So I had these kids (to be honest, my wife had them, I watched) eighteen years ago and after taking care of them, doing long stints as the primary caregiver, I eventually graduated to the status of medical and after school appointment driver, cook and bedtime book reader.
My wife read them picture books until they were in grade school, at night, every night. We hauled fifty or sixty books at a time from the library; I stopped shopping for titles after a few hundred, and just worked my way alphabetically through the stacks, counting on Cambridge to curate the experience, which worked just fine.
But then came chapter books and I took over, quickly reading through every chapter book that I could remember, then on to contemporary stuff mixed with any classic stuff that I could get them interested in. Books I’d dodged and missed somehow, the historical stuff assigned to other classes, like Johnny Tremaine; The Wolves of Willouby Chase, The Westing Game, and others. I worked my way through various lists. Newbury Award winners; various Best Ofs.
So, together we walked and played and ran in terror and cried through Narnia and Prydain and the Potterverse, The Wrinkled Time stuff, pretty much everything by William Sleator’s of House of Stairs fame, a favorite of mine, but also the first ten Redwalls (a favorite of my youngest child). John Cristopher’s The Tripod’s held up really well. A few hundred books in all.
There were explicable rebellions. The LOTR? No. Dad singing poems full of made up words to the same bad improvised melody didn’t go over well. But oddly, also Earthsea was denied. (Why?) But mostly we had successes and we read and read and read together, at night, them in their twin beds with me between them with my lovely glowing e-reader.
I found new stuff to love; Ellen Potter, referred to people who want more Roald Dahl, (she isn’t really like him but this makes sense), Rebecca Staid, and Suzanne Collin’s brilliant and horrific Hunger Games. Alif and the Unseen was a modern favorite, a sympathetic and magically inflected portrayal of modern life in an islamic state on the verge of spring.
But kids grow up and older, and yes, that horrible cats in the cradle song is now playing in your head, if you have had kids, and had them do this to you. We built lofts for them, so they had more room for their stuff in the tiny condo, and so the pair rose up and away from me on wooden stilts. I sat beneath them on the carpet, periodically yelling up at them to get the hell off the cellphones or I was going to stop—do you hear me?
But I didn’t want to stop.
When did I realize this was the best time of the day? The best time of my life? I don’t know. But that realization came and I did my best with that, knowing of course that it would one day end…
My eighteen year old graduated and had an early schedule, working in public schools, doing good work for Americorps, and my fifteen year old went to bed later and it all fell apart. The kids never admitted we were done, because my kids are happy and even if growing up is okay, who wants a happy thing to end? This is why kids hold onto old toys. Why file away those memories? Who is to say the Polly Pockets or Tamagotchies might not one day become fascinating again? Who wants to tell Dad they’re done being read to? Well, I guess normal teenagers would, but my kids are far from normal.
I thank the stars every day for that.
We started slowing down seriously as we read Marissa Meyer, which is not a knock on her work in any way. I was initially resistant to reading them, something about science fictionalized romantic quasi fairytales didn’t appeal to me in the abstract, but my wife kept insisting, “read them and see,” and so I did and I was hooked.
I fell hard for these things.
Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter form the main cycle, a braid of fairy-tale themed and inspired (but in no way derivative) middle-grade / YA science fiction adventure romances.
We bogged down in book four at the climax of these intersecting romance arcs—which were so compelling to me; three pairs of characters; A cyborg Cinderella and her uncertain Prince, a pugnacious little Red Riding Hood, and her shifter-romance-inspired mate to be, Wolf, and a frail and retiring but ultimately heroic Rapunzle, known as Cress, freed from her metaphorical tower, a spy satellite where she worked for the Evil lunar Queen, who is every evil queen, ever, and Cress’s love, a charming Rogue of no clear origin to me who grew to be utterly delightful.
Both kids came out, while I was reading them these books, and maybe the relentless heteronormativity was one of the reasons I found them so infectious, while my kids never needed to race to the oh so wonderfully rendered Happily Ever After? There’s no way to know. I’d sought out and read some GLBTQIA themes YA titles with trans teens in them, but they were a little stressful and on-the-nose for my eldest and so I didn’t push them after awhile.
So finally, flying back from San Jose after a week long vacation with my brother-in-law and his husband, I let myself finish the last book, Winter, and found myself caught up in this story that I’d had on pause for at least a year. I didn’t need any refreshers. I remembered everything. As did the author, revisting and reprising the various elements of the stories as the characters completed their arcs, had their moments of heroism and growth, experienced epiphanies, and found true love and friendship.
It was so fucking good.
But I finished the journey I’d started with the three of us by myself again. Reading a solitary pleasure once again.
I suspect my younger son will reread the Mayer books to the very end; he’s a reader, and we still do read things together, just to ourselves. We talk about them, afterwards. Not the same thing, really, but it’s something, and it will have to do. Because the kids are mostly grown, and reading aloud time is done.
Queue that awful song. Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
Taking care of children is a seemingly endless chore, brightened by these wonderful moments that remain, while the endless tedium of it washes away, little hunks of gold lodged in your brain, left behind as time swirls away the silt and sand.
God I loved reading time.
But now it’s time to write.