My son crawled swiftly over to the bookcase and started pulling out books one by one and throwing them onto the floor around him. I shook off my shocked expression and swooped in, grabbing him and pulling a copy of Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy out of his mouth. This had never happened before; ever since he started crawling, it seemed every day was a new episode of the What Can I Put Into My Mouth Show. I looked grimly at the bookcases as my son wriggled and protested. I would have to reorganize them so that all of the important, valuable books were on top.
My personal library is the closest thing you can get to peering into my soul. It’s developed organically over the years, collecting into a certain order developed over years of tinkering. Now, I would have to redo it all if I didn’t want my son gnawing on my 1950 edition of an RLDS Book of Mormon or the books I “borrowed” from my father’s library. Somehow, it felt like desecration to me, another significant part (and loss) of my life in upheaval from the arrival of my son.
That’s really what parenting is about, drastically reorganizing your life to make room for another. Somehow, marrying my wife was much easier — we meshed our libraries together with very little overlap and yet with great mutual interest. My wife has since then read (and been horrified) by my copy of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and I’ve read her copy of The Chronicles of Prydain series, which I had never heard of before I met her. Deciding to get married was a conscious choice on our part, made because we felt we were pretty compatible with each other. There was little reorganization.
But a baby — you don’t get to choose a baby. How I wish sometimes that my baby would sit still and look at his picture books with me. We could, father and son, sit on the couch together, reading books and exploring the world through literature and words and stuff. But no, he likes to climb on things with relish and crawl into trouble, a perfect foil to his adventure-adverse, neurotic, acrophobic father.
(If we were hobbits, my son would be an adventurous Baggins, while I would be a deplorable, cowardly Sackville-Baggins. Shameful, I know.)
A horrible thought crosses my mind. What if I hate what he likes to read, or worse yet, what if he doesn’t like to read at all? What if I introduce him to the things I love — Lord of the Rings, Avatar: The Last Airbender, board games, or CBC’s Wiretap — and he hates all of them? What if he likes other things, like sportsball statistics and cars and other testosterone laden activities?
My son is still wriggling under my arm, crying out angrily now, as I stand in front of the bookcase while this terrifying alternate-possible future flashes before me. I take a deep breath and put him down. He looks up at me. I smile at him. The answer seems simple, if difficult. I’ll just have to make room on the bookshelf for books on sportsball and cars and rock bands. And maybe I’ll have to overcome some of my more adventure adverse, neurotic, acrophobic (and really, lots-of-things-phobic) tendencies to hang out with my son. I let out a deep sigh. I can compartmentalize phobias, right? Right?
My son is tugging at my pants, as if to say thank you. I know it’s ridiculous — to think that my baby not only has the cognitive ability to understand the turmoils of an uncertain, nervous parent but also to read my mind — but the delusion is comforting. I pick him up, and lower my forehead at him. He bumps mine with his and laughs.
“How about this book?” I ask, pulling one out. “Look, this is a monkey — wait a second, that’s a picture of a chimpanzee, but it says ‘Monkey.’ Chimps aren’t monkeys; they’re apes! This book is wrong!”
My son patiently sits for a couple of minutes as I furiously page through the picture book for more inaccuracies. Eventually, he wriggles out of my grasp and crawls away, off to find something else to climb and some new trouble to adventure into, and I follow behind him, nervously, close behind.