As I walked down the hall to check on Botany before retiring for the night, I became aware of two things. One, that she was still awake. Two, that there was a distinctive sound of paper ripping coming from within her room.
I went in and found her sitting happily on her bed, surrounded by the carcasses of at least five books, the pages having been torn out and cast around her like fallen leaves. Ruined were copies of books given to her by E. (poor Penguin )and her grandmother (alas for lovely Ladybug Girl.) Books I knew she really loved, books we had read over and over and over together.
To make matters worse, she had not confined her spree of destruction to her own books, but had chosen to reach up to the highest shelf of her bookcase and selected several of my childhood volumes, which I had (in hindsight, very stupidly)been storing in her room. When I realised that she had effectively partly disembowled a cherished (and as I latterly discovered, rather valuable) edition of an old Roald Dahl favourite, a sound came out of my throat that was something like a bereaved keening.
I mostly blame myself for the loss of my old books, because I should have realised that anything of value should, as a rule, never be kept within a toddler's reach. But I believed- evidently naively- that Botany who has been raised on a steady diet of bedtimes stories, regular trips to the library, charity shop book collecting, books as gifts for birthdays and Christmas- had been instilled with at least some of the same deep, powerful affection and for respect for sanctity of reading and books that both Knox and I share. We love books in this house. I have signed copies of works by favourite authors- John Irving, Audrey Niffennegger, J.K. Rowling. First editions, hardback copies of my top ten favourites, a Kindle loaded with a lengthy backlog. Knox's nightstand is about to topple over with the pile of bedtime reading. And so Botany's decision to suddenly and arbitrarily destroy books, precious books of all things seemed even more bizarre and upsetting.
I know it wasn't an act of deliberate malice- I think, if anything, it probably just feels pleasing in some way to rippity rip rip the pages apart. And perhaps I have overestimated Botany's ability at this age to grasp the consequences of her action. I'm trying to remember if I ever did anything similar when I was little at her age- I recall crayoning on the basement floor, peeking at the Christmas presents and when I was older there was an unfortunate incident when my dad didn't notice as he backed out of the garage in the morning that I had neglected to shut the rear car door the night before. Oops.
But I don't remember having a sense of destructive detachment toward my possessions- and certainly though not the things I really loved, or were loved by others.
I'm probably taking it way too personally but I have a sense of having failed in some fundamental way. My child ripped up books! On purpose! From here it seems like only one step away from, say, throwing puppies into a river or stealing an old lady's wheelchair.
Much of today has been spent trying to translate the book murders into a teachable experience for Botany. We spent a good hour at the kitchen table talking about what happened while painstakingly taping back together the precious (although undoubtedly now far less valuable in monetary terms) Dahl book. Somewhat miraculously, the tearing having been relatively clean, that copy has been salvaged to the extent it is still readable. Alas, the Wind in the Willows and Noel Streatfield's Skating Shoes are complete goners, but not quite as irreplacable. The remainder of my books have now been placed high beyond reach in my room. And Botany is chastened, for now, apologising repeatedly for what she did to the books.
As always, she asked me to read her bedtime stories tonight. I said no, not tonight- partly to conclude this episode with one last consequence and partly because I felt like doing so would make me feel just a little more than sad all over again.