Thursday, January 19, 2006

Read Me Like A Book.

Daughter and I were standing at a magazine rack, as I was scanning the gossip rags for any other pictures of a certain pregnant celebrity wearing a Hiphugger, when Daughter spoke up.

“Black men, sex, and relationships”

My, she certainly speaks clearly, doesn’t she? Everyone but the guy hiding in the porn rack looked up.

I glanced down to see where this little outburst might have come from, and noticed her eye trained on an issue of Ebony, which someone had thoughtfully slipped in front of the Ranger Rick January issues.

“Mommy, what does that mean?”

“It means…grown-up things. Boring, grown-up things. Here’s a Ranger Rick. Look, meerkats!”

Why I thought this would distract her, I don’t know.

“Why is it only black men? Are they different?”

Oh, we’re going to do this now? The guy in the shoulder-length dreads thumbing through Martha Stewart Living sidled a bit closer, to see what insights I had to offer.

“No, they’re not different…it’s just…that...some people have…a hard time finding the right person to love and…sometimes, different kinds of people have…different kinds of problems. Not that being black is a problem! Sometimes…they have…problems…with….certain….situations. Then, they can…read an article.”

Daughter, wearying of watching me hyperventilate, glanced at the Cosmopolitan, jammed behind American Girl magazine.

“Letting Go in Bed. Mom, where do they want me to go?”

Ah, the literacy of a child is a gift with teeth.

This isn’t going to be a column about Mean Old Man Media, trying to corrupt my kid. Last time I checked, newspapers, magazines and TV networks are for-profit ventures (although I think most newspaper owners might weep at the naïveté of that statement). People really like thinking about sex and violence -- actually, people really like committing sex and violence, but these modern times prefer we commit conference calls and golf -- ergo, people will pay to read about sex and violence. When strong evidence comes out that people will pay money to think about office supplies, there will be articles like “These Aren’t Your Father’s Ring Binders!” and “Toner Trauma -- Our Favorite Office Managers Tell Their Stories”, not to mention “Black Men, Staplers, and Relationships”

This is going to be a column about how reading does for your child exactly what it promises to do: it opens the door to the world. And I don’t know about your life, but apparently my daughter’s life is filled with fascinating and unfamiliar words which need definitions. Now.

We don’t turn on network TV during her waking hours. I don’t listen to the news on the car radio when she’s in the car, not even NPR. I try my level best to whisk away the newspaper just as quickly as I can. And yet, in the last week, from nothing more than brief glimpses of the front section of the paper as I bring it in the house, we’ve still needed to talk about:


And let me tell you, the grocery store check-out aisle is a cavalcade of salacious and unsuitable questions for her inquiring mind. I was prepared for the “Where do babies come from?” series of questions. But what parent among us is really primed for “Who is Lindsay Lohan and what’s a bulimia?” as you’re trying to buy cat food and mouthwash? And I defy anyone to come up with an obscenity-free-yet-accurate answer to the question “What does Paris Hilton do?” I think I answered that query with, “She stands in front of a camera until the light goes off. Then, she finds another camera. She needs the warmth.”

When this investigation of the written English language first started, I tried thoughtful and measured answers, suitable for any high-school senior looking to enter Georgetown and get an internship with his local congressman. Then, as the weeks progressed, I finally degenerated into “You don’t need to know that yet”. It was fabulously unsuccessful; Daughter would just look at me as if to say: “Sure, mom. I understand. I’ll make the time pass until I am old enough to know about the right-to-die law by following you around the house and whining ‘PLEEEEEAAAAAAASE tell me!’”.

Being stupid but self-preserving, it quickly occurred to me that a calm, bloodless, one-sentence answer could make nearly all words get defined and forgotten. I didn’t have to give the Supreme Court rulings on the subject. I didn’t have to put the word in historical context, I didn’t even have to be fair, giving both sides to some controversial topic. Daughter’s brain works something like this: the world has ponies, gymnastics, felines, princesses, and things that are none of the above. She just wants to ascertain “Hostage’ isn’t some heretofore unknown variant of Japanese Bobtail cat.

Once we clarify that, she’s content, and can go back to reading the back of her antihistamine box.

“I can’t take this if I have an enlarged prostate gland. What’s that?”


Blogger houseband00 said...

Hi Quinn,

Here are some of my son's gems picked up from tv:

suicide - answering the "why" part took some time
pedophile - i had to let him watch a particular movie with me to help explain it
entomology- thank god i read the far side

This has to be your best post yet! Bravo, Quinn!

4:10 AM  
Blogger Mel said...

Let's hear it for illiteracy!

Okay. Well, maybe not.

10:29 AM  
Anonymous Sage Tyrtle said...

A couple of years ago my then 5 year old kid was reading the liner notes to the musical Avenue Q. "It says 'If You Were Gay', Mama. What's gay?" I could have gone with, "Well, your Granny, for one," but I settled on, "Sometimes men love women, sometimes men love men, and sometimes women love women. The last two are called 'gay'." Satisfied, he wandered off and read the liner notes some more, and came back saying, "It says, 'The Internet Is For Porn'. What's porn, Mama?"

1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

a very funny post. i'd only have added "she's skinny and needs the warmth."

2:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hilarious. Reminds me of the time I, um, acciDENTally caused my daughter to drop the F-bomb in Borders.

--Alec Long

6:04 AM  

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