OK, back to the kid

(Here's a sneak peek at my column for Sunday's paper. May you enjoy it more than I enjoy reading "Goodnight Moon.")

Reading routine is comforting in world of changes

I don’t want to brag or anything, but I can recite several books — that’s every word, on every page — from memory.

Granted, many of those books have “peekaboo” flaps to lift or fuzzy ears on the pages, but still, I’m counting it as a talent.

Motherhood saps many a brain cell, but it cannot damage your rote memorization skills. On the contrary, it hones them — with the help of your toddler, who likes nothing better than to read the same book over and over and over and over, until every image and rhyme are burned into your brain for all time. Until you find yourself reading the book using foreign accents to amuse yourself, not your son. Until you lie in bed at night trying to lull yourself to sleep in the dark: “Goodnight comb, goodnight brush, goodnight nobody, goodnight mush.”

“And goodnight to the old lady whispering, ‘Hush.’”

When my son showed an early affinity for books, the literary side of me swelled with pride. Even in the first weeks of his life, reading a book to him would soothe and entertain. He was just 5 months old when he started turning the pages for me, and about that time he also started showing his preferences. I’d hold up two books, and he’d slap the one he wanted me to read.

Slap! “Goodnight Moon.” Slap! “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” Slap! “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”

And so we read, over and over, the story of the bunny saying goodnight to the moon; and the one of the brown bear seeing a red bird and the red bird seeing a yellow duck; and the one about a very gluttonous caterpillar eating his way into a stupor.

I bought him new (and used) books once a month or so, and some of those became fast favorites. But his tried-and-true standbys stood the test of time. I assumed he’d eventually want more elaborate illustrations and more text on each page.

I was right to a point; he does like more detailed books and rhymes than he did in those early months. But he is still not sick of the likes of “Brown Bear.”

But I am. Boy, am I.

Finally, I decided I needed some new material. Maybe he’s still picking the same books because we don’t have enough variety, I reasoned. So it was with great expectation that I brought my son to the Bluffton Branch of the Beaufort County Library last week for its Lapsit program for babies ages 8-23 months. Kostyn was about the youngest one there, and he had a ball.

The fun part for me came after the program ended, as I piled my arms high with new material to check out from the Children’s Room. Lift-the-flap books, touch-and-feel books, books with real animal pictures and books with hokey illustrations. A book about farm animals (his latest obsession) and one about dogs (his permanent obsession).

I brought home more than a dozen new books that day, and giddily stacked them all on top of his old ones in the book basket in his room. Then I waited with anticipation for storytime, anxious to see his face light up when he realized he had all new books to see and explore.

But when the time came and I held up two new books in front of him, he didn’t giggle like his mother. He pushed both books away. I tried to offer two different new ones, and he shook his head and started to whine. Then he scrambled off my lap and crawled over to his book basket and began throwing books out of it. He tossed and dug and heaved until he found what he was looking for, which he pushed across the rug and held up to me: “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?”

I couldn’t help it: I rolled my eyes at a sweet, innocent, Brown Bear-loving 1-year-old. (Then, obviously, I obliged his request.)

The thing about living with, and reading to, a toddler is that because he can’t explain himself, many of his little quirks and habits seem foreign and frustrating, when in actuality they are very similar to the quirks and habits of the big, literate person on whose lap he sits.

Repetition and familiarity, it turns out, are just as important to me. It’s how I learn, just like a toddler. It’s also how I relax, just like a toddler.

I’m willing to bet my son doesn’t roll his eyes from his high chair when he sees me flipping to the same pages — box scores, then celebrity news — in the same newspaper every day. Or when he sees me eating the exact same breakfast — fruit smoothie, black coffee, English muffin — every morning.

I watch the same TV shows week after week, listen to the same playlists on my iPod, and visit the same Web sites during the course of my day. Sure, the content within those things changes, but it’s the familiarity that draws me to them. I know what to expect, and there’s a level of comfort and control in that.

Likewise, amid a world that’s especially big and unpredictable to a 1-year-old, Kostyn delights in the power and comfort of knowing exactly what Brown Bear is going to see.

So with as much empathy as I can muster, I’ve been reading “Brown Bear” and “Goodnight Moon” with more gusto than ever these days. I guess I’m trying to appreciate this phase of his development while it’s here, as it is no doubt a mere moment in the grand scheme of things.

Plus, I’m in no hurry for the next phase of his development, which I’m told involves him demanding to watch the same movies again and again and again, until I can recite 90 minutes’ worth of animated dialogue by heart.

Please tell me there is no movie version of “Goodnight Moon.”


nicole said...

I love reading your blog!

Ian Leslie said...

There's always "Goodnight Bush"

Carcich said...

After multiple reads of "Everybody Poops" (yes,this is a book recently picked up at a garage sale hoping to encourage little Fi to go potty), I long to get back to the librarian-esque old lady whispering hush...

Maestra said...

You're such a great Mama!

Have you seen "My World", the companion book to GM? Or the other "______, _______, what do you ______?" books by Bill Martin and Eric Carle? They might allow you to transition or at least add to the repertoire.

Robyn said...

Yeah, we have both "Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do you See" and "Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear." They're just as mind-numbing after awhile as "Brown Bear," but at least it's "variety."

Kim said...

I know several Curious George stories by heart. But the fun comes when they can recite most of the stories back to you. :) Whenever I crack open the book now, I don't need to start reading until the third line. Nicky always begins with "This is George. George was a good little monkey and always very curious."

Robyn said...

Kim - That's precious!