Kids Who Read Too Much

February 25, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Posted in Reading with Kids | 7 Comments

My nephew, Li’l Brain, looks more like me every year.  He takes after me, too; he’s bright, he’s good at spelling, he’s bossy and a bit of a know-it-all, and of course he wants to read all the time.  His poor father, who suffered for years as my four-years-younger brother, finds this all too distressing.

I came up to visit for a week to celebrate a couple of birthdays and help my parents and my grandma with some big chores.  Naturally Li’l Brain and I found ourselves sitting together at one point talking books.  (He started it, I swear!  He asked if I had read The Lovely Bones, which of course I had, but considering that he’s 12 I was surprised he had).  I got some paper and started writing a list of a few books I thought he might like – or rather, should read now before he gets too old to enjoy them properly.  My brother, whom I will call Punk, asked what we were doing, and the following conversation ensued.

P:  Actually I’d rather he spent less time reading.

Me:  Why?

P:  Because he’s unaware of his surroundings, like you.

Me:  What are you saying?

P:  He’s not part of the real world.  There are things that he’s just clueless about.

Me:  What does that have to do with me?

P:  Let me give you an example.  (He relates a story in which Li’l Brain says a friend “isn’t Vietnamese, he’s Asian.”  I’m still puzzling out how this is relevant).  I took a pen and wrote “philistine = your dad” on Li’l Brain’s book list, to give him something to look up later in the dictionary.

At this point other family members started weighing in, fortunately changing the subject, and shortly thereafter the Li’l Brain section of the family went home for the night.  Our other brother stayed for a while and we talked a bit.  He reminded me how competitive Punk has always been.  In many ways our childhood is still very much alive.

Aunties regard children in an entirely different way than parents do.  I look at Li’l Brain, who is taller than me now and whose voice is changing, and I see a dear young man who is athletic and popular, funny, focused on his schoolwork, and clearly on the path to college.  When he initiates conversations about books with me, I feel so proud I could burst.  My brother sees an opinionated little rebel who selfishly buries his face in a book and somehow can’t manage to take after his father.  My brother is a construction worker, handy with tools but still recuperating from being crushed by a back hoe a few months ago and breaking his spine in three places.  When I think Li’l Brain probably won’t follow his great-grandfather’s, grandfather’s, father’s and uncle’s footsteps into blue collar work, it comes as a relief.

Every father wants a better life for his children than he had himself.  It’s easy to say that when you’re gazing down at your sweet little baby.  But when the baby grows up into a mouthy teenager, and then chooses a path you find mortifying, it’s hard not to take offense.  When the teenager grows into an adult who lives in a nicer house and brings home a bigger paycheck, it’s hard not to feel maybe a little resentful.  At the same time, it’s hard on a kid to surpass his parents.

Education is a great gift.  It’s hard, though, when you find yourself more interested than your family of origin in cultural pursuits or education for its own sake.  On the one hand, you start to run out of things to talk about with your family and your childhood friends.  You quit having certain things in common.  On the other hand, you most likely don’t fit in with people who grew up in families that were always focused on more intellectual attainments, either.  It’s a lonely path.  At least Li’l Brain and I have each other.

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