Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Handmaid's Son

I never thought I'd be in the position of taking my son's books away. It's so 1984 or Darkness at Noon. Remove the books, remove their curiosity and intellectual stimulation, remove their questioning. But I had to (as all good dictators say); he's like a bottomless pit for kiddie literature and I've got other things to do (as all good authoritarians say -- shut up! I'm talking about making dinner).

Where's this coming from? Is it budding genius or just obsessive-compulsive-reading disorder? Okay, so my family's packed with voracious readers, and I know my in-laws read constantly. Me, I'll read absolutely everything. I discovered Proust and Harry Potter and read them together, finishing In Search of Lost Time and the first four Harry Potter books the same summer. I couldn't put either of them down, except to pick up the other. (Wanna know which one I've read again since?)

It seems to be something I've passed on to my 17-month-old. I know I'm bad, I know I'm an addict, but come on. This kid's insatiable. Morning to night, he brings me books to read. He lifts them up in the air and says, "lidilidalidlalidladi" or something like that, and then does a whole little body wiggle and satisfied giggle when I open the cover. And then he wants it all over again at the end. Today I kept a rough tally:

The Very Hungry Caterpillar (his favorite): 4 times, plus 3 aborted (sometimes he just likes to stop at the plums and start over), plus one reading from Daddy
The Very Busy Spider: 3 times
Goodnight Moon: 6 times plus twice from Daddy
Goodnight, Gorilla: 4 times plus once from Daddy
Moo, Baa, La La La!: 5 times plus twice from Daddy
The Runaway Bunny: 0. It's new and he doesn't like it yet. He will.
Various soft books about animals: 6 times (mostly the sheep and the cow)
Langendsheidt's German-English dictionary: half a page once
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: 1 1/2 pages

Really. I get tired of reading to him. He entertains himself just fine with blocks and balls and one drum that holds lots of things (who knew drums spent half their lives as container ships!), but the second I sit down to, say, work, or type an email or heaven forbid read a book myself, here we go with the "ladiladlidliadl"s. So I admit it. Today I became a paranoid dictator whose actions suppress imagination.

I was reminded sharply of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, where women aren't allowed to read. All the shops are labeled with pictures so that 'normal' women who learned to read in the pre-authoritarian society have no words to fix on, and the new generations will never learn.

I have become one of those ruthless authoritarians. There is a pile of cheery little board books sitting on the kitchen counter, where my son can neither see them nor reach them, waiting to be burned so we can create a more placid populace.

Or I might just start over with them tomorrow.

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