There’s a regular feature on one of the sports pages I read where a featured athlete – say, one who has been performing particularly well for while, or is approaching some milestone, or has recently arrived in a trade – exposes himself to a Question and Answer, with a publicist hovering somewhere nearby. I don’t know why I read these. They make me nauseous usually. Habit, I guess. Always the athlete’s favorite movie is Scarface or The Shawshank Redemption. Usually their favorite dinner guest is Jesus. And when the athlete has recently had a child (they usually have), there’s the part where they’re asked if they’ve changed any diapers. (“Laughs.”) A couple, they usually say.
At an average of four diapers a day for five years total (between two children) I figure I probably changed seven-thousand diapers. I say this not to brag, but because before I had a child I’m pretty sure I had never even seen a diaper since I was wearing one, or anyway never noticed. Such was my level of preparation for the demands of fatherhood, that the first time the nurse pointed me in the direction of that dessert cart thingy in the hospital, I thought, Really? Do I have to? And that was pretty much my approach to everything in those early days, in such a state of defensiveness I may as well have been caring for a Velociraptor. My wife knew better, but my wife had a job. Every choice became an improvisation. Entire days seemed held together with spit and glue and day-old breast milk.
I hope it worked out. In some ways it did: both of my children are fanatical readers, and I’m lucky, I know, but I like to think it had something to do with our earlier days. We had, that first time around, about ten or twelve books, pretty randomly collected in a basket by the fireplace, and while I’m not going to pretend at their artistic merits relative to anything else out there, they worked for me then, sometimes a hundred times a day, when I was too blinkered to think of anything else.
We read something called Jamberry; it worked and I cannot say why. A little book called Wee Seasons (no longer available), about seven pages and twenty-something words long, so you can imagine how many times I needed to reload that. Oh, and The Snowy Day and Whistle for Willie (which I am willing to enter a cage to defend), but really, beyond those and While I Am Little and Goodnight Mr. Night and a bunch of sketchy board books about dogs and blocks and colorful balls, I cannot remember very much else from that basket. Also, being so inexperienced (or obtuse), I did not realize a world of picture books even existed between those very simple starters and Dr. Seuss, and so to this day the library that we keep, which is in every respect overflowing and full of redundancies, still has holes from when I was probably over-relying on Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Many people have written in to make a case for two books in particular – Tip Tip Dig Dig and Sputter, Sputter, Sput. This is apparently owing to whatever mysterious qualities those stories possess which make it easier to get through the day (“over and over,” you say), and that is exactly the sort of recommendation that matters. Do keep them coming. Because we can talk about everything like it’s Anna Karenina, but there’s really no substitute for experience.