Last fall, I switched my weekly long run day from Saturday to Friday. Downside: the pre-4AM alarm on Friday mornings, to ensure I am back by 7:15. Upside: the Saturday rest day, which is qualitatively different from the Sunday rest day. In a word, the Saturday rest day is boss. I go to bed on Friday night, exhausted from a long week and a long run, and I don’t set an alarm of any sort. My first act of the weekend is to wake up when I wake up, put on my slippers, make coffee, and wait for Ros to call me from her room so we can snuggle and read. She rarely gets this kind of attention from me during the morning hours, the kind where there is no rush to do anything or go anywhere, no real need to get dressed right away or even hurry towards breakfast. Running long first thing on Saturday used to be a necessary safeguard against the inertia of the weekend: get it out of the way and then you can slide on through to Monday. With the morning run as the autopilot setting, the habit I choose again and again, I no longer feel like “getting it out of the way” is even a thing anymore. What I really need out of my Saturday mornings is not a run, but a moment to take myself off of autopilot, to toggle over from efficiency mode to actually-everything-can-wait mode. From a sensory point of view, there really is no better way to throw that switch than to curl up in a big leather chair under a blanket with a warm, cuddly toddler and a good book.
The key to the success of the Saturday morning snuggle, of course, is the quality of a given week’s library stack, and the key to a good library stack is a good, leisurely library visit, preferably one which allows plenty of time to choose some non-tiresome books to go along with the inevitable Pete The Cat and Disney garbage that we can’t go home without. I am not saying that all the Disney princesses are necessarily garbage - that’s a whole other not-uncomplicated conversation - but the books that feature them are basically pretty-princess-picture-delivery devices rather than actual works of prose where anyone gave any thought to readability or efficiency of language. If I’m going to read Princess Elena and the Secret of Avalor (which frankly needs to drop at least 500 words) over and over again, I better have some goddamn Mo Willems to chase it with. Luckily, library visits have turned into pleasurable outings that can last as long as everyone is having a good time, which these days can be virtually infinite. Not even one year ago, a trip to the library with Ros was as likely to yield tears of rage as snuggly bliss: so many communal toys to hoard, so many other people’s strollers to climb on, so many staircases to barrel towards. So many feelings to air out at peak volume when it was time to go (which it frequently was, because all the aforementioned temptations). Now, we make one big sweep from the elevators through the picture-books section, both pulling new titles off shelves as we go (I have learned exactly where the Mo Willems shelf is), and by the time we get to the couches in back we have a huge stack to read through together. Ros sits quietly at my side, and as long as I keep reading, we might as well be suspended in outer space for all she even registers the presence of other kids or toys or strollers. We read and read, and most of the books we read really don’t suck. I then get to feel like the world’s most magnanimous mom when I let Ros check out every single book in the stack and bring them all home, where we plop down and read them all again the moment we walk in the door.
No book more perfectly complements the Saturday slowdown than the crown jewel of this past week’s library visit: Peggy Rathmann’s 10 Minutes Until Bedtime. I have to thank Gabriel Roth of Slate’s parenting podcast that I love an embarrassing amount, Mom and Dad are Fighting, for recommending this book at the end of the Dec. 6th, 2018 episode. The illustrations start out fairly simply, sketching out the premise of the book with minimal linguistic input: we are on a Bedtime Tour for hamsters. The hamsters, having reserved tickets online, get to make their way down the road to bedtime, minute by minute, watching the protagonist put on pajamas, brush her teeth, read a book, remember at the last minute to take a bath, and dutifully scramble into bed at the appointed time. One hamster has a videocamera and another has a Polaroid to document the experience, reminding us that even the most quotidian parts of our day can hold a great deal of wonder for those who are just passing through.
Just when we think we’re nearing the end of the bedtime rituals, more hamsters arrive and join the tour in a caravan of buses, cars towing trailers, an ice-cream truck, and all manner of vacationing vehicles. At this very moment, when our attention is most fixated on all the new arrivals in the frame, the careful observer will also see, from a distance, a glimpse of another famously wordless troupe of Rathmann characters, the zoo animals from Goodnight Gorilla, as they follow the night watchman to bed. If you’re a Gorilla fan, you’ll be immeasurably delighted when you discover this, and if you aren’t, you won’t even notice, because you’ll be too busy enjoying the silliness of conspicuously touristy hamsters in fanny packs. Rathmann’s control of her visual storytelling is second to none in this book; with scarcely a word, she creates complete and total characters in each tiny hamster. No facial expressions are necessary to convey their various individual personae from picture to picture, and she only makes you want to look closer and linger longer. By Monday morning of this holiday weekend, on our fifth or sixth reading of this book, Ros and I sat in our big cozy chair for what felt like an eternity, each hunting for new discoveries in every Where’s Waldo?-like illustration. I didn’t want it to end. Luckily, it didn’t have to.