Bookmarks by Donalyn Miller

Spring marks another year Don, our girls, and I have lived in this house. Every March, I wind back through the years—revisiting. I love spring in our house. The azaleas Celeste and I planted under our front windows—bloom. The woodpecker that lives in our pecan tree—returns. The clover that we can’t eradicate (and stopped trying to a decade ago) pops up near the old shed. We find comfort and happiness in the roots we’ve set down and nourished here. It’s another year we’ve raised our family in this house.

Don and I moved a lot when we were kids. Different school districts. Different houses. We didn’t like moving so much. We wanted our daughters to grow up in one place. It was important to us.

Seventeen years. Two parents. Two daughters. Some rough days. Our share of great days. A lot of simple, ordinary days. We have loved this house and it has loved us in return.

Seventeen springs, but this is our last one. Now, that our girls are older, we’ve discovered we’ve outgrown our little house. Adult children bring other adults home with them. Adult children have children of their own. We don’t have room for birthday parties and Christmas dinners, anymore. Our capacious hearts have space for more people to love, but our living room doesn’t.

It’s a big deal—leaving this house. We have a lot of memories here.

After all these years in one house, Don and I haven’t forgotten the hassle of moving. We dread the upheaval. Although we aren’t moving until June, we have started weeding stuff. Moving provides a much-needed opportunity to cull and organize. Don and I aren’t packrats, but we are sentimental. Sorting through seventeen years takes time. Choir shirts, school projects, Easter baskets, Halloween costumes, board games—as we make decisions about what we will keep and what we will donate, Don and I can feel it. We are saying goodbye to more than our first house. We are saying goodbye to our years raising kids.

It really hit home we were moving, when we started packing books. With thirteen bookshelves crammed to the brim, sorting our books presents a huge challenge. As we dust spines and fill boxes, Don and I revisit every story—the author’s words and the family story we’ve folded inside the pages of each book.

griffin and sabine

Don hands me Nick Bantock’s fanciful and odd love story, Griffin and Sabine, the first book he bought me. Once a symbol of new, bright love, it’s now a marker of our lasting, established love. The book has held up pretty well over the years, and so have we. Postcards intact. A little shelf-worn.

Brushing my fingers along our 1967 edition of D’Aulaires Norse Mythology, I think about Jasmine, our best-ever dog. As a pup, Jasmine chewed the spine. I was so mad at her. Looking at her–gray-muzzled and asleep on the couch–I don’t mind the puppy teeth marks, now.

Smiling, I lift our Harry Potters from the shelf. Don and I recall the late night release parties—giggling at costumes and waiting for midnight. We remember curling up on the couch with the girls—reading until our voices were hoarse because Celeste and Sarah begged for, “Just one more chapter.” Reading long past bedtime, then carrying sleeping daughters to bed when they couldn’t last another page.

grasshopper jungle

I suggest that we re-unite all of our Andrew Smith books on one shelf in the new house, but Sarah balks, “We only have one copy of Grasshopper Jungle, Mom, and it’s mine. I want it in my bookcase.” Don and I discuss whether or not it’s reasonable to order another copy and decide that buying books while we are packing seems over-the-top—even for us.

Sitting with our granddaughters, reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, I tell the girls how much their mother loved its sing-song refrain. We chant, “Chicka, chicka, boom, boom, will there be enough room?” together. I remember getting sick of reading it for the twelfth time in one day. I hid the book on our refrigerator and begged Celeste to go outside and play. As I share this old family story, Emma, Lila, and I leave a new story inside the pages—sharing that coconut tree and talking about their mom when she was small.

chicka chicka boom boom inset

For our family, the books we’ve read together gave us strong, enduring roots. The books and the love inside them hold our history. We pressed our legacy inside the pages—one book and one memory at a time.

Moving is bittersweet. Don and I will miss our little house. We will miss the woodpecker and the azaleas. We will miss our years raising our girls. I hope we have more room for bookshelves in our new house. We have a lot of memories coming with us—woven inside our books and our hearts. We need space for new ones.

Donalyn Miller has taught fourth, fifth, and sixth grade English and Social Studies teacher. She is the author of two books about encouraging students to read, The Book Whisperer (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2013). Donalyn co-hosts the monthly Twitter chat, #titletalk (with Nerdy co-founder, Colby Sharp) and the Best Practices Roots (#bproots) chat with Teri Lesesne. Donalyn launched the Twitter summer and holiday reading initiative, #bookaday. You can find her on Twitter at @donalynbooks or under a pile of books somewhere, happily reading.