10/26/2009

Bedtime Stories

Dylan Thomas mumbled, “I can’t remember whether I drank for six days and six nights when I was twelve or was sick for twelve days and twelve nights when I drank.” And then passed out into the guacamole. Again.

I was hanging out again with Dylan, working through the remnants of a six-pack of scotch. I was asking his opinion on reading bedtime stories to children, but was having trouble getting anything more out of him in his brief periods of consciousness than a few hiccups and a belch or two.

It’s my studied opinion that reading to kids is a horrible experience. It sounds great from the outside, of course: you get time with your child and you get to read them the classics and the books that you loved from your childhood. Plus, it’s a great excuse for climbing into bed early and avoiding tedious responsibilities around the house like unstopping the toilet in the downstairs bathroom or putting out the small electrical fire in the laundry room.

But then you encounter the reality of it: kids don’t want to hear what you want to read. You approach the situation with goals of reading Wind in the Willows, or The Hobbit, or passages from Freud, but your kids complain that they’re not enjoying your selection and hand you a Dora picture book. How compelling can it be when the girl’s best friends are a map, a backpack, and a fox that steals her stuff?

So I put it to Dylan as he lay moaning on the table, “Is it better to read anything than not read at all?”

Dylan muttered something unintelligible in Welsh with too many L’s and slumped to the floor. A brilliant man, Dylan, and a heckuva guy to have over when you wanted a game of Parcheesi and a hangover for the following week. But it was always difficult reading the his meaning. It’s the poet’s way: using words carefully to impart imagery and beauty while completely eluding comprehension.

I would rather stick to my principles and keep reading my choices of Hume, Descartes, and essays from Bloch to the kids, but then they pull out their ultimate defensive weapon: they fall asleep. So is it worth trying to educate them against their will, or should I just give up and have them enjoy their bedtime stories instead? Do I send them to bed wiser for the experience, yet crying in horror from Dante’s descriptions of Hell? Or do they go to bed happy and satisfied, knowing that once more Swiper has been defeated by the clutch timing of a knapsack?

Dylan was awake later, licking the grout on the tile floor, hoping for remnants of a fantastic vindaloo we’d had that evening, when he gave me his answer: “Do not go gentle into that Good Night Moon.”

Then he fell asleep with his face in the dog's bowl.
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