Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Going by the book

Bizarrely enough, right now our child is more of a bookworm than a couch potato. Each morning we put the TV on to catch the latest incorrect weather forecast, and Kyle practically ignores it. We also turn "Sesame Street" on those days when bad weather or a loose mountain lion keeps us inside, but, as of now, Kyle hasn't cared much for it. He will watch for a little while, become bored, and walk away. Half the time I don't even notice he's gone because I'm too wrapped up in the show's plot, sitting on the edge of my seat and wondering if Oscar the Grouch will ever learn how to love.

Lately, whenever Kyle runs off, he heads to a basket in his room that contains many of his books. About a month or so ago, he would grab one of those books and then hand it to Jennifer or me. He would then sit down on the floor and wait for us to sit and read the book to him. Now he often doesn't bother with us. He just sits somewhere with the book and starts reading it to himself, usually out loud. Each book sounds the same to the outside observer, as he has not quite mastered actual reading. He has the rhythm of the books, but all the words he says are variants of "doy" or "doo." The books can keep Kyle riveted for a good fifteen minutes, which is an eternity for a toddler. It's enough time to clean up half the toys he scattered all over the living room floor.

As much as I am proud of my son for attempting to read, I must say he's not exactly doing anything challenging. I have yet to see him thumb through anything by J.D. Salinger, Vladimir Nabokov, or James Joyce. No, Kyle sticks to simpler fare, usually illustrated stories about a frog who's afraid to swim and a monkey that's curious about everything except for bananas and swinging from trees. I am looking forward to his reading skills improving, so that he eventually will start checking out books that make more sense, like all the ones by Dr. Seuss.

Even though our son is right now avoiding complicated stories, he does not necessarily need pictures or a plot to entertain him. It's not unusual to find him on the kitchen floor, going through some of our cookbooks, some of which do not have any pictures. I am not sure why he enjoys them as much as he does, especially since he's still a very picky eater. Maybe he will be inspired somehow. I keep expecting to turn around one day and find him cooking a soufflé. So far, I've been disappointed.

When he's not trying to cook, occasionally Kyle does get us involved in his reading. Sometimes he hands me a book and sits down, much like he did a month or so ago, but after I sit and start reading, he grabs another book and starts reading to himself. Apparently he likes using me as his background noise. I have become his stereo or iPod. Once he's finished doing his own reading, he'll simply walk out of the room, leaving his background noise "on" as I finish the book he gave me. He will then go to the living room to fling around the toys I had just put away.

Being left to read Kyle's books is not the worst thing in the world, as it is the only real reading I am able to do these days. Back before the little guy was born, and when I was working in the city, I would use the subway commute as reading time. I read all kinds of novels, from a book about Tom Brady to Catch 22 to the entire Harry Potter series. Just before Kyle arrived, I started the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, and had read four out of its five books when the little guy was born. Today, that fifth book remains unread. It's still sitting on my night stand, mocking me, but each night I have no energy to lift it up, as I tend to fall asleep the instant I lie down. Running after a 20-month-old almost all day can exhaust a person pretty quickly.

For any sort of adult reading, I live vicariously through my wife Jennifer. She is still able to read books during her commute by subway. She's been telling me about all the stories she's reading, including the latest vampire novels, a complicated murder mystery, and a bizarre mash-up of zombie tales and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I return the favor by giving my musings on the quiet old lady who whispers "hush" and the young boy who makes the perilous mistake of giving a cookie to a hyperactive mouse. The only mystery I deal with is that of the Man with the Yellow Hat, who often disappears just when his curious monkey runs amok. Where does he go, and why does it take him so long? The books keep those details hush-hush, and that leads me to the reasonable assumption that he's involved in some sort of organized crime (his code name is probably "Mr. Yellow"), or he's been spending some time at an hourly-rate motel with his "friend" Ms. Needleman.

Hmph. I guess I really do need to find a way to squeeze more adult books into my routine. I'm sure it will happen someday, at least by the time Kyle starts school. Then, once I finally have a quiet home, I will have time to dust off the bookshelf, grab a good novel and read it on the couch. That is, unless there's something good on TV.

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