Road Trip: To the Nearest Independent Bookstore!

As a mom of two teenage boys – and a woman born with a planning mind – my greatest triumph of late is when I get my sons, my husband, and me in the same place. 

That place isn’t normally our house, for each of us spends our time at home dwelling in our own little carved out niches.  Whether doing homework, watching TV, cleaning out a closet or linking up to a screen, our house is where we remove ourselves from the external world and, more often as the boys have gotten older and more independent, from one another.  I do not say this with guilt nor remorse; I acknowledge it as truth. 

An occasional meal together, sitting around the table on a weekend night, makes me yearn for more dedicated time with these people I call family.  I suggest movie nights a couple times a month on Friday evenings – that night of the week when we are absolutely spent from the warp speed we travel on the weekdays.  We square the love seat and sofa up with the TV, pull up ottomans and pull out blankets, pop popcorn and cut up apples. Then the screen, filled with visions and emitting sounds, draws our focus to one topic.  We chuckle and chat during the movie then recap and critique after the movie.

Since I was bald from chemo during the winter of 2010, we have also been drawn to the screen for a Wii game: My Sims Racing.  I remember this because I was able to make my avatar a little bald woman — she now has curly reddish hair. At least a couple times during the cold and snowy months, I suggest we all settle into a game.  The music and the scenery draw me in, while Bill and the boys are lured by the competition, the race.  Everyone knows that the snowy winter scenes are eye candy to me, so our races toggle between those festive tracks and the other non-winter themed tracks – preferably with fences so as to keep my car on the road.  As the boys have gotten older, my play has changed.  I never win, but beyond that, I’m often caught going the wrong direction on the track.  Now, my “Can someone help me?” draws one of my teens back with a good rash of patience to tutor me.

As our family grows older, our individual preferences for how we spend our time pulls at the seams of our togetherness.  We have diverse interests, from playing golf and wielding a needle for embroidery to gymnastics and Minecraft; from larger than life media in the living room and quiet pursuits of crossword puzzles on the porch to the tapping away on the gaming computer’s keyboard and Facetime conversations with friends.  We’re all pursuing activities that we enjoy individually; hence my need to reconvene and find more time and more places that we share.

We went on weekend trips when our sons were young – before basketball games and gymnastics meets drove our weekend agenda.  Perhaps up north to New Hampshire, Vermont, or Maine, and on occasion south to Cape Cod.  Sometimes I planned a trip around a destination, and after planning trips for a while — and inadvertently discovering small independent bookstores along the way, I built these trips based on where such a store stood. 

There is no convincing my family to walk through the doors of a bookstore.  They all know that bookstores are my joy.  I know bookstores are their joy.  And so we enter through the doors, immediately dividing to peruse the graphic novel section, the local writers’ section, the spy book section, the teen section, the history section.  Bill and I often meet up in the gift section and land on that “just right” gift for someone’s birthday, Christmas, or the best gift of just-because. 

Bill and I move continuously through the shelves from topic to topic.  Will and Liam land on a book, take it from the shelf, and sit.  A nearby chair is a luxury.  And if one is not at hand, they slink to the floor under the spot where they found the book, as if all physical energy drained from their fingers when they touched the book.  Will might peruse the cover art before opening the book; Liam, without a doubt, will immediately inhale as he draws the cover open.  For both, an immersion begins.  Few things are as lovely as seeing the pull of a book on my sons…. A calm, passionate focus.

Does an hour pass?  An hour-and-a-half? 

I approach Will, “Would you like that book?”  Little eye contact, just a nod and perhaps a point to another book next to him that he would also like. 

I find Liam, “Are you about ready to go?” 

One hundred percent of the time, his response is different from Will’s.  “Mom, if you give me fifteen more minutes I’ll finish this graphic novel and save us $15!” 

Bill and I wander for fifteen more minutes.  I add another item to my purchase – to make up for the on-site usage of the graphic novel. 

In a sixth sense experience, I drench myself in the stratospheric confines of a bookstore.  Soaking up all that is until I just can’t wring another good feeling from the walls or the shelves.  I can’t speak for my family, but I know they all experience a similar intensity.  Away from the chaos of home and hearth.

As we leave the store, we are armed with new topics to discuss as a family.  Whether reflecting on the smell of the books, a huge welcoming table to sit at, the new book by a favorite author, or the discovery of a new author, we reconnect during and after a visit to an independent bookstore. 

Now, I do believe it’s time to plan a fall road trip!  I like to think of this link as being a bit like Dorothy’s shoes in the Wizard of Oz: Click it – only once – to find your nearest independent bookstore!