Friday, October 1, 2010

Soapbox about Audio Books

I'm not a super black and white person. I see lots of shades of gray and I really like it that way. It works for me and it always has. Having kids has made me see more black and whites. I remember even noticing it when I was pregnant. I started feeling certain about things, as they related to me and our little growing familia. When my kids were born I took a position on several things. I would breast-feed as long as I could, when my kids became able-bodied they would do regular and often rigorous chores, and (this one felt like a biggie) getting on the floor a lot with them when they were little was of supreme importance. In my mind there were *getting on the floor* people and *not getting on the floor people*. I wanted my kids to know they were worth getting on the floor for, plus is sounded like fun.

I was also staunchly opposed to videos players in cars, car rides are for fighting with brothers, talking, occasionally singing together but mostly kids should be bored in car rides, short ones and long ones, staring at trees. I felt religious about this one. To add fuel to my already burning flame, more recently, I took the Oprah "no phone zone" pledge so why should they be haplessly entertained when I am giving up a vice?
My mother-in-law has a video player in her red van, she extols the virtues of silent kiddos in the back for hours on end. In her defense, she has lots of grandkids and does lots of kid-watching. When I am a Grandma, I will fully embrace technology too, I will let my grandchildren teleport themselves to Disneyland's Tom Sawyer Island on a whim, or even dabble in time travel, if we are doing an overnight.

But, right here, right now, I thought, these are my kids, and I get to do it my way and I said no TV in our cars.

When I am in the red van, riding shotgun with Grandma, I turn around to see their faces. They are the same TV faces I see at home- eyes locked, mouth slightly gaped and occasionally wincing or chewing on a shirt collar. It sometimes looks painful.

Enter the book on audio. There was a whole wall of them at the library, and we had a six hour drive to Northern California to complete. It's a friendly stranger reading them a story, right? Gotta love it. What I didn't fully appreciate is this stranger sounds like a cast of 40, able to change in and out of voices like that crazy couple of TV with more layers of clothes than a homeless man in Buffalo. 

Then I realized, when listening to a book on audio, they have this awesome serene look on their faces, even during some pretty scary stuff. And they are looking out the window of the car, looking at those trees I was so intent they see. But truthfully, I'm not sure exactly what they are looking at. I have to keep my wits about me and drive, but there is still some sort of invisible screen out there, or inside of their little minds.

To me their eyes seem to be doing a little dance, their mouth quivering slightly, sometimes re-mouthing a funny line just blurted out by the gutsy hero. My favorite boy to watch is my middle one (be careful, driving and watching your children for entertainment can be hazardous). He acts out movements described by the author, at least one little gesture a page. It's that predictable.

Yesterday was my favorite one of all times. It was a line from Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli,

"Grayson's smile was so big you had to break it into pieces to fit it through the door."

My seven year old's fingers patted the corners of his lips and he practiced a few quick smiles, like he was testing the elasticity of a new rubber-band. Then he tugged side-ways on his cheeks. Could his smile really block a doorway? How would you then break that smile down, to get on through that door? He smiled again and shook his head.

Aah, the glorious wonder of the audio book. Libraries have amazing selections and two weeks is the perfect window for a short novel from start to finish just zipping around town. And beware of the extra big smiles that come along for the ride!