If I were ever forced to make a list of my five most prized possessions in the world, at least two of them would be books. One of them is my ancient, elderly, bruised and beaten and battered paperback copy of Slaughterhouse-Five that I stole from a yard sale when I was in high school. The page corners are dog-eared and passages are highlighted and underlined and notes are scribbled in the margins from I can’t even tell you how many essays I wrote about it. I don’t know where that book is right now, and I won’t allow myself to die until it is located. (Note to my husband: this is not a challenge.)
The other book is hardback, still in its original dust jacket, was a gift for my husband the first Christmas we were dating and has pretty much saved our relationship hundreds of times since then, and is basically pristine except for the fingerprints. Three sets of fingerprints, to be precise: his, mine, and hers. Because the other book is Where the Wild Things Are, and even when she was very small, our daughter knew not to mess with the Wild Things.
I don’t know a lot of people who don’t know about the Wild Things. The book was published before I was born, but not too long, although it seems like everybody including my own parents was read that book as a child. I’m sure my parents read it to me, because I remember the pictures, and I remember sitting in the dark at night thinking about those creatures who roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws, and I remember never once wondering what “gnashed” meant, because I already knew, from the book.
We went through a phase, a wonderful phase, my favorite so far, where Shae wanted to read Wild Things every night before bed for like a whole month, and my husband and I would take turns reading it to her, and we each had a different way to read the story. My husband, surprisingly, is all energy and light and loud noises, and when he reads it to her there is a lot of laughing and giggling and crazy frenetic dancing. His Max is much more regal than mine, more kingly, and his voice is deeper and manlier, and his Max is strong and assertive. I think she likes his version best, honestly.
Because mine is different. When I read the book, and we get to the bit about “LET THE WILD RUMPUS START” there is jumping on the bed and crazy choreography and hooting and hollering and howling at the moon and sometimes I’ll pick her up and fly her around the room, but when we get to the part about “BE STILL” my voice breaks a little bit, cracks ever so slightly, and once we round the corner of “OH PLEASE DON’T GO, WE’LL EAT YOU UP WE LOVE YOU SO” … there is quiet. My Max is sad. He misses his Mommy and his toys and his string cheese and all the things that he loves best in the world, and when he says, “NO,” it is a whisper.
In that moment she is not Max any more – I am. And I have gone from being master of the house, superhero of the world, king of where the wild things are, to a tiny little thing, just a mom, whose daughter is growing right there in the bed where we are all snuggled together reading, and I can feel the time ticking away, and already she is about to start kindergarten and soon middle school and then high school and then college and then marriage and then children and I just want it all to stop, to calm down, to be silent and small again, my little baby, the best thing that has ever happened to me, the greatest thing that I have ever done in my whole entire life, possibly the greatest thing that I will ever do, and I just want it all to be still.
So I whisper “NO,” and she steps into her private boat and sails back almost over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day and into the night of her own room, where I have always been waiting for her, with her supper.
And it is still hot.