My son wakes up early every morning and dives right into a good book or five, which we carefully place in the little chair next to his crib each night at bedtime. This practice is especially important on weekends when Ulysse still unfailingly wakes by 7am or so, as children are wont to do. He groans and stretches a little, gradually coming out of his sweet deep baby sleep, sits up, looks around, and reaches for the books.
Ulysse grabs his beloved books one by one, pulling them awkwardly, sometimes violently through the bars of his crib. He then opens each one and positions it around him on the mattress so he can see them all and flip the pages, pointing and cooing at the pictures. He talks to them and the monitor flips back on every few minutes as he squeals with delight at some fascinating image, his lazy parents still clinging to our pillows and blankets in the dark.
Finally, one of us, usually Fab, goes to retrieve the little bookworm from his bed and bring him down to breakfast. Then, after some brief, but screamy protest, Fab comes back down to the kitchen alone, where I am busily preparing the familial green smoothie. Ulysse pushed him away and refused to leave his books. Not even for food.
When he is good and ready, he flings his books aside and stands up in his crib, his diaper wet and heavy with his morning commission, which is not infrequently squirting down his legs. What kind of parents leave their baby to soak in an icky-poo dirty diaper like that? Possibly, the lazy, tired kind – definitely us. Or maybe the kind whose baby would rather sit in wet, gooey stink for another 20 or 30 minutes so he can study his books just a little longer – also, conveniently, us.
I would imagine that most educated, bibliophilic, ever so slightly cerebral parents out there do everything in their power to make sure their kids will love books, too. I’m willing to bet that even parents who don’t particularly love reading themselves make an effort to get their kids interested in books. While I started worrying about when I should start reading to Ulysse before he was even born, in truth, we didn’t really begin in earnest until he was around a year old. Perhaps older. For shame, Dr. Mom! For shame! We gave him board books to play with when he was three months old, but all he did was chew on them. Soon the corners were fat and moist and sticking together, and little bits of chemically treated paper were running down his chin in a stream of drool. He was finally put on a strict diet of only cloth books my aunt made him.
I am an openly nerdy individual, but while I have always loved reading, I am slow at it, reading at about the same speed one might read a book aloud. There have been long stretches in my life when I read next to nothing, even though I longed to find the time to read so many books I knew I would love. Some of the saddest moments in my reading life happened in the last years of grad school, when all I did was re-read the same ancient passages over and over to be sure I was getting my argument just right. There was no time or energy for pleasure reading. Scoliosis and hypermobility also force me to avoid sitting for long periods of time, so curling up with a good book for hours is out of the question. Curling up at all is frowned upon by my long time physical therapist. Holding a heavy book hurts my shoulders and neck. Sitting in a chair hurts after less than an hour. It’s hard to read while walking, though I try it when my feet start aching from standing.
When I was turned on to audio books a few years ago, whole new worlds opened up to me. I listened to my entire 18th-century Brit-lit reading list as I walked briskly about my neighborhood (except for the 1400-page Clarissa.) I sort of fell in geek-love with the nasal voice of the volunteer narrator who read the free downloads of Robinson Crusoe and Mole Flanders to me while I scribbled notes on the backs of envelopes and receipts in the middle of the street. I imagined the reader to look like Zach Galifianakis. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a big Defoe fan.
All that to preface this confession: while I love books and we have many in our house, sadly, it is not everyday that Ulysse saw me or his papa sitting down to read one, even if he has listened to many an audio book in the car with me. So, I am all the more smug that he became naturally enthralled with books in spite of our negligence. His nerdiness must be genetic or something, nature not nurture. Or maybe I get it from him! One of his first ten words, not counting animal sounds, was book, pronounced “boooo.” He follows us around the house, waving his favorite boooo at us in expectation.
I am ecstatic that Ulysse is such an avid reader, though I suffer for his maniacal love of books, too. I have performed Dr. Suess’s One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish at least 67 times this week alone. But, when he’s too sleepy to demand that, I can sometimes sneak in a few pages of Rebecca at bedtime, which I remember loving in high school. Always trying to be efficient, I have also read him parts of scandalous novels I plan to teach in the fall. Thanks to my big baby nerd, I’m reading more now than I have in a long time and I love it. What is it they say? Like baby nerd, like mother nerd?
I read for work
I read for play
I read at all times of the day
I read books short
I read books long
I sometimes sing them as a song