Monday, October 3, 2011

Five minutes, then leave - Cinque minuti, poi esci

Only Five minutes. Promised? - Solo cinque minuti. Promesso?
Every evening, at around 7-7:30 pm, it is the same story. I am trying to cook the sauce for dinner while making a sincere but pointless effort to avoid using all available spoons in the kitchen. John is feeding Tronk. We hope to get him to finish his dinner before ours is ready so that we can put him to bed. Then we can finally eat a warm dinner together. A nice plan. Unfortunately, things rarely go according to plan.

It happens that I am still cooking and I am so looking forward to the moment when Tronk finally makes his way through his third course. Frutta! Yeah! (Fruit! Yeah!) While Tronk is chewing the last few bites of his juicy melon - great, I have spilled tomato sauce onto the floor! - John has noticed my awkward movements in the kitchen and the yawing in between. So he says with his slightly authoritative and peremptory tone: "Five minutes of storytime, then you switch off the light and leave. Ok?" "I promise", I dare to answer.

Every day I make this promise and this is what happens. Five minutes transform into ten, ten into twenty, twenty into thirty, thirty into fourty-five. "An hour?" I ask John towards the end of our book reading session, with a guilty look on my face. "Yes, you have been in that room for an hour!" I hear him say from the kitchen with a fairly irritated tone of voice.

Yet at the beginning it is so difficult for me to pick up a book and get into the storytelling mode. I still feel the weight of a day spent dealing with a two year old. On an average day,  I have probably heard from Tronk thirty questions or comments that didn't make sense. I have had to put back things scattered all around the floor that were originally in another room of the house two or three times. I have probably failed to get him to do number one (and two). I have probably had to let him watch Pimpa on video so that I could get started preparing lunch. And yes, I have probably taken him to the playground to get him to push the toys there instead of the chairs in our house. It is also likely that I have received an annoying email from someone I hardly know and I have had to play girotondo with Tronk while trying to reply to it. "Sorry, I have to go. My child is crying!".

At the end of an average day, it is hard, sometimes impossible, for me to get into the role of 
an inspired storyteller. Often all I wanna do instead is collapse in bed, with a glass of Prosecco (Italian light champagne) or vodka and lemonade (wonderful English version) but no.

It happens instead that I pick up a book and start reading. Tronk looks
 at me with one arm around Bambi and with eyes wide open. He carefully listens to what I am reading. Then, he suddenly shouts out "Pesce Toto', yeah!" (Fish Toto', yeah!)". As often, the characters and things he remembers have little or nothing to do with the stories I am reading but they have a funny name (or sound). "Pic!", the stinging sound from a famous Italian ad: Pic! indolor. The no pain syringe, makes him giggle insanely.  Then, he asks me to sit next to me on the bed. He wants me to read him a second book, Oscar the bear, then a third one, Il bruco mai sazio. See what I mean? The five minutes I was so sure would not stretch, suddenly become a special moment between me and him, a moment not heavy on me, not even when I am sick and sound like a two pack a day old maid. Tronk loves it so do I. All I have to do to please him is continue in the same style and remind myself that reading books to him is one of the greatest gifts I could possibly offer.  Amazing how this makes it all happen!

Plus, the more I read to Tronk, the more he learns Italian (and this by itself is not a small thing). But trust me, there are other reasons why I still have not learned to look at the watch when I read stories to him at bedtime. I have read it is
 an effective way for parents to get in touch with the daily emotions of their child.  And I personally feel it is true. It helps build the bond that many parents feel don't have these days with their children.

Then there are the scientists who say that telling and inventing stories with children is not only educational but also therapeutic. This might explain why the last time I searched for children's books in Italy I ended up with stories and rhymes on animal violence, death of beloved ones and even rape and incestuous sex!... Yes, I really should write a posting on this.

So, judge me old-fashioned, obsessive-compulsive or crazy, but to me the thought of shortening, recording or even just neglecting your children's storytelling moment at bedtime feels a bit like damping the mother's role, like in a song I used to listen to as a child:

C'era una volta un mondo un po' migliore
piu' cose vere, meno televisione
c'erano le fiabe, quelle che tu
da qualche tempo non mi racconti piu'...

Once upon a time there was a better world
more true things, less TV
there were the fairy tales, the ones that you,
in the last period or so, you don't tell me anymore...

I totally envy John. When he is taking care of Tronk, at 7 pm on the dot, he picks one book (the thinnest one he finds), he reads it without adding a single word that is not written in the book, he says goodnight, he switches off the light and he leaves the room, without the slightest feeling of guilt.

Storia Pimpa, mamma?
Me? Not quite the same. When Tronk says "Altra Pimpa libro?" (Another book of Pimpa?) after I've already read the first book (in great detail), the second one (a bit faster) and the third one (with all the details Tronk needs to know), I become that flaky helpless creature who first promised she would not leave the kitchen for more than five minutes and who then ends up reaching out for the second Pimpa book barely visible on the top shelves.

No wonder...

John: "Dinner is getting cold! I will not heat it again."

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