Friday, August 24, 2007

The library book tells all

My wife had been to the library – I can always tell. It’s the only explanation for all the unfamiliar 20-page, brightly colored books and the occasional BBC “Pride and Prejudice” or “Wuthering Heights” DVD scattered around the living room.

I grabbed a few books off the floor to see what titles were going to send our two-and-a-half-year-old to bed. Hey, the “The Mighty Bulldozer.” Yeah, he’ll love that. “There Goes a Fire Truck,” another winner. “Mary Ann has a Hammer,” questionable, but it fit the theme.

“Be Gentle”?

Hmm. Bulldozers, fire trucks, hammers … there must be some other motive at work here than the one designed to appeal to the boy’s manly side. If these books were part of the puzzle, ‘Pick the one that does not belong,’ I’m going with the book “Be Gentle.”

“Is something going on?” I asked, holding up ‘Be Gentle.’

“Yes,” my wife said. “He’s too rough with his little sister.”

The boy’s sister was eight months old and, much like every other older brother on the planet, he treated her like a sparring partner. With the boy as her big brother, she’s going to be a tough little girl – she has no choice.

“So the book you brought home last week, ‘The Planet Doesn’t Belong to You,’ was because …”

“Because he doesn’t like to share,” she finished.

“Hmm. Interesting,” I said. Appealing to a child’s rational side never occurred to me because I’m a guy. A guy’s initial reaction to a child misbehaving is to say something loud enough to stun the child in his tracks. They’re easier to catch that way. I mean, after all, two-year-olds are just better-dressed monkeys who can say ‘no’ with surprising clarity. Can you actually reason with them?

This, of course, leads to the most mysterious area of child psychology – can a child’s behavior be altered without banning television or bribing them with chocolate?

Maybe. I thought of the other theme books that had made their way briefly into our home. “No, no. Hot, hot,” “Traffic is not a Toy,” and the classic, “I’ll Never Point a Gun at an Elected Official Again!” You know, you can’t let kids out of your sight for a second.

There’s an entire industry of book publishers trying to keep our children from eating soap, exploring the Hidden World of Mystery under the kitchen sink, and jumping off the garage roof with nothing on but a Superman cape. Some of us parents are stupid. I’m glad there are people looking out for us.

“Do you think it will help?” I asked.

“Can’t hurt,” she said.

Yeah, she’s right. “I Shouldn’t Ride the Refrigerator Box Down the Stairs,” “Sticking Skittles up my Nose is Bad” and “I am NOT Buzz Lightyear of Star Command” are always welcome in our home. And, unless my wife checks out, “Johnny Sets Fires,” I guess everything’s OK.

Copyright 2007 by Jason Offutt