Sunday, 14 December 2008

Literacy and power

We should be drunk. We should be dancing, singing, laughing, slapping our thighs.

But we're not.

When Shark started reading a little while ago - like proper reading, speed reading, voraciously gobbling up those words, moving on, leaping overnight, from I am a Fish to Introduction to Oceanography - that was when me and Dig stared in disbelief, mopped our brows and wondered what had happened to our little girl in her mermaid outfit with the green sequins all squeezed up over her tummy. If there was a moment to raise the glasses, dance a jig, show our knees at this transition, it was then.

Because we cannot do it now. Not at this moment. Now we have this changeling. This one time goddess Shark, today a god awful little madam, issuing smart lippy remarks and abuse that truly should score her beautiful lips. I swear she is not mine. Dig probably gave birth to her and slipped her in the cot to confuse me. Really, she has become utterly insufferable, with barely a good word to say to any of us, and that includes me, you and the milkman. Trust me. Just stay away from Shark until this phase is over. This I am age 8 but appear age 13 phase. And what do I blame? I cannot believe I am saying this. Shoot me now. I BLAME THE READING.

Imagine this. Shark is slumped in a book. I was pretty pleased about that at 8 this morning. By 10.30 I still cannot lever her out of bed to feed her breakfast. Each time a sister strays near her, within a five metre range, then Shark snaps her face off and throws the bloodied mangled remains at the floor spitting in disgust Get out of my sight! Poopy butt! I AM READING!

If I dare to interrupt Shark's world, what do I do? I need to video this. I have to KNOCK at the DOOR. Not like rat-a-tat-tat because that is way too aggressive to disturb someone who is reading Life in the Coral Reef, but tentatively, like the poor scullery maid pleading for a half second audience to ask for another lump of coal. And I might tentatively whisper something like, Shark, I want to talk to you. And do you know what Shark does? She shouts No! You will have to wait until I reach the end of the page! Then I stand meekly, waiting for Shark to finish reading about ocean currents in Asia.

And this is where reading has projected Shark to this other place; a huge dislocated time and space away from her triplet sisters, and especially Squirrel, who is still hung up with simple large format words. Shark sneers at Squirrel's activities with disdain, curls her lips and issues an articulate string of invective involving bottoms. Shark has reconsidered her status in the world, and she no longer wants to build trees from plastic and bits of wire. Shark does not want to play princesses. Shark wants to read the instructions from the dvd machine and learn how to determine water pressure in the Red Sea. And this dislocation means that Shark no longer sees her sisters and the rest of us as one and the same as her, her soul mates, her playmates, but as the people who interrupt the reading time and her new identity. The enemy.

And words in books? These are better to control us than all the weapons of mass destruction we could muster. Shark now realises they are not just words on a page, with Janet and John up trees and helping mother. Nope. Words are power. Literacy is power. The very act of reading, of holding a book, is power. With the power that words confer, she can command total attention and obedience from us all, adjust our behaviour, control our reactions and lay down the laws of breakfast and bedtime.

Today she makes me wait a good fifteen minutes before I can creep in and ask her whether I should make her toast or whether I should leave out the breakfast cereal.

World, watch out.


The Finely Tuned Woman said...

Oh no, she's discovered the power of literature. Nobody will be good enough for her now. You're all dwarfs in her eyes compared to her gigantic literary self. Scorn will be heaped on all of you for not being equally literate. You have much to prove.

Mr Farty said...

Is it too late to nuke Midwich?

sharon said...

If Shark chooses to miss breakfast, that is her choice, but nothing else offered before lunchtime please. Worked with my little bookworm, who will still stay in bed reading for hours at a time, we just stopped altering our routine to accommodate him. Sorry that the new skill is causing such angst for Squirrel though. Can't be doing much for her self confidence or esteem either. A stern word or several to Shark about being silent if civility is beyond her ability at any given time might help.