By Gregory Keer
I’m sitting on the couch at 7:30pm, unable to do anything but stare at the TV changer, which is two feet in front of me, yet seemingly miles away.
“Must reach remote,” I say to myself. “Workday done. Dishes washed. Kids occupied. Basketball game starting…”
I muster the energy to lean forward when my mop-topped eight year old explodes through the living-room door.
“Daddy, let’s read!” Ari demands.
“Aren’t you old enough to read on your own?” I implore.
“No, I want to read with you,” he says, jutting out his lower lip to make a face he thinks tugs at my heartstrings.
Glacially, I rise from the couch, as if every muscle has been in hibernation for a season.
“Hurry, Dad, it’s getting late!” he shouts as he dashes ahead of me. Where does he get his reserve energy?
I make it to Ari’s room, moving like I’m underwater. I climb onto his bunk bed, clumsily arranging my adult body between stuffed animals and errant toys to get comfortable.
Then, we read William Joyce’s The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, about a writer whose library flies away in a hurricane. He is transported, Wizard of Oz-like to a world where he meets living books he comes to care for and that care for him as he grows old.
As grumpy as I was about having my me-time suspended, I generate some presence of mind to melt into the moment. It’s nice that my second grader, who loves devouring chapter books on his own, still wants his reading time with me.
When we finish, Ari asks, “Cuddle?”
Barely able to keep my eyes open, I agree, turn off the light, and proceed to fall asleep.
When I wake up, I’m as disoriented as a wayfarer who regains consciousness in a strange forest and curse myself for having lost 45 minutes of the evening.
I stumble from the bed, apologize to my wife — who’s working at the computer — for disappearing for so long. I check on my other sons, who are busy with homework and texting and my stomach churns over the fact that my plan to chat with them evaporated with my unexpected nap.
Bleary eyed, I break out the laptop to power through emails I just couldn’t finish during the day and don’t look up until I realize everyone in the house is asleep but me.
Lying down, I kiss my wife’s forehead, still bearing the frown of a complicated week and — can’t fall asleep. Knocked out of whack by the nap, I’m left with thoughts racing through my mind about everything I didn’t do and will likely be unable to do with so few hours in the day and so little energy in my aging body.
And then, I think about Morris Lessmore. Like Morris, I am often caught up in a hurricane of life. It carries away my days and, along with it, my ability to take stock in my children’s ascension to maturity. All too often, I find myself rushing my kids out in the morning and into bed at night just so I can get to – what? The end of the day, which will just bleed into another day of careening through responsibilities?
It’s a battle to leap from the cyclone, but it does happen for me, particularly when it comes to appreciating stories. It occurs in the moments I push myself past exhaustion to read a picture book with my youngest, watch and discuss a classic film with my oldest, and take in (with tears of pride) the short stories my middle child writes.
While not everyone is a writer, we all have the power to read books, watch movies and TV programs, and even to tell stories to our children, on everything from their days as infants to our own adventures through the years. Stories allow us to press the pause button on life and reveal our observations about what has happened and might come to be. While the whirlwind continues to whoosh around us, stories transport us to a quieter place of being together and acknowledging the tiny details that otherwise go unnoticed.
With the four days that Thanksgiving allows me with my family, I plan to do more cuddling with the kids — from the teenager to the second grader — to read, watch, and tell stories. Sweeter than any dessert, those moments will complete a holiday intended to help us all slow down and relish the most precious yet fleeting thing of all — time with those we love.