I’ve noted a few times on this blog, I think, that while Ben has always had an intense interest in books, he has never interacted with them in a typical way. By typical, I mean the way that small children point to things in books and ask about them or make observations about them. “The monkey fell in the water!” or “What’s that?” or “Who’s that man?”
So I was surprised when Ben did exactly that the other night, but in an extremely unusual context.
It was bedtime and Ben asked if we could read Hush Little Baby, a very sweet board book by Sylvia Long that we’ve had since he was born. The illustrations show a mother rabbit putting her little rabbit to bed, set to a riff on the Mockingbird song. For example, “If that teddy bear won’t hug, momma’s going to catch you a lightning bug.” and so on.
Ben wanted to act out each illustration, having me pose with him to reproduce the scenes in the book. We shushed each other, we looked up at the evening star, and then when the text read, “When that star has dropped from view, momma’s going to read a book with you,” Ben hopped off my lap and grabbed an entirely different book – Five Little Pumpkins by Dan Yaccarino – and brought it to me.
He opened it and looked right into my eyes, smiled brilliantly, pointed to the page and asked,
“What’s that, Mommy?”
“It’s a happy pumpkin.”
He pointed again, even more enthusiastically, “What’s that?”
“It’s a sad pumpkin.”
“It’s a laughing pumpkin,” I said, somewhat mystified. He had been able to read this book on his own for six months and we had just celebrated Halloween and he knew darn well what these things were. I played along anyway.
After a few moments, he put the pumpkin book away and resumed our staging of Hush Little Baby.
It took a few minutes for it to dawn on me. He was pretending to read – to read like other young children read, presumably the way the little rabbit in the picture would have read. By actually interacting with an adult, talking about the content and making eye contact. As opposed to the way Ben actually reads, which is to say that he… actually reads.
He was pretending to be normal.
Every time I think about it, it blows my mind.
Somehow, he knows that other children do not tend to study a book – every line – intently and commit it to memory. He must have observed other children interacting with books and seen how they behave. And he must know – at some level, in some part of his brain – that he is different...or maybe, that everyone else is.
And he can act out what other children do, even when he has never really done these things himself.
Does this open up all sorts of learning opportunities? Can we help him “pretend” to take turns, or pretend to share toys, or pretend to stay calm, or pretend to take an interest in other people?
After all, isn’t that what being an adult really is? Don’t many of us get through a day at the office or a social gathering or a job interview by doing just that: by pretending to be normal?