Snapshot - FamilyEducation

Snapshot

May 26,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

On the way to pick T. up from school. L. and I stopped into Barnes & Noble so I could buy a copy of the movie I was planning on showing my students in class today. I told L. he could pick out an inexpensive magazine, if he hurried. At the doctor's office a couple of days ago he'd been completely engrossed in some issue of Reader's Digest and I had to sit down and wait another ten minutes after our appointment was over so he could finish it. He wanted to find that exact same issue at Barnes & Noble so we embarked on a frantic hunt to track down where the store kept those small-sized magazines. We enlisted the help of a nice Barnes & Noble lady who then had to get the help of a nice Barnes & Noble man to track down the elusive magazine. Finally, we found one last Reader's Digest, nestled next to Popular Mechanics. Unfortunately, this month's issue features a large hot dog on the front, with the word America written in curly, curvy mustard.

L. hates hot dogs, with a passion. He hates mustard even more. "I don't want that one," he said. "Could I get another?"

Barnes & Noble, apparently, doesn't keep back issues of Reader's Digest on hand.

While L. was looking for a replacement magazine, I looked over at the cafe tables and saw an older woman in a post office uniform reading The Help. She wasn't even halfway through yet, but she was bent over the novel (holding it carefully cracked open, too, the way you do when you're reading something you have to re-shelve) in that intent and focused way that signals complete involvement in a book. I was so tempted to tap her on the arm and ask her what she thought of the book, but she seemed in such a private, good place, and I didn't want to interrupt her read. 

I steered L. away from the expensive home and architecture magazines he so loves, and past a $15.99 issue of some photo editing magazine, and by the time we left the store the post office lady was gone from the cafe table. As we were driving away I saw her leave the bookstore, heading in the direction of the next-door post office where she no doubt worked. She didn't have the book with her, but she had a dreamy, thoughtful look on her face and, I don't know--she looked refreshed, somehow. I could tell immediately that she was still far away, her mind still turning the words over and over, savoring the few minutes she'd escaped from work and into another world. She was in that twilight sort of place where you go when you read a good book; that place that can be found only in the time right before you put the book down and are jolted back into the realities of the moment: work, kids, laundry, traffic. I imagined her behind the counter, or in the back of the post office sorting the mail. Maybe her feet would hurt, or she'd be bone-tired, and wondering what to cook for dinner, or dealing with a rude customer, or cranky co-worker. But all the while she'd be sustained by the thought of her next break from work. Then she'd slip next door again, pull a copy of the book off the shelf, and settle into the cafe chair for another chapter. 

I wish I could be there when she finishes it. I'd love to ask her what she thought.

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I'll see you back on the other side of the weekend. Tomorrow will be a whirlwind day--teaching, meetings, and L.'s big afternoon. Happy weekend to all!