I've not really been honest with myself about Charlotte's Web; it is one of my favorites in all the libraries of the world, and I wanted to share it with my children. But I just didn't want Charlotte to die ever again. Not on my watch.
So just before the Zuckermans and Arables took the trip to the county fair, I stopped reading aloud. I set it aside, and we started reading something else. And I silently apologized to them, knowing someday they would have to know how Charlotte's story ends.
Tonight, we were just going to watch something short, simple, and measured to end the day. But then I saw that we could watch Charlotte's Web, the live version with Dakota Fanning at her finest and Julia Roberts as the most demure voice over. Suddenly, I was okay with stretching the bedtime rule.
Now as we sat, piled under one blanket, my younger son could sense an unhappy ending, straight away. "Mommy, is the spider going to die? Charlotte? You have to tell me. You've read the whole book. I have to know."
I debated, and then decided that if I couldn't be brave enough to read the truth to him, I could at least brace him for the truth to come in the next 118 minutes. "She does, buddy."
He stiffened. "How?"
"She just dies. It's the end of her life."
"But who kills her?"
"Nobody's going to kill her. But at the end, she's going to die."
He worried for most of the movie, checking in with me every few minutes to see if this is the scene when Charlotte will go away. It's just that he knows what this means. He knows on a grander, greater scale.
Then he started to ask more specific, careful questions, and I realized what he really needed to know: "Will Templeton be kind later? Will Wilbur get to keep all of Charlotte's babies? I have to know, Mommy - who will be Wilbur's friend when Charlotte dies?"
When the moment came, when we watched Charlotte close her eyes, I confess this to you, here and now: I watched my children instead of the movie. Because if there's a moment when books come to life, it's when a child realizes how much he has come to love Charlotte.
Then all of Charlotte's babies are born, and they drift away into the sky, they catch the breeze and go wherever the please, and Wilbur stands with his front two feet in the slop trough, and he says, "But, wait. Wait. There's so much I wanted to tell you. And someone I wanted to tell you about." And my heart felt so swollen I nearly choked.
The boys are in bed, after this coming-of-age evening that we will all three of us remember. My heart is full.
Charlotte, you are the most beautiful.
* * *
"It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer."
~ e. b. white
(If one could choose her own epitaph.)