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We Are One Potato

My son gets timeouts. He is six, short-tempered, and compulsive about things like finding out exactly what would happen if you touched the overhead light fixture with a golf club. Possibly the timeouts are not helping, and possibly they are making things worse, however they are the only remaining alternative once I have discounted all of the regular tyrannies. Spanking? Sounds hilarious. Some people take away desserts. I have. And I have confiscated balls and late bedtimes and Backyardigans, and I would banish Santa Claus if I thought it would make a difference, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t. For one or two minutes I feel like the responsible, activist parent, I try to sound dangerous, and if we are in a public place I look for approving glances, but really where is the thematic connection between, say, a busted light fixture and chocolate chip cookies? How many times have I started a sentence without any good idea of where it was going to end?

“Stop jumping, whining, eating your dinner one grain of rice at a time or I’ll – ”

What? Teach you a lesson? In the space of three seconds it’s hard to find the punishment that fits the crime, but it’s even harder to find the lesson that fits the punishment. That is the existential beauty of a timeout: it’s really as close as you can do to nothing and still pretend to be in charge. 

He doesn’t usually want to go. Sometimes I end up carrying him, boneless, like one of those scruffy protesters outside of a WTO summit, to the middle of the rug in his bedroom where playthings, crayons and conversation are just beyond reach, and where he is expected to sit quietly for long enough to teach himself a lesson, or anyway that’s the plan. Behind him are his bunk bed, animals, blanket, to his right there are most of his toys, and towering in front of him are eighty square feet – I’ve measured – worth of shelves, most of them sagging with books, many the picture variety. I cannot stop him from looking.

Or - it turns out - shouting, muttering, and whispering across the unmanageable littleness of our apartment. When the source of his fury can finally be distilled to a single talking point, he calls out that he is ready, and I tell him that he is not, because, well, I am not, having diverted my knuckleheaded decision-making to e-mails, dishes, anywhere less likely to result in permanent scarring. If he does not debate my refusal then there is honestly no denying his readiness, no matter how busy I am, and he is permitted back into the land of the living room, usually bearing books, three or four at a time, carefully chosen. Peace offerings, I like to think of them.

People read to their children for many noble reasons, I have heard, though I try not to pay very much attention for fear that I too will start to read for those reasons, or any reasons that might ever demystify the implausible thrill of discovering that strange little volume - of words, of art and the music between them – tucked among the thousands of others at Barnes and Noble, at Books of Wonder, the Strand, the Library, Joe’s Pawn and Books, other people’s stoops, their recycling, then sometimes in my very own bedroom: That book? I remember that book! That was a weird one!

Which is pretty much the point for that six–year-old probably, criss-cross-applesauce, fuming, and idly exploring the colorful profiles and almost-unreadable titles on those shelves. Not weird necessarily, but partly forgotten or never entirely understood. This does not preclude the books we have read and read recently (could somebody please tell me what the heck is going on in Goodnight Moon?) but I’ll bet he’s directing his search with a sense of possibility that is at odds with his current hopelessness. From as near as there is to nowhere in our apartment to as near as there is to everywhere in as long as it takes to blink the tears from his eyes.       

Studies suggest that reading to your children is beneficial in so many ways it hurts your head just trying to remember them all. They grow up more literate for one thing. Bolder. More empathetic. The list goes on and on. Think of the art projects, the soccer practices, the puppet shows we choose to punctuate our children’s experiences - but books! Books are easy! Finding them isn’t – or not as easy as it should be – but a single well chosen stack is often enough to get you through the proverbial cold, cold wet day, and feel good about it as well. The words and pictures can be as transporting to a grown-up as the child, but they don’t need to be. I cry at the end of The Lorax – every time – then sometimes I am able to compose a grocery list while my kids are making the journey alone. Sometimes you need them to stop bouncing off the walls, or each other. And sometimes you just need to change the subject. Everybody’s got their something, like a lady once said. You know why you read.

Our intention with this selection is to provide some easier access to a wider universe of books than is usually available, to answer a wider universe of needs. The books we have chosen include some recent obscurities along with books you could probably find featured on one of the display tables at your local superstore, if you knew on which table to look. They also include books that nobody has heard of, long out of print, but which are nevertheless still currently available through the wonders of Amazon, out of somebody’s warehouse, their basement or storage unit, the cracks between the cushions of this world.

Bookstores have limited shelf space. We don’t. The Flying Lesson of Gerald Pelican will therefore always appear on our recommendations, whether anyone buys it or not. Call this stubborn or outmoded, still every child, every parent and caregiver deserves the continuing opportunity to choose for themselves what constitutes a thrilling adventure, a comforting fable, a spooky classic, even a great work of art, and every book – whether they vanished yesterday or 1969 – merits closer consideration. Like music, like movies, any selection of books is extremely subjective, though we hope with your help to broaden our tastes, to listen, to learn, so that finally this site is as much about the Books You Found as the Books We Love.

Read to your children. Go to the library. Go to Barnes and Noble. Order from Amazon. Or find a quiet moment at the end of the day when your children are tucked into bed and not fighting or hungry or swinging golf clubs at the ceiling. Take a deep breath. Take your own timeout. And we’ll promise to try to make this as fun, and fulfilling, as possible.

Mar 22 2009 | Comments: 0

Filed Under:  Crime & Punishment  


1Posted by: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/31

What about a list for older kids? Please! I want to know what you think and recommend. In fact, please please please. This is a beautiful non-argument for the pleasures of reading. I gotta go measure my son’s bookshelves now. Do stacks on the floor count?
ps I never could figure out how time-outs worked. I still don’t get it. But I love how they led to peace offerings and books in the “unmanageable littleness” of what must surely be the expansive space of your home.

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