Sometimes I think of nice things I would like to do with Rafael, and then, while we are in the middle of it, I realize that it is a reenactment of a pleasant childhood memory of my own. Picking blackberries for pie and going to the library are recent examples.
I am sitting in our deep white couch now, with shins and forearms stinging from blackberry brambles. But it's a familiar feeling associated with something happy. We rode our bikes down a sunny dirt path this morning and picked blackberries under the hot August sun. Rafael doesn't know what pie is yet, but he will soon. I remember the huge messes of brambles that flanked the dusty dirt roads in my home town. Back then, as now, I would pick berries while thinking about eating the pies they would be put into. Washed in a colander, tossed with sugar and flour, poured into a yellow hollow of dough, topped with latticed strips, and then baked until the purple-red juice bubbled over. The impatient hours spent waiting for the baked pie to set, resisting the urge to slice it open...cutting the pie while it was hot and runny would ruin it. And then finally, you eat your first bite, and it is deliciously tangy, sweet, and buttery, all at once.
Every step belongs to the ritual; the foraging, the thorn scrapes, the assembling, the baking, the waiting, the eating. Rafael is learning about it this summer.
Last week I dressed Raffi in a button-down shirt, slacks, and leather shoes. I told him about the library while we walked hand-in-hand on the sidewalk; that it's a place where you can borrow books. He was very interested in the idea, and kept repeating the concept back to me on our way: "Library...you can borrow books there. Library...you can borrow books there, right, Mommy?" "Yes, we borrow books at the library."
When we arrived, I told the two elderly librarians that this was my son's first trip to the library. I expected them to acknowledge that this was a special occasion, and to introduce him to the children's section. I was in fact very excited about this first trip to the library; I had fantasies about bonding with Rafael over piles of books, and about handing him his very first library card. In reality, the first thing he did was pull some books off of the shelf, and one librarian said, "Young man, would it be possible for you to not take books off of the shelves?" Rafael was already on his way to the next aisle, where he found children's dvds. My romantic notions were bursting. "Let's get this one, Bob the Builder, Mama! This one, yes? We can borrow it Mama!" "Yes, we'll borrow it, but look over here, look at these books Raffi, look how wonderful."
There were whole crates filled with children's books, many of them quite old, with lovely illustrations. After some coaxing, I did get Rafael to leave the dvd section and join me in looking at books. We picked out four, and then I saw it: The Lupine Lady, one of my favorite books from childhood. And suddenly I was transported back to the library of my childhood, cool and quiet, with the sweet, musty, lovely smell of books. The large windows looking out onto the street; the tiny table with the tiny computer sitting on it; Anne of Green Gables, The Babysitters Club, The Hounds of the Morrigan. I remembered venturing into the adult's section and finding an enormous hardcover book with paintings from Van Gogh, and looking at those sunflowers for a long, long time.
It became so clear to me why taking Rafael to the library was important to me: this was something I had enjoyed as a child, and I wanted to make sure he enjoyed it, too.
We got our family library card, and checked out five books, including The Lupine Lady, and yes, a Bob the Builder dvd. Rafael watched while the librarian pounded the stamp onto the slips inside, and then we tucked the books into his little felt bag and left. It wasn't as romantic as I had imagined; but it was real, and special, and we'll go back many times, I think. I hope Rafael will make some good memories there.