Tonight at dinner-time I read the kids the last installment of The House at Pooh Corner, Chapter 10, in which “Christopher Robin and Pooh Come to an Enchanted Place, and We Leave Them There,” which really ought to be subtitled, “Fuck You, Mama’s Mascara.” Ollie has not been privy to most of the Pooh-readings (for this concludes our first reading of the entire series) but for some reason I felt he should be there for this story, snortling into his macaroni, maybe to protect me, the way Harper always squeezes his hand and tells him she’s helping him to be brave when she’s afraid of something. “Christopher Robin was going away,” the story begins. That was about when I started crying.
This all started because of a bookmark. Harper and I were whiling away an Ollie-nap by going crazy on Mr. Printables, an amazing site full of adorable (free!) paper dolls, coloring pages, and lo, bookmarks. Harper wanted to know what they were, these mysterious bookmarks, and what kind of book you would need to keep a place in, and I explained, and she asked if we had any chapter books, and I said that we did, and that we could read a chapter of one if she wanted and then hold our place with the bookmark, and she felt extreme enthusiasm about this concept. She’s very into accessories.
So that night at bedtime we began reading the first Winnie-the-Pooh story. I approached the familiar stories with some cautious optimism, not quite sure she was ready to listen to so very many pages with so very few little scratchy pictures. But man, was she. She is now obsessed, with the wonderful, all-consuming Harper-passion that has previously been directed toward The Ballerinas, Charlie and Lola, Special Baby, Murray, and other luminaries. I do believe she is in love with Christopher Robin.
I’m so glad she wants to read the stories all again, as she has announced, but there was something really special, like Special Baby special, about that first time, about hearing her crack up at the funny parts, and furrow her brow and ask for clarification regarding all the spelling jokes, and exclaim, “Oh, Christopher Robin!” when he’d do something terribly kind and wise, as he tends to. I keep catching her poring over the illustrations, studying Christopher Robin in particular. In the middle of nowhere she’ll say, “I think Christopher Robin might be a tiny bit older than me,” or, “Wasn’t that so funny when Christopher Robin said x?” She’s been wandering around the apartment or community garden or park or wherever we are, whispering to Christopher Robin about this or that, and singing Pooh-inspired “Tiddly-Pom”s as she goes.
First we read through Winnie-The-Pooh, and then one day last week I got The House at Pooh Corner from the library when Harper was at school. She walked into the living room, saw the book lying on the couch, screamed, clapped her hands, and did a somersault. I’m not kidding. We’ve since gone on Winnie the Pooh-themed picnics in the park. (I asked Harper if she could find the Hundred Acre Wood and she assured me it would be easy, and it turned out it was.) Actually, everything has been Winnie the Pooh-themed.
My point is, this child lives in an enchanted world, in which she is most happy when play-acting some private story. So this last Pooh story, about Christopher Robin leaving the forest, seems custom-built for stabbing me in the heart. How long do we have? How long can she play, completely unself-consciously, in these elaborate worlds, populated by imaginary people and her “cubbies”?
Toward the end of the last story, Christopher Robin and Pooh are lazing about in the enchanted place when Christopher Robin says, “’I’m not going to do Nothing any more.’
‘Well, not so much. They won’t let you.’”
Directly beneath this is an illustration of Christopher Robin lying on his stomach, kicking his legs in the air, studying something on the grass in front of him: that pose of relaxed, busy, focused nothing that is I think the essence of childhood. It’s just such a heartbreaker. And even though Harper’s not setting off for English boarding school anytime soon, it’s inevitable, the Growing Up.
Ugh, so what I’m saying is, read these stories to your magical little preschooler. Read them on a day when you’re so tired from all the early waking and tantrums about shoes and sticky floors and more tantrums about other shoes that you have been praying for the era of Full Day Kindergarten or even fantasizing about English boarding school, when the drudgery of all the work that comes along with them has momentarily clouded the sheer ridiculous shiny glory of their mysterious, curious beings. Read them to your children while they eat dinner so that you can get all weepy and when they both refuse to eat the macaroni and cheese they demanded and request little cups of applesauce instead you won’t even care and you’ll uncharacteristically let them have them and it will seem suddenly beautiful and not maddening the way they shriek with excitement and set about smearing the applesauce across the table like adorable monsters, and you’ll think, Yes, cups of applesauce are totally completely the most thrilling things on earth! Read them before they’ve seen the cartoon versions. Read them in an enchanted place, if you can find one. And then read them again.