By Margaret Bernstein Keller

Here I am, still trying to convert half of my son’s room into an office. He’s been off at college for two weeks now. It’s so easy to get sidetracked as I try to pare down the stuff he has collected.

I’m condensing his four bookshelves into two, so I can use the other half. I’m discovering, among other things, nearly a dozen books he failed to return to his middle or high school. Note to self: I’ll need to email the schools to see if they want them back or if I should donate them somewhere.

All I know is they’re not needed and they’re going out. Along with the huge ”SAT Review” book he never cracked open. Out.

But my progress slows when I run across “Carl’s Afternoon in the Park,” an old picture book with half the pages falling out of it. I don’t even remember how this book came into the house, but I can hear my mother’s laughter as soon as I see the cover and there’s no way I’m giving it up. A sticker on the front says the book was a fundraiser for the American Humane Association. The illustrations show a mother going off with a friend for tea at the park, leaving her baby in the care of the family’s two dogs for the entire day. The little girl in the pink romper and her dogs wander through the whole park by themselves, exploring the petting zoo, riding the swings and getting lost in the flowerbeds, while the mother is off having tea. My mom, a retired school counselor who passed away in 2006, thought the storyline amounted to child neglect, and she couldn’t understand how the book even got published. Her mock outrage became a running joke. Little Randy called the book “Doggie-Baby” and asked for it over and over.

Mom, I’m taping this one back together and keeping it, in your honor.

I’m also keeping the books that grabbed his interest as he got older, making me realize that my son loved the science of how things work. When he read Dr. Ben Carson’s “Gifted Hands,” he was fascinated at the stories of brain surgery. I’ll never forget one night when we were out having dinner and people were openly staring at him – maybe they weren’t used to seeing a seventh-grader raving about the theories of economist Malcolm Gladwell in “The Tipping Point.”

He wasn’t a bookish kid but he enjoyed the ones that intrigued him, told a compelling story or appealed to his smart-aleck sense of humor. He adored “Bush-isms,” 103 pages of actual quotes from George W. Bush (“The reason I believe in a large tax cut is because it’s what I believe.”). Now it sits next to a biography of Satchel Paige, plus “The Cat in the Hat” and “Rainy Day Blues,” a children’s book that once had its own cassette of B.B. King singing an accompanying song. The cassette’s long gone, he must have played it a thousand times. These are the keepers, the favorites. And when I look up at them, I smile. These books are like height notches on a bedroom wall. They’re yardsticks, reminding me of a kid’s journey to adulthood.

What are the books that most remind you of moments with your own children?

Read, learn and share……… Have a Family Meeting!

This entry was posted in Conduct and Behavior, Family, Insights From Our Children, Love and Relationships, Motherhood, Women. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Fran says:

    Beautiful! I haven’t yet faced either son moving out and moving on, but I have a hard enough time paring down their bookshelves even now. Over the years, I have tried to be big-hearted and share some of their favorites with others. But some are just too dear to me. We loved them so much when we read together, and I already have fantasies of sharing them with another generation. I have a copy of Olga da Polga that I had to buy from the library after one son’s bloody nose spoiled it for anyone else. But we enjoyed that story so much we were happy to have an excuse to keep it.

  2. Paula Golden says:

    Well said. I am a mother with a college bound young adult and although he has not left home, I can relate to the passage from child to manhood. The many keepsakes he still has tucked throughout his room and the
    The objects that should be disposed. I know your son will do well and he will look forward to reading each familymeeting and realize his home has an extension cord has well as a your written words for him to reflect upon when home sick. Books that are still lingering on our shelves are, Tales of Winnie the Pooh by Ernest Shepard, Dr. Seuss books and Jungle Book. Later on my son shared Farhrenheit 451 withmrs which was also a movie about books. On a final note my son has an Sat preparation DVD also untouched.

  3. I completely understand, as my children have started to make me a grandmother, how nostalgic we mothers get. I recall the Shel Silverstein books…The Giving Tree and Where the Sidewalk Ends, Eric Caryle’s The Hungry Caterpiller and of course Judy Bloom’s Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret (no pun intended). The sheets and sheets of music my daughter would have all over her room that went to Bowling Green with her. My son still continues to have a wide range of interests from fishing to video games, business administration and the U. S. Army National Guard but his best transformation is as a father and husband…taking what they have learned and experienced and putting it into practice EVERYDAY.

    The unreturned library books are also a right of passage as my mother still, to my horror, talks about all the fines she had to pay. I returned it double since my children did the same thing to me and my grandchildren will do to them. And the yardstick will keep on measuring their growth too.

  4. Chanyne says:

    I shed several tears as I read this. I loved reading your reflections as you are slowing making the transitions with your first born going off the college. I could also relate to the concept of the meaning of the “books on the shelf” and how each of them held their own special memory, whether read or not. I can only imagine how long just going through that shelf actually took for you, not because of the number of books, but the journey that you took from book to book, shelf to shelf.
    There are 2 books that came to mind as I thought about Lia growing up. One of them was “The Snowy Day”. It was a book that I also loved as a child because it reminded me so much of what a typical day was like for me. When I ran across this book at a random book fair, I was first shocked that it was still around (lol). It is such a simple and pretty short story, but it has the most vibrant colors. It was shortly after my purchase that I experienced the real joy! When I read it to Lia one night before going to bed, she seemed to love it as much as I did as a child. It became one of those “favorites” that she picked up all the time or asked me to read it to her. Later she shared that it was fun to hear the story about “mommy in the winter”. Another book was “A Bad Case of Stripes” by David Shannon.I bought this book when Lia was pretty young (maybe 2nd grade). What surprised me the most was her in-depth explanation about why she enjoyed the book so much and how much she took away from the story. It was the first time I remember her sharing her (then) joy for reading. What I will always remember is listening to her explain this book with a level of knowledge and expression about the summary of a story that I never saw before. It was the best feeling in the world.

  5. claire rosacco says:

    Loved this story – reminds me that I need to clean out some bookshelves myself. Our oldest daughter is a senior at Miami U. and is applying for graduate school and I still find it hard to part with some of her books. However, we recently donated books to the Sterling Elementary School library in Cleveland and felt great about it. The kids really enjoy receiving books and can use them!

    As you say Margaret, the more things change the more things stay the same – so true!! It seems like yesterday that we were talking about our kids and what they were up to – now they are in College and high school and soon we will be empty nesters!! I will be calling you when Brooke and Alex go off to College – we will definitely need to compare notes on the next phase of our lives!! Hope to see you soon. Claire

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