The Bookshelf


It had to be done. I’ve known this for a long time, but I made every excuse in the book not to do it. I didn’t think they were excuses, though – just facts. I’ve been too busy working on my novel revisions. I’m always running to my kids’ schools for one thing or another – forgotten gym clothes, PTA meeting, class party. I had to clean the living room, kitchen, bathroom – someplace seen if guests stop by. But, this afternoon it came time to face the fact that it just must be done. So, I did it. I went down into my basement – slowly, tentatively and purged a huge chunk of artifacts of my three boys’ “little kid” years. My youngest just turned nine and I’m forty-five – it’s time to realize that my dream of a fourth child is dead in the water. Never going to come true. I can’t keep holding on to wooden puzzles and sweet little board books. Boggle Junior with my son’s name and first grade classroom number on the box cover? He’s fifteen now and in tenth grade. It’s time to let go.

There are some exceptions – there had to be. After all, I started with the bookshelf. I would not dump anything by Shel Silverstein, Eric Carle, Graeme Base or the book “What Moms Can’t Do.” The book, “I’ll Love You Forever,” by Robert Munsch had to keep it’s place on the shelf, as well. And, since I’m always brutally honest in this blog – I’ll admit that I burst into tears as I pulled the books off the shelf and placed them in a neat pile on the floor. It was the kind of cry that leaves puffy little pillows under your eyes and a rosy sheen to your nose.

There are so many memories in between all of the covers, not just my favorites. The many dinosaur books reminded me of when my oldest son was nicknamed, “Mr. Paleontologist,” thanks to his deep love of the pre-historic creatures. He had to have every dinosaur book he saw and he read them cover to cover. Now his love of sneakers has replaced his love of T-Rex and a $6.99 book can’t even touch the joy a pair of fancy kicks that can cost twenty times more brings him. I miss those simpler days so much sometimes – a child on my lap, a book open. Maybe he’s pointing. Maybe he’s dozing off to sleep. Either way, there was a closeness that reading a book together brings that can’t be duplicated by any other activity.

My kids still read, of course. My youngest, A, can spend hours immersed in a good science book, trying to unlock the secrets of the universe – or at least the hows and whys of various weather patterns. My middle one, J, would prefer his iPod to a book and it can be a battle getting him to read, but if he loves a book, he can read it three times. My oldest, D, is taking honors English and gets to read all the great, meaty stuff that goes along with it. When he read Romeo and Juliet we had an in-depth discussion about the end and I have to say it was a very special moment in parenting for me. I was an English major and getting to relive my student days is more fun than I would have thought – and makes me more than happy to lend a hand with homework.

But, and of course there’s always a but, it’s not the same. Keeping your child on the path to being a life-long reader is not nearly the same as setting them on that path. Setting them on that path is wondrous. It is magical – it is the best kind of bonding there is. And that’s why I was crying. I’ll never be there again. It’s not just the books that hold memories – it’s the toys too, of course – but the books, those are the most cherished.

As sad as it is though, there’s something liberating about getting rid of things you never use. There’s something liberating about seeing white space on what was once a ridiculously overstuffed shelf. There’s even something liberating about acknowledging that you’re ending one chapter in your life and moving on to another. I’m done with the “young mom” chapter. I probably have been for a while. I’m in the thick of things – teenagers (one already there and one almost there) and a fourth grader – only one year left of elementary school. At this time next year, I’ll have only middle and high schoolers. Perhaps most astoundingly, I’m exactly equidistant from my last child being born to that child leaving home for college – nine years in either direction. Nine years has gone by in the blink of an eye, although in some ways it seems like a lifetime ago.

As I surveyed the piles of books, puzzles and games on the dark green carpet, I catalogued all of the things I’ve done that I couldn’t have if I had a baby or toddler now. I wrote a novel – that’s the big one. I started it when my son was in nursery school, but didn’t finish it until he was in elementary school. Immediately I thought – well, what if it doesn’t get published? Was it worth not having another child then? I’ve gone to writing conferences and have spent hours researching agents and publishers. My husband and I went to the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas – just the two of us – on an all expense paid trip. My mom could never have watched a baby in addition to a thirteen, eleven and seven year old. I adopted three dogs from the time that I started thinking about having another when my youngest was two. I probably wouldn’t have been able to save all of them if I was overwhelmed with a newborn. And I shudder to think what the third dog I adopted – after our first dog passed away – would do to a curious toddler. He’s not patient and I’m not the type to dump a dog – so we’d be in an impossible situation.

But, all of that doesn’t really matter – they’re just things I tell myself to feel better. The only thing that matters is that you need two people to want a child and my husband just didn’t want a fourth. I always joked that if I wanted another kid, I’d have to find a new husband and I was far too lazy for that. But, the truth is I could have tried to push him to add another child to our brood. I talked him into the others. Not that he didn’t want them, but he wasn’t ready when I was. Right before we started trying for our first child I told him, “You get ready” when he expressed his concerns. I was 29 years old; we had been married for a year and I felt it was time. I told him he’d never regret it. I was right. I told him the same thing with the second, when he expressed concern about having another child while our first was still just a baby himself. But, when my oldest turned eighteen months old and started saying, “No” all the time, I was sure that a new tiny bundle would cure my longing for easier days. “You’ll never regret a child,” I told him and I was right.

With our third, he asked me, point blank, “How can you possibly take care of three when you can barely take care of the two you have?” That wasn’t exactly the right question – I took care of my kids just fine. It was myself I barely took care of. I was run down by chasing after a five and a three year old. Even worse, that three year old had numerous health issues, including severe asthma and sleep apnea. And both kids had already had surgery for sleep apnea. I was exhausted and anxious and absolutely certain that having a new baby would bring the joy back into my life that seemed to be slipping through my fingers like grains of sand. “You’ll never regret a child,” I told my husband for the third time – and of course, I was right. But, would I be right a fourth time? Or would he regret it? Would caring for a baby and then a toddler while managing the hectic schedules of three school age children – sports, Hebrew school, after-school science programs – while in our forties put us over the edge?

I didn’t know the answer. As much as I wanted another baby, I wasn’t confident enough to utter those words, “You won’t regret it.” I wasn’t confident enough to push. Somewhere inside I knew I wouldn’t regret it, but would he? Perhaps. Maybe if we had a bigger house, I would have pushed. There’s really no room for another child, although as I always say – babies don’t take up much room. But, as they get older they do. And the babies might not take up room, but all their stuff does. And that’s why I’m cleaning it all out. I don’t have babies anymore and I’ve finally accepted the fact that I won’t. It’s hard to say goodbye to that dream, but I’m hoping to replace it with other dreams. Maybe the next chapter of my life will hold lots of promise, even without a bundle of joy. And, I’m hoping that there will be babies again a decade or two down the road – I’ve heard that being a grandparent is just pure joy, untainted by the angst of parenting. Now, that’s something to look forward to…


11 thoughts on “The Bookshelf

  1. Jeannie says:

    You just gave me a good cry. Always need one of those. Don’t throw everything away, put the most special things in a box to save for those grandchildren one day, which will come sooner than a blink of an eye. The best thing was finding that box I saved long ago with books I just couldn’t discard and now reading them to Lexi- and you are so right about grandparenting- “pure joy, untainted by the angst of parenting”. I am definitely quoting you when I get back to writing my blog about being a grandparent.

    • stephaniekepke says:

      Thank you so much, Jeannie! I truly appreciate it. I definitely saved my favorites – there are quite a few picture books that I just can’t part with. And, I’m sorry that I made you cry – but, there is no bigger compliment in my book than when my writing makes someone cry. Thank you!

  2. Teena P says:

    You’ll always cherish those memories and to think of all the memories that still are ahead of you. I don’t have children but you made me feel like I do. That was beautiful. 😊

    • Teena P says:

      A busy lady with family and especially running here and there with children, but you’re still finding the time to get what you love in, and that is writing 😊👍

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