I've been reading Winnie the Pooh to my kids. When my oldest was born, a friend of mine sent me* a beautiful hardcover copy of the Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh, complete with color illustrations. In the dozen years I've had the book, I've never read more than a bit here and there to the girls. The stories are long and around the time they were old enough to really appreciate the humor, they were starting to read on their own and seemed to think that Pooh was a little beneath them. Over the summer, I listened to a book in which one of the characters was reading his son the entire set of stories because, to him, Pooh was a necessary part of childhood. At the same time, we decided to get serious in our battle to get Matty to go to sleep in his own room and I needed to set up the perfect bed time routine. Short board books or stories that could be completed in a few nights weren't going to do the job. I needed something that would make him want to get into his bed every night. So I pulled out the heavy artillery: the big book of Pooh.
For two months, it has worked its magic. They boys love hearing the stories, and Matty doesn't fight bed time at all now. Even Isabel stops in now and again to listen. Tonight, though, the dreaded moment will come. We are half way through the last chapter, there is no way to put off finishing the book, and I am heartbroken. It's not that I can't open up the book and read the stories again. It's that every time I do, I'll get a little whiff of memory, of tucking my last four-year old into his own bed under his favorite reindeer sheets, of kissing him goodnight, and of all those cozy evenings-- the ones that I can't have back-- with my kids crowded around me on a tiny bed while I read to them.
Milne treats us gently in the last chapter, and I'm grateful for that. Instead of beating us mercilessly over the head with the reality that our kids are going to grow up and go away (I'm thinking about you here, Toy Story 3), he lets us believe what we need to: that we can preserve a bit of their childhood, and that "wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing."
We'll finish the book tonight, because it's really the only way. And I'm pretty sure that we'll read it again. I know it will still be good, but it will never be quite the same.
* I suppose it's possible that he meant it for my children; too bad, it's mine now.