Monday, April 25, 2022

Life: Share memories of being read to. Or stories you read to those close to you. Have you written stories for friends or family, not for publication?

    Story time. 

    It was my favorite time of the evening. Me, my young son Jake--him in his dinosaur-print pajamas, me in my MSU sweats--a good book shared under a diffused yellow light. The last good, pure, wondrous act of the day. Never mind what kind of workday I may have had. Story time made up for (almost) all of the swamp-donkey steaming crap I may have slogged through in the ad biz, randomly created by empty-suit account executives struggling to turn 2 + 3 into 5; capricious creative directors smelling like illegal pharmacies and shame, and clients made flop-sweat-googly-eyed paranoid by their accountant lords. I did what I had to do, knives out and head on swivel, to get to this halcyon moment of the day. 

    “Two chapters tonight, dad. Please? Please!” 

    “Maybe,” I say already knowing I will. “We’ll see.” 

    And off we went, my arm around his narrow young shoulders, reading everything from five-page toddler board books to the extensive Dr. Seuss catalogue, Mary Pope Osbourne’s Magic Tree House series, Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi’s Spiderwick Chronicles and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Of course, a few of the classics made their appearances—Charlotte's Web, The Little Prince, Corduroy, Where the Wild Things Are

    Often, I would read ahead, so I could create just the right voices for characters. Just the right timing for the drama or comedy, suspense and surprise. When we got to Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series, my world was turned upside down. 

    “I’d like to read this on my own, Dad,” Jake said. 

    “Oh—uh—yeah, okay,” I said. “Sounds good, buddy. Don’t stay up too late. Love ya.” 

    “Love you, too.” And off he went on his own reading adventure . . . 

    . . . without me. 

    Without my meticulously-created, thoroughly rehearsed character voices. 

    Without my exactingly timed melodramatic pauses. 

    Without my multitude of theatrical movements and gesticulations. 

    And thus, story time faded away as he grew, leaving me inconsolably sad, forlorn and, yes, embittered; people without children could continue fulfilling their lives without ever knowing the crushing disappointment of being sent to early pasture by a child. They would never know the abysmal hurt of raising a child to be an avid reader—a learner—only to be replaced by that which they so strongly advocated. 

    Fortunately, before I could exact revenge on my young son by explicitly proclaiming Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays “Mom’s Right Day” (already implied) and every other Sunday “Broccoli-and-Brussels-Sprouts Dinner Day”, he invited me to his room to read comics. We would each read our own comic, but we would be together reading our individual comics. (I had secretly spirited hordes of comics into the house for our shared reading pleasure and under the guise of “Spider-Man is how daddy came to appreciate classics like Homer’s Illiad.” Once discovered by my devote Catholic wife, she thusly proclaimed my comic hoarding as, and I quote, “God**** insane f****** bull****!” (My counter-claim remains presented to yet unargued before the international court at The Hague.) 

    Jake, who currently towers over me at 6’5”, now reads books about 15th century German philosophy, Korea’s north/south governmental divide, video game industry sociopolitical influence and, for whatever bizarrely lunatic reason, Paul Auster—none of which holds even the slightest of interest for me. He tries to explain the profundity of each to me and seems not to notice my head lolling on my neck or my eyes slowly rolling to the back of my head. 

    Of course, thinking back to days of reading to my son, I’ve had time—years!—to realize the importance of story time in the development of my own writing: Occasionally reading something I’ve written out loud. Narrative or dialogue. Sometimes reading your own writing aloud reveals the line or paragraph or page’s strengths or weaknesses, promise or shortcoming. The cadence and arrangement—the individual notes, bars and measures—of the music in your unique voice. 

    (On a side note, I have never written a story for any one person in particular for fear that such a story might later be entered as evidence in a stalking trial.)


Josh Stallings said...

Heart breaking and uplifting and funny and brilliant. “ the crushing disappointment of being sent to early pasture by a child.” damn. I blame that cruel moment on “Treasure Island” the unfinished chapter book I was reading to my son when he decided he wanted to read his own books… without me. My justice came when he was reading the latest popular kids horror book, he looked over the pages and asked, “Why is this book so crap?” I replied, “Because you, son of mine, were raised on the likes of Roald Dahl. I ruined you for life.”

Catriona McPherson said...

Aw, this is so lovely. But heartbreaking with it.

Susan C Shea said...

Reading to the little ones was, as you show, a gift to be treasured long after they graduate to The Lord of the Rings (which my son did read to his boys, being unwilling to give up those close times). Your post reminded me that I read comic books at about 7-8 years old, and some of them were billed as classics, revised for comic book fare: The Man in the Iron Mask stands out in my memory. But I also read one I can't figure out to this day why: a fat little girl with ringlets, Lulu, perhaps? Anyway, thanks for a heartwarming stroll in memory lane.

Amber said...

Thanks for sharing your lovely memory. My mom read to me all the time, but I ended up having a hard time reading. Love it, but I'm so slow.