Sunday, January 31, 2016

Building blocks

Sometimes I imagine our house is almost fully supported by haphazard piles of second-hand books.

What we don't read -- and there are many -- we prop under wobbly tables or set in the place of draft dodgers.

 We've got everything from Aesops fables to Zadie Smith stashed in just about every nook and cranny.

As their pages await turning, their stacks grow to overtake the window frames, the side tables, and the benches by the door that also store our winter accessories -- all the hats, and the scarves, and the mittens -- which haven't seen much of our attention this year either.

I mean to read each and every one of these books, I really do, I just can't seem to get through all the words I haven't been compelled to read aloud.

The stories for adults -- which are stuffed to the spine with blight and wars and despair -- will have to yield to magic and mythical journeys and toys that slowly awaken to the pain that is love.

Sitting crooked legged at the edge of my son's bed, I could read forever. In my warm comfy sheets, I'll be fast asleep three pages in. Rereading the same passages night after night feels more like a fruitless endeavor than a guilty pleasure.

I've always read to my children. Way back before they could focus their eyes or support their own heads I would plop them down in my lap and tell them all about Velveteen Rabbits and Paper Bag Princesses. I could recite "Homemade Love" from memory, it was all good, good.

I suppose it shouldn't have surprised me that my children didn't disappear into the pages of stories once they had learned to read. But it did.

Hadn't the parenting golden rule -- the rule of thumb -- been to read to your kids? Talk to them like big people? Involve them in the world of words?

Of course this rule must have been written in stone because technology hadn't been invented yet. I can just see the rule-makers scratching their heads wondering how they could erase their giant slabs of outdated advice as they witness my zombified kid staring into the rarified eyes of his favorite "YouTuber."

How in the hobble-de-heck did watching other people play Minecraft on the Internet become an all-consuming amusement? (You might want to hold off on that answer, at least until I'm finished watching a series of cats being frightened by cucumbers.)

Perhaps that's what's been troubling me.

One distraction appears acceptable while the other seems intolerable ... And yet each has exactly the same likelihood of changing the world in the unpredictable way worlds undergo transformation.

Like the spot in the back of the waiting room that gets no cell service. It's the place where parents who are waiting for their kids to finish dancing, or jumping, or shooting at circles and arrows can watch. Or think. Or read from things made of dead trees. Or just tune out for an hour. It's always available, this spot. Everyone else is jockeying around the only other spot in the place that gets reception.

I'm not sure how it started, but I've found myself sitting in this dead spot more often. This week I brought a book. A kids' book, it's true, but a book nonetheless.

As I turned the pages something wonderful happened.

A story spilled out. And all around me, people noticed. They asked me what I was reading and I told them.

Oh, how they loved that one. Had I read any of the others by the same author?

Soon my own son, sweaty and exhausted from organized play, was standing next to me cooing over the volume in my hand.

"Oh I loved that one! We read it in school!

"Can I show you something" he asked excitedly.

I handed the book to him, and he flew through pages, landing on one in particular and cleared his throat.

He began to read ...

 And as the words came clear and fast, I could imagine all the books propping up my life finally falling down around me.

It felt like a breakthrough.

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