On one of our first visits to the cabin – the one where Liam and I go there by ourselves to rescue it from “lost cause” status in order to prove to Mike that we haven’t made the most irresponsible decision of our shared life – I pack into the back of the Jeep a 90’s era bedroom-sized TV with a built-in DVD player. It’s a relic that keeps following us every time we move. We just can’t shake it and maybe this is why…..it was destined to be a cabin TV. The screen is only 10 inches but it’s overall footprint is about the size of Oklahoma. It’s depth alone is like a canoe.
This will actually be the first time we sleep in our cabin and not at the casino (ch ching). So I pack the TV as an experiment because I have no idea what being at the cabin with my 12 year old son will be like. Will it be full of nature and laughter and scientific and/or spiritual discoveries? Or will we get bored with each other? Will we recite poetry lakeside or will it be a never-ending chorus of “Mom, can I have your phone?”
We get no reception, of course, but I pack movies just in case the night gets long once the sun goes down. I go to the public library, one of the last places to “rent” movies anymore, and pick up what is left after the Friday afternoon rush: House Sitter, starring Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn (people Liam has never heard of so that’s sure to be a hit) and a documentary about bog people in Denmark. Google it.
What comes next is one of the best mistakes I’ve ever made.
I forgot the remote at home.
Which is fine if you just want to watch TV (for which there is no reception) but not so fine if you want to “eject” anything. Or “open” or “close” the DVD tray. First, I grab a knife and I try to trick the DVD tray into opening. Maybe if I put just a little bit of pressure on it, it will get the hint and slide open. I try this several times without success which leads to overt prying. I come dangerously close to breaking it. This is the darker side of optimism.
Just before the pressure of the knife cracks the tray, I stop….don’t be stupid, I think. I don’t want to break the old-fashioned TV thing.
Then we look at each other like “What now?”
We’re stuck in our little box of a cabin with very little light and no place to sit. Communing-with-nature-time is over because it’s pitch black outside – so dark that navigating the path to the lake would actually be dangerous. One wrong step could send us tumbling down the hill, bouncing off rocks and stumps until we end up in the lake. We have one lamp, one chair that is not a dining chair, and two beds.
I look down and see the book I’ve packed, hoping to squeeze in a re-read before the movie comes out. “We could read this…..” I say as I pick up my copy of The Giver.
Liam, long past the age of reading with his mommy, shrugs his shoulders and climbs up into his bunk. I get in my own bed, next to his, point the reading lamp over my shoulder, and open the book to page one.
“It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened..…”
Two hours later, at 11pm, I close the book and hear the words every mother fantasizes about: “NO! Don’t stop!”
“Liam, it’s eleven o’clock. We can’t read all night.”
“Please! Just one more chapter!”
Seriously, I’m not making this up just to make you feel bad about your kid in the basement playing Super Mario Bros. At almost twelve years old, years after our last read-aloud session together, he said the words “please” and “just one more chapter.” To his mother. I swear I almost cried.
I protest a little bit longer, secretly smiling in the dark the whole time – “Liam, this is ridiculous. I’m losing my voice. It’s the middle of the night. Blah blah blah.” But there was no way I was going to stop. We plow through that book to the snowy ending.
And then we look at each other like we’d just witnessed something amazing.
He was changed. And I was changed because he was changed.
I’m just so glad I got to him before the movie came out because no child reads a book when there’s a movie instead. Okay, maybe your kid does but mine does not.
That means that if I hadn’t forgotten the remote to the Oklahoma-sized old fashioned TV thing, Liam would’ve missed out on one of the most important reading experiences of his life. This book has stuck to me since it won the Newbery Medal in 1994 and there’s nothing better than looking someone in the eye after they read the last page – Jonas and the baby sledding down that hill toward the cabin in the woods with the twinkling lights of Christmas shining through the windows – and asking “What did you think?”
Now, finally, I get to do that with my one and only number one best child. And he’s so stunned and overcome that he tries to speak but he can’t. We sit in that for while, not going to sleep, and I’m almost smug about what has just happened, like “THIS! Yes, THIS! I did this!”
Later, we make a date to see the movie, just the two of us. You know, just those of us who are privy to the world of The Giver. I’m prepared for the inevitable changes so I know not to get my hopes up. I will enjoy it for what it is, knowing that it’s rare for a 90 minute movie to create the same depth and nuance that 180 pages of words can create. But he is incensed. Liam is not forgiving. The movie did not match what he experienced while tucked into his bunk at his new cabin in the woods.
And I’m kind of glad.