Our son is one of a handful of five-year-olds in Maine with writers for parents. He has spent much of his childhood listening to Mommy and Daddy discuss their respective manuscripts, offer suggestions for improvements to each other’s work, and wonder aloud whether anyone other than two or three trusted readers will ever see the novels we spend months and even years crafting. More than most children, he is aware of the joys and frustrations that are a part of creating fiction—the thrill one feels when moribund passages come to life, and the hours of sleep lost when one, two, three months’s writing and rewriting has to be discarded, and self-doubt is all that’s left.
Actually, he doesn’t see the insomnia. But he does see the stacks of printouts and the backed-up files and the ideas for future stories scribbled on legal pads. We write when he’s at school or asleep, but occasionally we need to edit when he’s around. That means he’s been a witness to Daddy’s mad dashes toward his laptop to type up a good idea before the idea disappears forever, and Mommy revising her ninth draft during his bath time.
Fortunately, none of this appears to have put him off books. On the contrary: His favorite activities, along with building Lego sphinxes with yellow propellers for a nose, or sharing his trains and smiling lime-green stegosaurus with visiting friends, are to read and be read to. By last count, he owns more than 300 books, including a lovely trilogy of Japanese folktales, collected under the title Once Upon a Time in Japan, that a friend from Chiba sent him for his upcoming birthday. We spend at least an hour reading to him each day. He is as transfixed by the tenth reading of his favorite stories as he is by the first. These days, more often than not, he reads to us, including from books he hadn’t previously encountered. This is the happy result of a child’s being read to since he was twelve hours old.
He may not have inherited the disease that Mommy and I have—the disease of being unable to get through a day without writing, even if only a blog post—but our influence has had an effect. A few months ago, he wrote an imaginary novel entitled The Blackberry, which he said is about a blackberry whose best friends are blueberries. The sequel, written with a speed that Balzac and Iris Murdoch would have envied, was The Blueberry, in which the blueberries of the first volume move to a new town and a new set of friends and adventures. The Berry Trilogy came to a satisfying conclusion with last month’s release of The Strawberry. There’s been talk of expanding the work into a tetralogy, but our son is still mulling over the narrative potential of the remaining berries.
We’ll see for how long our son’s love of literature lasts. His development has been fun to watch, and it has been especially gratifying to his two bookish parents. We hope he never loses the curiosity he has shown so far. What would be more gratifying still, however, would be for Mommy and me to get our novels published. To instill in a child a passion for books is important. But how great it would be to show our son that it’s possible to pursue a seemingly unattainable dream and to have it realized. To prove that, like that propeller-nosed sphinx, anything is possible. You just have to define your goal, perfect your idea, and never stop dreaming.
Yes. That would be a lovely example to set for him.
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