Monday, August 24, 2009

Reader Response

When Little Man started to memorize books, when he was able to recite all of "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!" over dinner, I had a feeling I'm not sure I can describe. It's connected to another feeling I can't describe, one which always comes over me while I'm reading to him. Let me preface this by saying that I really, really enjoy reading aloud. That whole learning to read silently thing we all get to in elementary school, after the stage of sounding out all the letters, one pudgy finger under each word; it was a real falling off for me, the end of something good. There's not much reason to read aloud anymore, once you're beyond that stage, until you find yourself doing a reading at a wedding, or, say, mocking a mean-spirited ex-lover by reading his narcissistic letter out loud to your drunken girlfriends. (You've never done that? Um, me neither.)

Maybe I'm a frustrated actor or something, but it's fun to me, much much fun, to wind your way through someone else's words, letting just the right expressive tone slip in, paying attention to meter and volume. It's like singing. I used to try to read to my partners, romantic or erotic poetry (what can be sexier than The Goblin Market, for example? all that licking and sucking and dripping juices, warmth and open mouths?), but usually they were politely unimpressed, and in one case actually fell asleep. (I ended up marrying that one, so probably I didn't hold it against him, but rather chose to interpret it as his being soothed by my voice into a profound state of relaxation. Which, I'm sure, is exactly what it was.)

But now! the luxury of it! the rapt audience! how many times a day do I hear "Mommy, can you read this book to me? and this firetruck one too, and this one with the goats?" It's a guilty pleasure, running out to the library to pick up 10 more delicious books for him from the lovely buffet of the children's room, knowing that he will page through them in his car seat on the way home, and immediately upon regaining the house demand that I read all of them to him, immediately. I like everything about reading to him: the cuddly presence on my lap, the rapt attention, the stream of questions "Mommy, why is that donkey sitting in her dress on that rock?" "Mommy, why is the sun leaning down in this picture?" "Is that a frog or a bug?" And I love the trance I get into, every time, as if coasting on the current of someone else's words, someone else's story, the emotional lives of donkeys and fish, my voice like a canoe, slipping through the ripples. ("Mommy, why are you beating this water metaphor to death?")

And the weird internal jokes: am I the only one who thinks of Fergie's "My Humps" every time I read "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish"? ("Mr. Gump has a seven-hump gump!") and try to get through the page without my adults-only internal guffaw coming out of my mouth? ("What you gonna do with all that junk, all that junk inside your trunk?" Hm, Seussical echoes in Fergie? No? Maybe just me, then.) This internal dialogue I have with myself cracks me up, literally, every time. A very weird but satisfying pleasure -- it's the aburdity of the connection that gets me, I think.

It's odd that I should enjoy this activity so much, since usually, I hate the sound of my own voice. I occasionally leave messages on my home answering machine for my partner, making arrangements for dinner or the plumber or picking up the Little Man, and as soon as I get home I hurriedly erase it, as if fearing that someone will hear how awful I sound, as if they couldn't hear that every time I open my mouth. But somehow, when it's "Sylvester and the Magic Pebble" instead of "should I stop and get some veggie burgers for dinner?", somehow it's ok. Weirdly, it's a more bodily experience of books than reading silently to yourself, and I can see how different tones or expressive choices can effect Little Man differently. Depending on how tired I am, I can put more or less expression into what I'm saying: "Frogs are frogs and fish are fish and that's IT!" And he will correct me if I accidentally, in a moment of failed attention, lend Piglet's voice to Eeyore's words, or (unimaginable, really) vice versa. As well he should.


i am the diva said...

i know the feeling, there's something so awesome about having his complete attention and feeling his breath through his back... sigh. good times.

daydreamymama said...

I'm going to be sad when this time is over. In fact, I'm almost certainly going to start putting my husband to sleep again, trying to relive the glory. "Honey, I know you're watching T.V., but wouldn't you rather listen to me read a Pooh story?"
He's going to think I'm crazy.