Everything is problematic. It starts with quiet murmurings, disclaimer and later a thinkpiece. You are not considered well read if the only book that comes up during a conversation is The Great Gatsby. Or worse, The Alchemist. Every waking morning you will come across an article that urges you on to have some scrap of time you could dedicate to reading and reading widely. That offers free tips on how the gurus managed to read 150 books in a month. You’d not be at fault to attempt to reclaim your reading culture. You’d be at fault to post an image of your current read on social media. That’s what society is known for; cataloging its various ploys to get under your skin. People want to live in ignorant bliss and you represent a needle to that balloon. The game is the game.
So you love books. And the knowledge expanded horizons and visions that come with reading them. You want your child to experience the same. To learn new words however young they might be. But you see, People have been saying bad things about pro early exposure parents.
Sometime last year I went to a bookshop in Malindi to buy new books for Mandla. Where do people get baby stuff in Malindi? Nakumatt at least tried to cater to every demographic but we all know the Nakumatt story, so where? I am in constant piss mode when I try to get something for him. It drains me to start sending my people in Nairobi to buy me stuff. So even getting to that bookshop took several interventions.
Me: Hey I am looking for baby story books
Mansplainer 1: Which age?
Me: This age (pointing at Mandla)
Mansplainer 1: Toddlers read books?
Me: Of course he can’t read, I will do the reading so which ones do you have?
Mansplainer 2: Stop mistreating babies, his job should only be breastfeeding and sleeping
Mansplainer 1: (laughing) See the poor child actually looks sleepy
Me: (pretty exasperated) So am I getting the books or not?
Owner: We do have but for preschoolers
The owner then launches into a complicated story about how new age parents are trading toddlers to pre-school for some peace & quiet. I just came for books y’all. Funny, you would expect these guys to be on the front line selling me several books but hey what do I know? I did get some of those ‘preschooler’ books because I get what I want. Typing this has made me realise how much I rested on my laurels and fell into a messy reading rut. I would not be shocked if his first sentence is a reference from a Chuchu TV rhyme. Damn, I need to get my act together.
It’s not just reading to your child. Apparently, anything you do to your own offspring has to first bypass a council of judges prowling the streets waiting to share their unsolicited opinions. It’s hard to duck the flurry of judgy souls you meet on the daily. Special mention to the ones who follow the social convention of compliment first, criticize next. If anything my entire postpartum life has been filled with comments about how to raise my own child. It takes a village, I’m told. Thanks but no thanks. I wish I didn’t give them my time of day seeing as I am the one battling anxiety triggers and they are not. They are doing alright I presume, waiting to launch their insecurities into their next target. Nothing constructive in their critique.
Reading to him and pointing at pictures in books, labeling objects and talking about them, as well as expanding on his interests, is a great way to interact at this age as it will help him learn new words, colors, letters and ultimately have a larger vocabulary and understanding. Mandla always lights up whenever you read out loud, he loves the tone, faces and full attention. With his new found independence the pages can only be turned by him. It’s a wonderful bonding session.
Still looking for a bookshop that will take care of our needs by the way. If you know any around Malindi or Mombasa kindly recommend. Choose your own path and adventure, Create your own story amidst the noise. We are all learning on the job. Reading shall remain despite the pillory.