Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Parenting Skillage

Child 2 reads. No, Child 2 inhales books, breathes books, is never happy unless surrounded by piles and mounds of books. It taught itself to read at the age of 3 (well, 3 and 8 months) because Child 1 learned to read that day and there was no reason not to. Since then, well it's been all about the books. If there were a 12 step program for literature abuse, Child 2 would be in it.

'Hi, I'm Child,' it would say, 'and I'm a compulsive reader.'

I'm not saying this to hint smugly at relative brain power or anything - I'm confessing to a problem. In the past Child 2 has chosen reading over sleeping, eating, hygiene, and (it was VERY young) certain vital functions of a delicate nature. It has (recently too) been found in the morning with not one, but four or more large bulky books distributed in its bedclothes - not just soft cover either, but nasty, pointy edged hard bound monsters, sometimes beneath its tender young body. Child 2 literally rolls in books.

There is, I admit, a certain amount of family history here. My mother used to tell with enormous satisfaction about the time Aunt 1 and Aunt 2 were sprinting for the one bathroom in the house. Aunt 1 won the race, but Aunt 2 shouted triumphantly 'but I have my BOOK!' and Aunt 1 let her go first. That is a book sickness right there, the whole darn thing.

So Kirk and I were hardly suprised when Mr. D pulled us over to look at Child 2's desk during parent-teacher conferences. He had saved it for us, so we could wonder along with him. There were the expected crumpled papers, pens, crayons, scissors and possible fossil evidence of lunches long departed, but in addition there were 13 books. THIRTEEN books. In a small, 4th grade desk. Kirk said the compression in that thing was so significant we were probably lucky to have escaped spontaneous combustion. We marveled together at this evidence that physics knows nothing when faced with a book-obsessed child.

Mr. D told us gently that while Child 2 was great fun in the classroom the tendency of its desk to discharge drifts of detritus onto the floor was slightly disruptive. Right, we said, leave it to us. We'll sort this out.

Long talk with Child 2 who agreed that maybe things were slightly out of control. It would choose a book, you see, for reading, and then read it and then carefully put it away... in its desk... and then choose another... sort of the compost approach to literacy. But it just got so interested in the books...

Not to worry, Kirk said, the problem is you have too many books to choose from. We can see that. We'll make it easy on you. For the next two weeks, you will read only the books of our choosing. You'll take one with you to school, and read the other here at home. And because you read rather quickly, we'll make sure they'll last you the entire time.

And he presented the poor child with two massive tomes. At school it would be delighting in a dense and thorougly researched life of Saladin. At home it would learn what a fairly dusty Oxford Don thought about Roman Britain.

If the desk stayed clean for two weeks, the reading ban was lifted. If not...

Two weeks later Mr. D showed us a pristine and shining desk. A slightly grim Child 2 listened as we joked about how effective the treatment had been.

'But I'll bet you learned a lot,' I said. 'Saladin was an important guy, one of the most influential characters of his time.'

'Well,' it said viciously, 'I know how he died!'

Every day it had been flipping to the same page and reading with satisfaction about how the great Saladin had met his end.

To this day it can quote every word.


child2 the martyr said...

The priests looked on in horror as he sighed, smiled, and gave his soul unto god. i can flip right to the page too. first try. that was the most evil punishment...SALADIN MUST DIE!!! did you give it away? hope hope...i never know when you'll pull it out again. of course, i'll understand it better since i was only in fifth grade when i read it the first time. my teacher laughed at me when everyone else was reading little mini books, and i was reading a whopper of a saladin. meanie.

child2 said...

oh, and i think dad said something to the effect of: "we were THIS CLOSE to finding out if too much compression can cause a super nova." i have to admit. i was close.