My niece is turning three in less than a week, and as B and I were doing our holiday shopping this weekend, I couldn’t think of anything better to buy her as a present than a couple of books. I know. Who buys books for a kid who can’t read? She’s probably be more excited unwrapping a gift and finding out it’s socks. When I was her age, my parents said I had 3 books that I carried around everywhere asking them to read to me over and over again. When a kid asks you to read a story to them it’s like being knighted by the queen.
I picture my niece passing that honor along to my dad. Her climbing onto the couch where he is seated drinking a glass of Kendal Jackson watching the Bruins, putting the book into his lap and asking him to read it. I picture him complying, reading the text deadpan in his noticeable Boston accent, not differentiating between characters because he’s not feeling particularly creative that day, but at least feeling enamored at the concept. I can already hear the phone call I’m going to get when “Rad American Women A-Z” deviates from his moderately conservative values and he tells me that children that young don’t need to learn about LGBTQ culture. I will sigh, and yes him to contentment because old men don’t change, but at least I will know that I tired.
Isn’t it clear that this means more to me than it will to my niece?
When I was her age my parents were together. (Hers aren’t currently.) I was able to form memories of happier times before they ended. The formal split happened when I was 5 followed by years of upheaval. I have memories of looking outside the window of the house my dad still lives in while it was snowing, feeling like my life was over, watching each flake fall trying to make sense of everything. My reverie during that time was my crayons, and those 3 books, and a stack of Marvel comics that I would ask my brother to read me. The bulk of my literacy was learned in my closet with James and a couple of comic books under the watchful eye of a flashlight. I’m glad I had that. Looking back I’m not sure what I would have done without those safety nets.
I see a lot of me in her and that pains me more than anything. I know how easy it is for me to impose my own memories on her and I’m trying not to do that. Bare minimum, I want to be the thing she breaks in case of emergency. I want her to know want her to know when she’s old enough to understand what’s going on that she has a positive outlet.
Even if she doesn’t need me, I want her to enjoy reading because it’s important. I want her to ask questions because it is rare she will encounter things that are face value and I want her to know that the baseline for any good thing in this world is kindness, and the willingness to see outside herself. I will try my best to be there every step of the way, and if I can’t, I will buy her a thousand books to help her, even if she can’t read just yet.