Friday, June 27, 2008
Parenting by the book (an introduction of sorts)
During the infancy of your son or daughter you will discover a fabulous, engrossing, talented author. You will read this author’s work for the first time and you will wonder how it can be that you never heard of this author before.
You’ll go to your local library and borrow every book this author has ever written, which will be quite a few. The librarian will say to you, “Oh, you’re a fan, I see,” and you’ll answer, “Yes, isn’t everybody?” and she’ll respond, “Well...this author...she’s not for everyone...she’s quite popular though, of course. But a difficult read.” This will make you marvel, because these books are the easiest thing in the world for you to read right now. Problem is, you can’t stop reading them, so you’re up all night with your little night-light glowing. Reading newbooks. So many books by one special author, so little time.
As your son or daughter commences preschool you will discover a new literary genre. Fantasy. You will move on in your reading from that one author of infancy to many, many others. These many authors will have one thing in common – magic. You will marvel at how crazy mad exciting reading is for you. You will be amazed that it took you this long to discover these books.
Every day, a different author presents you with a different reality. People sprout fins and fly, animals speak in foreign languages, you dance on a pockmarked moon, a monster takes up residence under your bed, then in the shed, and demands to be fed. Fairies are so plentiful that their presence fills up reams and reams of pages. A blanket becomes a treasured, loving friend. Colours change colour, constantly. Time moves very, very slowly, and then very fast. You spend most of your time reading about the many different gods of many different lands, and hearing the sound of music from faraway places. O, wondrous books.
Upon your child’s entering primary school, that now-familiar fantasy genre of the preschool years will appear a bit old, and used, and frayed around the edges. You will look at your bookshelves and decide that it might be time to lend some of those books to your friend, seeing as she is celebrating her baby’s second birthday next week.
What you are reading these days is most likely catalogued in your local library under Humour. Much of your reading is now light and ephemeral. Nothing can be taken too seriously because, watch out, just turn the page, and everything, each situation, changes in the blink of an eye. Every day is a new book, and every book ends with a funny punch-line and a crazy drum-roll for emphasis, with a laugh-track in the background.
Most of the hysterically funny books you will be reading during these years may also be accompanied by a very heavy dose of nostalgia. This nostalgia will walk hand-in-hand with the humour, and they will soon make everything bittersweet. Prepare yourself for quite a bit of laughter through your tears. No worries, it’s all part of growing up, you know. For during these years, your book memory will become so clear and strong, that on every shelf of every library you will find sticky fingers drawing you back to your yesteryears. You will caress a book cover, in wonder, with a faraway look in your eye. The librarian will now say to you, as she waves her magic wand over each book’s barcode, “Oh, yes, I remember reading this. I didn’t know we still had it.” And you’ll respond, “Oh yes, it was in the stacks... and I can’t believe it’s exactly the same picture on the cover as I remember.” The librarian will look and say “Yes...but also a bit different, don’t you think?” After a bit more thought, you will agree.
As your child enters middle school, you may find that your bookshelf is bare. This may lead to a feeling of utter loss. Do not panic. This is merely a waiting period. You may find that you are able to read only magazines, because, right now, all books are hazy and meaningless. Don’t fret, remember, magazine reading is perfectly acceptable for someone sitting in a waiting room. Which you are.
You will find yourself, at times, surrounded with books which make no sense, and you can’t get past even the first few pages of any of them. It is during these brief years that you will be tempted to skim and skip books. Go ahead, try to jump ahead and read the books’ endings, but it will still make no difference. You will still be unable to find any true satisfaction.
As your child begins high school, your library card will be dusted off and you will re-emerge from your middle school cocoon into the new and confronting world of non-fiction. All of a sudden, everything you read is very very real. Your self, I mean shelf, now runneth over with biographies of all shapes and sizes. You marvel at how many people there are in the world, how many lives they live, and how many opinions there are on the one theme – the me. You are drawn to books which are honest and confronting, so you do a lot of crying and soul-searching as you lie in bed with your stack of many lives piled beside you on your night-table.
At this stage, your bed-side lamp will burn long into the night as you wrestle with the demons of non-fiction. Stay firm and strong in your resolve, for the non-fiction section is as deep as it is wide. I cannot say yet when it will end, but when it does, I think I will know it. I am not certain what I will be reading at that point as I don’t believe those books have been written yet. I do often wonder whether they will all be true, and easy to read, with beautiful covers and rave reviews and intriguing sequels. I can only hope.