This is a note thanks to a complete stranger, a parent who recently did something unexpected and wonderful right in front of me. She’s probably forgotten the incident but I’ll remember it for a long time, and I hope lots of other moms and dads around the country are on the same page with her (pun fully intended).
It occurred in a waiting room. I’d driven a friend to a medical appointment and was sitting alone after his name was called. A television set was tuned to one of the network morning shows, and the juvenile banter of the anchors was almost unendurable.
Then a woman entered, accompanied by her daughter who looked about 5 or 6 years old. After checking in, they sat down together. In this situation, a lot of kids nowadays would take out a small personal amusement machine and start playing video games. But that didn’t happen because Mom had brought books along. In a playful tone, she began reading one. It was a Pinkalicious adventure.
A voice inside my head exclaimed, “Way to go! Books rule! You two are awesome!” Then the voice turned cautionary and said, “Okay, cool it. Stifle any urge to react. Assume a neutral demeanor. Pretend you aren’t even here.” Compliance with these orders wasn’t difficult because I’m good at blending in with the furniture, and one of my rules for everyday behavior is to avoid barging into other people’s lives with unsolicited comments about parenting techniques.
Based on personal experience, I’ve learned not to offer advice on the subject unless someone asks for it. When that happens, my response is short and emphasizes two basic facts: Time only moves forward and childhood doesn’t last forever. Parents should always be on the lookout for opportunities to share fun experiences with their kids. Reading books together is definitely fun and never a waste of time.
I also like to point out that books are, in fact, very reliable wireless communication devices. The content is never inaccessible due to dead batteries, forgotten passwords or failed hard drives. They can also be dropped repeatedly or knocked around in any number of ways and still function properly.
If I had broken my silence during the Pinkalicious story and spoken directly to that girl I would have said, “Keep doing this every chance you get. I know smart phones, laptops, tablets and their applications are remarkable. But it’s important that you never become overly reliant on watching electronic screens, especially at an early age. Some good things will show up, but a lot of what you see as your life goes along will be useless, pointless junk.”
I looked up at the TV at that moment and, as if to validate my thoughts, the anchors had moved to a small stage, donned glittery aluminized party wigs, and were performing some kind of lip-sync act while laughing and gyrating.
Then the receptionist called out, “They’re ready for you!” and the impromptu story time ended. I should have thanked that mom when I had the chance because I’m sure I enjoyed listening as much as her daughter did.
I’ve read several articles in the past few years about sounds that are fading out of existence because of advancing technology. You seldom hear the clack of typewriter keys hitting paper anymore, or a coin clinking into a pay phone.
So here’s my shout-out to all book-loving parents who are helping to insure the sound of a grown-up reading to a child never goes extinct.
Jeffrey Shaffer is a writer who also worked for several years as a bookseller at Annie Bloom’s Books in the historic Multnomah Village district of southwest Portland. His relationship with Annie Bloom’s began in the 1990′s when the store’s booksellers enthusiastically sold his two humor collections I’m Right Here, Fish-Cake and It Came With the House. His most recent collection of commentaries is entitled Who Am I Today? He still puts in an occasional shift behind the counter at Annie Bloom’s and blogs about American culture for The Huffington Post.