Rowan is currently burning his way through #33 #34 in the Magic Tree House book series, but that will change momentarily, like some kind of McDonald’s sign for bookwormish children. Every so often I check in with him about details of plot, just to reassure myself that he’s actually, say, reading the words on the page rather than simply flipping pages. But he knows what’s going on. In fact, he can recite, in order, each title and its corresponding number; I’m going to trot him out at parties to perform. I can’t tell what he likes more: the actual stories or the acquisition — the mastery — of them, the growing pile of read books on his bedside table as a metaphor for his own accomplishments. I’m guessing a bit of both, and I suppose it doesn’t really matter, so happy is he.
“You look like you’re really enjoying those books,” I say to him at regular intervals.
“Yeah,” he answered one time, looking up, uncharacteristically, from his literary coma. “I’m a fan of reading.”
“Me too,” I said, and then he dropped his voice to a whisper and said to me confessionally, almost conspiratorially, “I like reading books better than I like watching TV.”
My work here is done, PEOPLE.
Well, no, of course it’s not. My work will be done when he knows how to drive and how to blow his nose rather than only wipe it as it leaks. I don’t get why that’s so hard; I mean if you know how to change the wallpaper on an iTouch, then why you can’t — why you absolutely refuse to — blow snot into a Kleenex is beyond me. It would be so much more satisfying, wouldn’t it, to really clear things out of there as opposed to just constantly mopping up some slow leak. You know?
Oh, sorry: reading.
So, um, I like it for its own sake, obviously, but I will admit that this reading addiction reminds me of me. I look at him and I see myself at six, seven, eight, onwards: different, half-finished books in every room in the house; reading under the covers by the hallway light; waking up early in the morning to read; a dozen or more books a week and returning to favourites again and again (when was the last time you re-read a book, let alone read one?). I remember that drive, that compulsion: words on a page. My child.
And then he will do something so utterly foreign that I look at him and wonder who he is. For example, he knows how to tell time on what today is referred to as an analog clock. As in, a clock with hands. “Oh,” he said a few nights ago, glancing at the Thomas the Train clock (acquired during his rabid Thomas fandom circa 2006) on his bedroom wall, “it’s 8:35.” And it was. And I just looked at him, baffled, because I don’t think I learned how to reliably tell time on a clock with hands until I was approximately 17 years old. Time-telling was traumatic for me, the first time in school where I simply did not ace the program. I was okay with the o’clocks and the half-pasts, but everything else in between was a mysterious code that I couldn’t crack. I remember the concern, the whispers, my dad coming home from a business trip with a big, red, TIME TEACHERS wristwatch for me, the numbers writ large and the minute hand with a big circle on it, but it still didn’t help; it was the temporal version of someone repeating a phrase in a foreign language to me, only louder, with big numbers and circles. No one was happier than me when digital watches came out.
It wasn’t just that I couldn’t tell time; I also didn’t understand it fundamentally. D would get up, my mother used to tell me, in the middle of the night, get dressed, and then come downstairs and scream. In junior high, I routinely failed tests, scoring perfect marks on the half that I completed before the time ran out. I had to sit down with my parents and map out test-taking strategies, allotting myself a certain number of minutes per question, based on how much it was worth. Booking travel, like negotiating the 24-hour clock, still makes me nervous: once (in my 20s), I showed up at the train station to go to Montréal only to be told that my ticket was for the next day. I briefly contemplated sleeping at the train station rather than go home and confess to Rachel what I had done. Fortunately, the agent kindly changed my tickets, but I still like to have Rachel in the room and several calendars around me before hitting the “book it” button on travel sites.
As a result, perhaps, today I am hyper-vigilant about time, deadlines, the amount I can and can’t fit into a given day, week, or hour. I’m the parent in the morning who is constantly harping about time, what it allows us to do and what it won’t permit — like, say, reading yet one more chapter before putting on the snow pants. We’ve instituted a “one-minute challenge” on school mornings, where the kids race the clock to get their clothes on, and get a mini M&M if they succeed; this is followed by a” three-minute challenge” for outdoor clothes. This particular strategy may well stand out as my greatest accomplishment as a mother to date. No, really, it might.
And now, I am struggling to come up with a conclusion to this post that doesn’t rely on some cheesy joke about how it’s all I have time for. But, you know? It kind of is right now. So there you go, some fromage for you.
(For Mary, who said she wanted something real, not just some half-assed, one line blog entry. Just because she’s finished her novel manuscript ...)