Friday, April 1, 2011
"What did you do at school today, Jack?"
"...yeah? Nothing, really?"
"I just stared at the wall."
Which of course isn't true, it's a joke that his mom playfully uttered one day when he was stonewalling her, and he's a born comedian so he picked up on it immediately.
I watch him through the open door of the preschool, and he's calling out letters and numbers, stretching to touch his toes with the best of them, shuffling along in line with his eyes on his feet on their way back from the playground. He does stuff. He can't fool me. But, as his teacher assures us is natural for kids this age, he doesn't enjoy volunteering information about stuff that happened when we weren't there.
Maybe that's the key: we weren't there. He shares stories with me about something that happened when he was with Jess. And vice versa. But when neither of us are there...is that perhaps sacred ground? Or is it too real, too personal, to be offered up without a fight? Or is it maybe unreal? A parent is always part of the context, is always there blocking or reflecting light, up to a certain moment. Then suddenly they are not there. For the first time. What does something that happens mean to a child when their parent isn't there? It must take a while to understand events when that context is removed; when all you have is yourself. And then it must take a while before you can really know how to open those experiences up again for mom and dad to share.
I think about writers, about painters, about actors. All of them, all of us, must have had that moment, must have undergone that change, when understanding that our experiences are entirely different when nobody that knows us is around to share them. Other people being in our presence changes the way we experience things. It's why we read by ourselves, and it's why we perhaps join a club to discuss what we've read. We're getting a dim flicker of the warmth that we felt when we read books together with mom and dad.
And then I think about books in the future, if, as many say, the paper book is not long for this world. And how it may be that someday soon we will all be able to download any book in the world onto the screen in our palm, from the solitude of our own home. And I wonder how that will change our understanding of each other. And of what we experience. And will we curl up and get in dad's lap and download Dr. Seuss and he'll leap off the screen and start talking to us and the walls of the room will sprout floppy trees and I say, no Dad, not this one, we did this one last night, and when I look up at his face to tell him I don't want this one tonight, I want the ocean one, he looks like Sam I Am but that doesn't scare me, in the books he never looks like dad unless I want him to.
How will I know what it is to be alone, then?
What do you think reading will be like in a hundred years?