As hard as we parents struggle to help our children learn to read, their literacy does not come without cost. Reading, like the Biblical apple, brings knowledge—some of it forbidden. Once your kid can spell, you can’t turn to your partner and say, “I bought the tickets to go meet M-I-C-K-E-Y” without your child shouting, “We’re going to Disney World?!” (That’s a bad example… “Mickey Mouse” is the first thing everybody learns to spell.)
When my daughter, Viva, learned to crawl, electrical outlets turned into perils. When she learned to walk, every vase was transformed into a weapon. Now that she can read, the written word is my foe, because I’ve lost all hope of filtering information entering her brain. A drive down I-294 has become an out-loud parsing of billboards for the Adult Ex(xx)po in Rosemont, and a stroll down an avenue means the shouting of headlines about the President’s ignominious trysts.
Hooligan members of her school cohort aren’t the only place Viva can now pick up verbal obscenities and fun facts about the birds and the bees… our home library has enough purple prose, inconvenient truth and straight-up nightmare fuel to keep us answering questions for days. (Why, oh why, did I think it was OK to keep Brett Easton Ellis in the living room?)
The library benefits from great public relations—all those posters about reading featuring Muppets—but it’s also a repository of smut and violence. Sure, it starts with The Monster at the End of This Book but it’s a slippery slope to Tropic of Cancer. I eschewed downloading Bambi so I wouldn’t have to explain what happened to his Mom… but soon the distressing fate of James and Lily Potter will be a part of our bedtime conversation, as will the racial realities of Huckleberry Finn and the cruel waves beneath the Bridge to Terabithia.
Just as the mind of the eponymous lead of Cervante’s Don Quixote was corrupted by post-chivalric romantic literature, so shall my daughter be forever changed by reading and its flights of fancy.
I suppose it’ll be a net positive—one can’t really go about illiterate forever, but a few more years of all wisdom stemming from the font of Dad’s brain would have been lovely.
Viva Literacy. Viva Viva. Viva Daddy.
This article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Chicago Parent. Read the rest of the issue.