Saturday, December 29, 2012

Let The GREAT SEUSS OFF Commence! (Life With Unicorns)

I am not Sam.

Sam am I not.

I never get to be Sam.  Or at least hardly ever.  Instead, I get to be a red fish, a blue fish, sometimes one fish, sometimes two fish.

That's how it goes, when you read with Mr Bunches.

Both Mr F and Mr Bunches like to read, but in different ways and in varying degrees.  Mr F, for example, LOVES books, and always has.  Loves them so much that sometimes, like the Abominable Snowman in those old Bugs Bunny cartoons, he loves them a little too hard, and the book is the worse for the wear, by which I mean: we had to buy about 10 copies of that Elmo book.

The Elmo Book was a book in which Elmo would wave or something.  I forget exactly what Elmo did, which is kind of a relief, now that I think about it.  There was a time in my life when all I knew was what Elmo did.  There was a time in my life when I had read that Elmo book so many times that it was occupying my entire brain.  I would be getting ready to go to Court, or listening to the radio, or driving, or sometimes all three, and all I could think of was what Elmo did in the book.  I used to worry that eventually I would just begin talking about nothing but what Elmo did in that book, an Elmo-esque version of the time John Malkovich went through that door and became John Malkovich.

Mr F loved the Elmo book so much that he just had to touch it, and try to hug it, and that is a problem enough if you are a living, flesh-and-blood person like Daddy, who is always willing to let you sit on his lap and hug him and wrestle him, except that to be honest Mr F is really tough and sometimes doesn't know how hard he is playing, so Daddy gets a little fearful because Daddy can't shake off the memory of how, a week ago, Mr F head-butted Daddy so hard while wrestling that Daddy saw stars.  In part, Daddy can't shake off that memory because he can still feel it.

(Mr F has no fear of what he might do to his head.  Around Thanksgiving, he invented a game using the old recliner that we put in his room when he got home from the hospital.  Mr F, not talking much, did not name the game.  But if I had to come up with a name right off the top of my head for the game, it would be called something like "Let's tip the recliner over on its back and tumble us into the wall head-first." which is probably not what Milton Bradley would call it, but I'm not a professional.)

The problem with Mr F loving Elmo was that at the end of the Elmo book, and this I remember, a giant Elmo would 'pop up' and unfold his arms and show you that he was so big and look as though he was saying "Come in for a hug," and Mr F routinely tore that pop-up Elmo out of the book, which meant it was a bit of a letdown when you got to the end of the book and read in a breathless exciting voice and turned the page and...


Just a blank page, no Elmo, no nothing. The monster at the end of the book wasn't anything.

Mr F's favorite books now are "board books."  He especially likes the little 2-inch by 2-inch books that have only a few words on the page and lots of pictures.  He will take an entire basket of those books -- one of the greatest things I can imagine is that I have kids who literally have a basket of books, because I am partial to books and will buy a book for a kid anytime one of my kids asks, if I have money,  which I almost never do because I've generally already spent it at Toys R Us, because I also generally give in and buy a toy for them anytime they ask-- Mr F will take an entire basket of books and read them in one sitting.

I may be using "read" a little liberally.  While it's clear to me that Mr Bunches can read, because I've seen him do it, it's not clear to me that Mr F can read because Mr F is pretty cagey about what he'll let on he knows or does not know.  He's cagey about it because he's figured out (I think) that once we know he can do something, he's stuck doing it for the rest of his life.  Like taking off his clothes to get into the bathtub.  That is something that Mr F hates doing, and tries not to do it.  For years, we have had an off-again, on-again battle because I know Mr F knows how to do this, since I have seen him get undressed to get into the tub.  And if you take Mr F somewhere funner than the tub, like a swimming pool, he will get undressed even faster.

Mr F likes his bath.  And he knows how to get undressed.  But he doesn't want to.  So he resists, and then we have to go through a whole scene where I say "Okay, get undressed" and he stands there and gives me a blank look, and so I say it again, and he looks off in the distance or goes back to tapping his spatula on the edge of the bathtub, so I give him some encouragement by tugging a bit of his sleeve to get his shirt started, and he in turn tries to throw the shampoo in the toilet, and so on, until I have undressed him about 90% of the way by tugging his clothes a little more at a time, to the point where his shirt is hanging off his head by the collar like a nightcap and his pants are around his ankles.  All he would have to do at that point is simply step out of the pants and pull his shirt slightly, and he's done, which is usually the point where he tries to do a diving roll to get past me and out of the bathroom so that he can run downstairs, pants around his ankles, shirt/headdress a'flying, and go swing, 90% naked, in our living room.

Mr F is similarly resistant to letting people read with him or by him or to him.  He will stand on the couch and take his books out, one by one, and page through them, lingering on some pages an skipping quickly past others, but if you go sit by him he drops the book and walks away.  That is probably because I make reading something of a chore, by sitting him down next to me and making him say words, repeating the last word on the page or saying letters or finding things on the page.

(We have a couple of books specifically for that, big picture books with items on the left side of the 2-page spread that the kid is supposed to find in the picture.  Mr Bunches likes those books, but you have to be careful when you read them to him because if you try to read the story that goes with the books, he gets impatient.  Those books are just for pictures, not for stories.)

So when it comes time to read to Mr F, I have to more or less force him into it using brute strength, hunting him down and picking him up and holding him on my lap and going through the book page by page and reading to him, during which he alternates between trying to get me to turn the pages faster ("Go," he'll mumble and try to turn the page) and ignoring me.  I figure this is good for him.  I haven't worked out how it is good for him, but I've at least got the first half of that equation:

Reading to Mr F is good for him because...

And it is Sweetie's job, maybe, to fill in the second half.

Mr Bunches is easier, most of the time.   Mr Bunches loves to read and has favorite books that he reads over and over and he reads on his iPad, animated books that read to him and which cause me to feel guilty, as a parent.  Here is an actual conversation I had with Mr Bunches, me, and my own inner turmoil:

MR BUNCHES: Let's read.

ME:  Okay, what should we read?

MR BUNCHES:  Toy Story 2.

ME:  OK.  Get the iPad.

MR BUNCHES:  [gets iPad, opens to the book hits autoplay]

MY INNER TURMOIL:  Oh, man, I am supposed to be reading the book, not some faceless narrator.

ME: [thinking] What's the problem? Whether I read it or not, it's being read to him and I am sitting right next to him.

MY INNER TURMOIL: Yeah, but this is not reading, this is listening.

ME: [thinking] Yeah, but either way it's listening for Mr Bunches.

MY INNER TURMOIL:  Are you sure you aren't just taking the easy way out? One day it's 'let the narrator read it' and then the next it's 'well, you don't need me sitting next to you if the iPad is going to read you the book' and then pretty soon it's...

*sings* And the cat's in the cradle 
And the silver spoon
Little boy laughed at the man in the moon.
'When you comin' home son?'
'I don't know when, but we'll get together then, Dad,
We'll get together then.'

ME:  That's crazy.

MY INNER TURMOIL:  So crazy it just might work.

ME:  What th... that doesn't make any sense.

MY INNER TURMOIL:  I'm rubber, you're glue...


But often I get to actually read to Mr Bunches, and we sit and read all the books he loves, and sometimes he is even able to read them himself, books he both reads and has entirely memorized, like the book "Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes," a book in which a cat inexplicably wears two pairs of white sneakers, but even more inexplicably finds himself blundering into a large pile of strawberries, which turn his shoes red,  and then still more inexplicably walks through a large pile of blueberries, turning his shoes blue, before he ends up walking through some mud (shoes = brown) and then ends up walking through a tub of water that somehow gets his shoes clean again even though everybody knows that blueberry stains are almost impossible to get out, or at least everybody who remembers that old denture commercial dealing with blueberry stains knows that. (As for me, all I really remember thinking about that commercial was "Oh my God, are dentures really that big? Those teeth are enormous.")

Pete, through it all, keeps "walking along, and singing his song" ["I love my white shoes..." etc.]  Pete is undaunted by the weird landscape he has found himself in, and the moral of Pete's story is (and here I am quoting) "No matter what you step in, keep walking along and singing your song, because it's all good."

That is not, if you ask me, a very good moral, because FIRST, Pete could easily have avoided the large piles of strawberries and blueberries.  When I say "large," I am using the word in the book and not conveying just how large the piles really are.  "Humongous" would be a better word (partially because humongous is just a better word, period). Look at this:

See what I mean?  How did Pete even get up there?  Was he not paying attention?  Was he just determined to not veer a bit off his path, like those one things Dr Seuss once wrote about?  The East Going Zax?  Was it "Zax"?

It was: I just checked.  But they were north-going and south-going, not east-and-west-going.

I think a better moral for Pete's story would have been "You should always look where you are going or your shoes may be in for some trouble," because that kind of moral is helpful in real life, and if they could have worked in something about "also, don't lose your boot in the snow somehow so that Daddy can't find them and has to say to Mommy that we lost one boot outside and then Mommy says "How did that happen?" and Daddy has to explain, so here is that story:

Last week, after the monster blizzard, Mr F and Mr Bunches and I went to play in the snow in the yard because I needed to tire them out.  Just before we came inside, we decided to go in the backyard for a while, and then went around the other side of the house, where Mr F decided that he wanted to slide down the gap between the bush and the edge of the house, where there's a little rock wall that makes for good slidin'. Mr Bunches didn't want to, so we went around and down the path.

When we got to the bottom of the path, I turned to look for Mr F, but he was not at the bottom where he should have been.  So I told Mr Bunches to wait for me, and I went back up the path to see if Mr F was still by the bush, but he wasn't there.

So I then thought "Well, maybe he went back to the backyard," and looked in the snow to see if I could see tracks, because if there is one thing I know about snow, it's that it makes for good tracking.  Family legend always had it that we are somehow descended from Davy Crockett -- seriously, that is what I was told when I was a kid and then when I told other kids at school I got beaten up for it but I always believed it until I grew up and then stopped believing it -- and so I used my biological tracking skills to look at the snow and determine that when the three of us had come through the first time, we had cut a four-foot-wide swath through the snow and tracking would be impossible.

Checking on Mr Bunches, I then ran to the backyard, calling Mr F, and circled the entire house without finding him until I came back to the front where he was walking up our front walk from our driveway.


So I picked him up and got him inside and got Mr Bunches inside and then I went back outside, where a hard target search of every footprint, snowdrift, bush, and path in our yard yielded 2 socks and one boot.

Also,  he had lost a mitten.

After three searches over two days, we still had not located the boot and I don't know what happened to it. 

And the worst is: That is the SECOND time we have lost a boot while it was being used in the presence of adults, although to be fair the first time was when our neighbors' dog stole Mr F's boot right off his foot and ran away with it.  We found that boot in the spring and I expect we will find Mr F's latest lost boot in the spring, too, which means three more months of Sweetie frowning at me silently when we get them dressed for school.

Anyway, you would expect that I would be very familiar with Dr Seuss' work, because Mr Bunches likes Dr Seuss books.  He has Green Eggs and HamThe Cat in the Hat and The Lorax and Fox In Socks and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, and Hop On Pop, and we read them all the time, but the way we read them is a bit different because we have what I have come to call The Seuss Off.

Mr Bunches will say "Want to read Green Eggs and Ham?" and I will agree because if you don't encourage your kids to read you're a horrible parent, so I stop what I'm doing and we get down all his Dr Seuss books, because when we do this, Mr Bunches gets to read Green Eggs And Ham and I get to read the rest of the books.

At the same time.

Here's how that works.

Mr Bunches opens his book, and reads the first page:  "I am Sam."

I then open my book, and read my first page:  "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish."

We then alternate pages, each taking a turn, until we have finished my first book, and then we go on to the next, at which point Mr Bunches re-starts Green Eggs and reads that one again, while I read my new book, again alternating pages.

(The weirdest part of this is that like Wizard of Oz and Dark Side Of The Moon, the books all synch up pretty well.  We finish at the same time on almost all the books).

We work our way through the Seussary that way, alternating pages, mashing up Sam and Unnamed Guy as they go through the house, up a tree, in the train, on a boat, with old fish and new fish and beetle butter battles and the like, a dizzying array of words that spills out of the books and our mouths, jousting back and forth, until we finish all of the Seuss books, and our minds are a jumble of mouses and mother's best dresses and fish and cats and through it all, those green eggs and ham.

I almost never get to be, as I said, Sam; on rare occasions, I get to read Green Eggs and Ham, and on those occasions I have to do Sam's voice and Unnamed Guy's voice and read through the tongue-twistery words, aware that I am attempting to live up to the highest standards, those of Mr Bunches, who reads the book himself with verve, getting quiet when Sam says "Say, in the dark, here in the dark," and the only area where I have bested Mr Bunches in reading the greatest of all the Seuss books is when Unnamed Man goes underwater and I read that part in a burbling voice like Tommy James did in Crimson & Clover (the extended psychedelic version.)

The entire Seuss Off takes about an hour to get through, and we sit in our assigned places, on the floor, working through our books methodically but still enjoying it.  "Talk it," Mr Bunches will tell me when it's my turn to read, if I am slow, and "You're turn" I'll tell him when it's not clear that I've finished.

And an hour is a long time to read the same books over and over, to hear nonsense syllables sputtered out and read couplets about weird bird things -- but since I waited years just to hear Mr Bunches and Mr F say anything, anything at all, spending an hour having them ask me if I would, if I could, on a train or in the rain, isn't a chore at all.  Listening to Mr F read me a word or two, listening to Mr Bunches recite all the places where the guy would not, could not eat green eggs and ham, I feel how I imagine it would have felt to hear Beethoven's Ninth Symphony,  performed live for the first time, or to watch The Beatles jam on the rooftop,   The Seuss Off is not a competition between Mr Bunches and me,  It is a celebration of Mr Bunches' victory.


NOTE:  I have after writing this gone and looked up the Elmo book, which I talked about over four years ago,  here. 


Andrew Leon said...

My favorite book to read to my kids has always been The Monster at the End of This Book. I loved it as a kid, too, but the thing that made it so good about reading it was that I could do it in Grover's voice. I've seen they've added Elmo to that book in recent years, which makes me sad.

I'm related to "Gentleman Jim" Corbett. He was like a great uncle or something. My great-grandmother (grandfather's mother) was a Corbett.

Liz said...

Family legend has it that we're related to... Well, that doesn't really matter, does it?

I think it's good for kids to hear books read by narrators on iPads or whatever. It exposes them to the correct pronunciation of words they may not know. And some people learn better by listening than by reading something themselves.