Reading My Favorite Childhood Books to My Kid Is a Big Fat Disappointment
by Linda Sharps
I recently bought my 7-year-old one of my very favorite books from my own childhood: The Indian in the Cupboard. The first night I started reading it to him before bed, we didn't make it one paragraph before he interrupted me: "What's a 'biscuit tinfull'?" Oh right, the story's British. I explained, and we briefly moved on -- but we kept encountering phrases that were strange to him. "What's a dustbin? What kind of name is Omri? What's a horse chestnut? What's buckskin? What's firewater? What are pick-up sticks?"
It was obvious my soft-focus fantasy of my child falling deeply in love with the exact same story that once transported me to a wondrous imaginary world wasn't going to pan out quite like I'd hoped.
This sort of childhood-book-related letdown has happened to me before. I think I tend to built it up too much in my mind, how my son will look up all starry-eyed as we read the story and exclaim how it's the best thing he's ever heard ever. But in my experience, it's difficult to recreate the favorite-book magic for a number of reasons, such as:
• The outdated terms. Such as, um, for example, Indian. But what I'm mostly talking about here are things that make you feel OLD AS HELL. Like when I read The Mouse and the Motorcycle to him and he had no idea what a telephone operator was. Or a telephone cord. Or a bellboy. Or an aspirin tablet. Not to mention any foreign colloquialisms, which I now try to spot ahead of time and swap out more familiar words, which is kind of a pain in the ARSE.
• The lack of focus. Most of the time when I'm reading out loud from a particularly long-ass chapter, feeling like my mouth is getting all dried out and secretly longing for bedtime to be over so I can go watch the next episode of Orange is the New Black, I'll look over at him and he's dorking around under the covers with a Lego guy while making quiet pshew pshew pshew noises. Seriously, dude? My spit is turning into glue over here, so fricking listen up and enjoy this magical mind-garden of wonder and delight or I will END YOU. I mean, are you paying attention, sweetie?
• The inevitable point where memory meets reality. You know that James Agee quote, "How far we all come. How far we all come away from ourselves. So far, so much between, you can never go home again"? It's like that with childhood books, maybe. Especially if you're reading them out loud to a squirmy, distracted kid who probably wishes you'd put down The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses and pick up Ninjago: The Stupid Golden Weapons That Each Cost Like Twenty Bucks and Get Lost Instantly.
Have you ever been disappointed by the experience of sharing a book you loved as a kid with your own child?