So I’m volunteering again on the last day of the library Book Sale. Same deal: a dollar a bag, get a second bag free. This time, pickings were really down to the dregs: Nora Roberts paperback romances and movies on VHS.
In walks a Mom – late 20-something with a row of ear piercings and her generation’s version of a Metacilla black t-shirt. With her is a six-year-old child with hair as short and face as round as Tatum O’Neal in Paper Moon. Plus two post earrings. Boy? Girl? You tell me…
Almost immediately, the child is itchy to leave. What starts as alotta “What’s this?” questions, soon turns to “When are we going?” By the voice, I’m thinking a boy. (Later, when I bait him with a Barbie DVD, he balks.) “Soon,” is the mom’s innocuous reply.
Even when she pawns off the best of the worse remaining children’s picture books on her kid, she keeps wandering the aisles. Frustrated, she takes her child by the arm, pushes him up onto an office chair, tells him to “look at your book,” and continues her browsing. I can bear it no longer. I take a pregnant pause and a deep breath and ask the child, who has now been identified as Ripley, if he would like for me to read his book to him.
Turns out the book is entitled Finding the Titanic published in 1993. I tell Ripley about how the ship was considered “unsinkable,” but on its first trip, “Guess what happened? IT SUNK!” The kid looks amazed. I equate the unseen iceberg to ice cubes in his soda glass. He insists he sees a skull in some of the black-and-white photos of the wreckage.
I’m figuring when I finish reading to Ripley, his mother will take the hint and finish her shopping. But no such luck. What in God’s Green Earth could be taking her soooo long? So I get her six-year-old to help me pack up paperbacks. But by about the fourth cardboard box, we both had had it. He went back to bugging his mother and I didn’t try to stop him. Finally, after a few sincere “Thanks,” they give me a dollar and go.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I can ignore my kid with the best of them. But for an hour-and-a-half, all that poor little boy wanted was his mother to pay attention to him. And all that meant was stopping what you’re doing, looking your kid in the eyes and fuckin’ listening to what he has to say. Several times, Ripley had asked his mom when was he gonna learn to read. Given his mother’s pat answer “Soon”, let’s hope he’s NOT homeschooled.