d probably have Star Trek technology by now.

4) Any damaged books would be tossed– on an inverse scale of desirability. The beloved Calvin and Hobbes books were in shreds, so they were tossed. But less loved books only needed a missing cover to meet the scrapheap.

5) If I just didn’t like the book, or was sick of seeing it, I threw it out. I guess like living beings, some books just rub me the wrong way.

By the time I was done there were five bags of murdered books lined up by the back staircase waiting for sanitation. I neatly arranged the remaining books along the floor by the wall. That’s another thing– I’ve long held a deep-seated fear of bookcases and entertainment centers ever since becoming a mother. Every year hundreds of children are killed by falling furniture. We don’t have bureaus either– at least not in the rooms of the little kids. Even if a piece of furniture is anchored to the wall, the anchor can fail or lose efficacy over time. We did have one bureau fall over on the overachiever at the old house– it was my childhood bureau and thankfully very lightweight. She was only 5 years old but emerged unscathed. Many children are not so lucky.

So I stand before you a book murderer. Supposedly books are going the way of the dodo anyway, though I personally don’t believe that. Books sales are up in Europe and some distributors have made top profits in recent years. My husband works in publishing and remains optimistic. He foresees a hybrid system where electronic books simply augment paper purchases (sort of like DVDs to theater tickets). This is precisely what his company has seen over recent years, so physical book lovers, take heart.

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Routine

I spent many a sleepless night this summer obsessing about the morning routine of the impending school year.  Who would I take where, and when?  And with my oldest in school there’s no one home to watch the toddler, so she gets drug along for the ride (where I grew up, they say “drug” instead of “dragged”).  But it hasn’t been so bad.  It’s taking me about an hour to get everyone packed up; I first chauffeur my oldest daughter to high school, then ferry the elementary girls to their destination.

Were it not for a treacherous parking lot (I can’t just drop them off– we have to park and then walk the gauntlet) and obnoxious drivers, it would almost be enjoyable.  And then I’m back home with just the toddler, where I can actually be productive instead of having my skirt tugged at every three minutes. Just yesterday and today I cleaned up the biohazard rooms of my teenagers (they share by choice), my five year old and my eight year old.  I discovered all kinds of strange and horrifying items, namely, hundreds of cardboard toilet paper tubes neatly squirreled away in a drawer (some had been slipped inside the other for greater storage efficiency).

hoarding

An adult member of our household, who shall go unnamed, is a compulsive hoarder, and at least two of our children have inherited this trait.  One is messy and open about it, but the other is calculating and squirrelly; cardboard tubes and writing utensils are her specialty. When she was five years old, I discovered hundreds of neatly ordered, unsharpened pencils lined up in her closet.

I threw out eight bags of clutter, garbage, broken toys, and useless oddities.  I would go so far, as of this posting, to say the house is clean.  So the soul of my paternal grandmother can rest in peace, in her icy grave.

Ah, There You Are

My husband sometimes says: if Lucifer showed up on our doorstep, walked over to our five year old, and said, “Ah, there you are!” it would suddenly all make sense.

It’s not that she’s difficult in the classic sense of a difficult child.  She’s not setting stuff on fire or hitting people (or at least, she doesn’t hit us that often), but she’s very… loud, intense, demanding, and has an enormous appetite.  She never stops eating or asking for food.  We’ve found heaps of (hardened, moldy) food hoarded in her room, carefully stashed behind a maneuvered box spring. No, I don’t starve my kids, in fact food is the one area where I’m an exceedingly laid-back parent. Other than not buying candy, I put no limits on food and the kids are welcome to eat whatever they want, whenever they want. Most days I even have heaping plates of homemade dessert available 24-7. Yet she spends all day begging for food (take it!), demanding food (here!), and complaining about food. This evening she requested some chicken soup (she’d already worked through a quart of it during the day).   So I heated it up for her, but apparently used the wrong bowl, because she said (screamed), “THIS TASTES LIKE POISON!”  And five minutes after refusing to eat it, she’s screaming that she’s starving.  Now imagine various transmutations of this interaction, occurring at five minute intervals, over fifteen waking hours.

And she has eczema, thick, scabby eczema on the backs of her legs, opposite her elbows, and on her neck.  We smear zinc oxide on it around the clock, and between her wild hair, her screaming voice– which grows raspy from overuse and asthma– the eczema scales, and the white streaks of ointment, she looks like a feral creature burst from the bramble looking for a human snack.

Bedtime is always a nightmare, and sometimes we just give up and let her scream herself to sleep.  She passes out in various places in her room– face down on the carpet, sprawled in the doorway, slumped against the wall– but never in her bed.  When she was a baby she figured out how to rock back and forth in her playpen such that she could maneuver the thing like a car around the room.  The thump, thump, thump of her rocking sounded like a ghost rattling its chains, and made the walls of the house tremble.

On the bright side: she has a big, voracious heart, and is terribly clever with an amazing memory– she routinely recalls events from before she could speak, memorizes story books from a single reading, and can sing songs in pitch start to finish.  I know, I know, every parent thinks their kid is a genius; but how many parents have an evil genius?