Mole, Ratty, Badger, Violet, And Toad.

by Serge Bielanko

Me reading a book to Violet is just a bunch of crap. She isn't ready for books. She doesn't care/need to care yet. Even three pages into BEARS IN THE NIGHT she's squirming and antsy. She digs away from the story. She claws tunnels in the air, digging desperately, trying to break out of the prison in my lap. The handed-down sentence is way too harsh for a bambino. No kid deserves capital boredom.

Violet doesn't want to feed her brain. She wants to tear the pages out and eat them. She wants to eat Green Eggs and Ham, not listen to me talk about them.

But I have afternoons where I feel like I have to at least try. Something bugs me if I don't read something to her here and there. Someone must've read to me. There's the sense of duty that comes with loving books/having a kid.. You're deputized to sling certain silver bullets eventually. TOM SAWYER/HUCK FINN. A LOT OF SEUSS. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS. Tried and true stuff. A trillion wobbly attention spans can't be wrong.

Lots of smart people say: 'start reading to your baby early so she'll have a life-long love of books'. I don't know though. What I see isn't someone who will someday be curled up under a hundred year old autumn elm in some big city park, devouring SILAS MARNER or HIGH FIDELITY or anything like that. What I see is a squirmy prisoner in Pop-Lap Penitentiary. I watch her claw fiercely at the air, digging tunnels to freedom. She isn't interested in the sound of my babbling tale. She needs action. Craves life close to the bone, down on the rug, out on the floor. She needs escape. She wants searchlights, hellhounds, and pitch black stumbling through a wild wood. At this point, eating dust specks and dragging yourself over to the base of house ferns as tall as redwoods is all the education she wants or needs. Later on, soon enough, she'll use words and books to escape from a hundred little prisons. But, not just yet, I guess.

Regardless, I went over to the shelf the other day and glared. What to read her anyway? I was in the mood to have a go, so what the hell. I saw THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS paperback I bought for three bucks when she was, like, two weeks old. (See, I thought these kids were gonna be all: under a blanket/heavy-lidded eyes/sweet tired smiles whenever Mom or Pop decided to read aloud). I pulled it down and started reading it to her while I crammed mac and cheese into her gaping mouth.

By page five I put it down.

Not because she wasn't enjoying it. Truth is, she was in the high-chair and I had her hooked deep with a big dinner, so she was tolerating me and the book just fine. The real reason I stopped was because it only took me a couple pages to understand that I was going to have to tuck this book away for myself. Rat and Mole and the River and their entwined tale of adventure, friendship, and talking Badgers: it was all so damn interesting to me. Why? I have no fucking clue. Maybe I was enchanted. Maybe I was attracted to the simple but elegant way in which Kenneth Grahame composed it. Maybe I just like a swarm of Christmas Caroling Field Mice now and then. And underground cottages where rodents sipping bottles of ale at the end of a long winter's day makes the world seem way better than it probably is.

I know one of these days I will sit V down in my lap at just the right moment in time. The collision of tired and curious will go down without me really knowing it. I'll just be sitting there, reading something to her again when all if the sudden I'll notice that she's with me.

She'll turn her noggin up toward me and flash her new pearl nuggets in sweet approval. Her eyes will grab mine and say, simply: Keep going, Dad. You keep that up. I'll start back in with the next sentence, and out of the corner of my eye I'll peek over and see she's on board. I'll probably stick her in there too. To walk besides Ratty and Toad and Mole. I'll have her eat supper with them, take rides in Toad's car. I'll add her to the best sentences. I'll stick her in hollow logs and on boats. I'll set her free on the banks of a forever river.

She'll be story-bound.

And we'll know right there that there's no turning back.