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A Lesson Well Learned

I love books. I love reading them over and
over again, and treasure the books in my possession like best
friends to keep with me for life. I wear out my library card, and
rarely buy a book I haven’t already read at least once: I
usually check out books I’m interested in, give them a read,
and if one sticks with me I’ll write it down to buy at a used
bookstore at some point. I love books.

Maddie and Cora are shaping up to be the same way, not that they
have much choice. Pretty much all of their grandparents love
reading as well, and one-on-one reading time is built into our
daily schedule at least twice a day, usually more. Books are what
we usually give for birthdays or other big occasions, both to each
other and to friends. What I’m trying to say is, this is a
big book household. I’m a very generous lender, but the books
we choose to own become somewhat precious to us, both for their own
sake and for the memories attached to them of the giver or
situation in which they are received.

My love of books led me to organize a
children’s book drive for our local homeless shelter,
culminating in a storytime/book giveaway yesterday. I sent out an
email to my friends, and the response was overwhelming: I ended up
yesterday with seven boxes packed full of books for kids, so many
that I spent yesterday morning trying to roughly sort them into age
groups for easier “shopping”.

As I was sorting all the awesome books so generously donated, I
realized we hadn’t contributed any of our own. So I called
Cora and Maddie in and talked to them about going through their
books, finding a few they no longer read, and choosing them to give
away to another child.

This did not go over well.

Maddie got that worried look on her face. “Well, I
can’t think of any book I don’t love! I read them all!
I don’t think I can bear to part with ANY books, Mommy!
I’m really not comfortable with this.”

Now, of course, I could force them to give away books, but that
wouldn’t really instill the right value into this event that
I was hoping for. I could threaten them – say that they
wouldn’t get any new books for Christmas unless they gave
some away. Again, not a great life lesson.

So Brian and I sat and quietly talked with them, explaining how
there are children who don’t own a single book out there,
while we have so many. Brian told them about the passage in Matthew
where Jesus said that any time you give food to a stranger or
clothe him or help him, you’re helping Jesus himself.
“Helping people who don’t have much is one of the
responsibilities we, with a lot, are given. We’re called to
be good stewards of what we have, and help people who have nothing.
Think about a book you really love, how great it was the first time
you heard it, and how much joy that book would bring another
child.” We looked through the boxes of books already given,
pointing out some of Maddie and Cora’s own favorites amongst
them. “Look –there’s ‘Runaway Bunny’!
One of your friends is giving it away so another child can love

The girls were quiet, taking it all in, and I realized I should
lead from the top down. I got up, went upstairs, and picked up
three books in my “waiting” stack and brought them
down. “We’re not collecting for grown-ups,” I
said, “But maybe there will be some mommies there who would
like something to read too.” Then I asked them to go upstairs
and simply look through their own shelves.

A few minutes later Cora came down clutching one book. I looked and
saw it was a Little Mermaid book – sometimes in high rotation
with her. “I really love this book,” she said, patting
her chest. “I bet some other little girl will love it

Yeah, I teared up as well.

A few more minutes went by, and Maddie still hadn’t come
down. I was worried she was frozen with sadness and went to check
on her. When I got in her room, I saw a stack of about fifteen
books on her chair, some of her favorites from the years past.
“I want to give all of these away,” she said with

Astonished, I looked through the stack. The Giving Tree. He’s
Got the Whole World In His Hands. Several Wombat books. I needed to

“Honey,” I said slowly, “I think your heart is in
a great place here. But are you sure you want to give all these
away? I mean, look – Finklehopper Frog was one of your
all-time favorite books! And The Giving Tree is one of the best
books ever written.” Carefully, I began making a stack of all
the books I thought we should keep – either for Maddie, or
Cora, or frankly for me.

“Mom,” Maddie said, frustrated, “These are my
books. And I don’t read them any more. So I want to give them
away so someone can enjoy them.”

And I realize she’d absolutely gotten the message we were
preaching – maybe too well. I was the one hung up on keeping
them, on the emotional attachment, and I was about to teach her a
dangerous lesson of investing too much love into a possession.
Maddie was loosening her grips on her beloved books – how
could I stop that?

I wish I could tell you we gave the whole stack away. But I
can’t; I simply couldn’t. In the end, we compromised:
Maddie gave about half away, and I put the other half into the
family library, promising that if Cora didn’t read them
we’d look at them again down the road. And later that day at
the shelter, a mom pulled one of Maddie's old books out of the box
and handed it to her toddler. "Ooh, that's a good one," Maddie
said cheerfully to the little boy. "Would you like me to tell you
about it?"

Sometimes, when your child learns something, you have to just get
out of her way.


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