Back in the early days of nursing Sophia, when she wasn’t choking on my milk, she would clamp down so firmly with her gums of steel that my tender nipples soon became red and sore. Feeding her was excruciating, and since I was doing it every 2-3 hours, I spent most of my days in pain. I met with a lactation consultant who discovered that I had an oversupply of milk, which I had made worse by pumping at night. I could fill a 10-ounce bottle with one breast. In fact, I could have fed a whole army of babies. Ironic, because, let’s just say I don’t know where I was storing it all. To look at me, you’d think I was a 2-ouncer.
Poor Sophie was overwhelmed by my milk, which shot down her throat like water from a fire hose. She bit me to stem the flow. It was self-defense.
I went to a breastfeeding group in need of a little sympathy and advice. But when it came my time to talk and I told the other moms what I was going through, I was met with incredulity.
“You mean you have too much milk? Wish that was my problem.”
“I might have to stop because I can’t make enough.”
“How is that a problem, again?”
Most women, it seemed, had an under-supply. I might be in pain, but at least I could feed my baby and in less than five minutes.
I shut up. And I didn’t go back, lest they think I attended these things to gloat about my highly productive mammary glands.
So, I don’t expect anyone to have sympathy for me, when I reveal my current parenting issue.
I’m just going to lay it all out there. Sophie is an early reader. She was decoding three letter words before the age of three, and, at five, she can read passages from Kevin’s history books with relative ease (though not with the comprehension that she can read Ivy and Bean). I am not saying this to brag, but to provide context.
I don’t take full credit either. Now, I read to her from the day that she was born, and I talked about the different sounds the letters made, and I gave her “educational toys,” like the Leap Frog electronic doohickey on our fridge that sings “A says /a/, a says /a/, every letter makes a sound. A says /a/,” in the most maddening way. But reading is a unique and mystifying skill. You can give a child all the tools to be able to read, but the “glide,” the smooth blending of letter sounds to form a word, is automatic and developmental. And as development is uneven and chaotic in young children, different children develop this skill at different times.
Ever since Sophie was able to make the glide, she has been a voracious, irrepressible reader. I say irrepressible, because, as of yet, I have not found a way to restrain it.
Why restrain her?
Sophie becomes emotionally threadbare when she doesn’t get enough sleep. She is subject to fits, hysteria and odd emotional outbursts that have her cackling one minute and hurdling her lunchbox at me while I’m driving the next. She has always struggled to rein in intense emotion, but any grip that she has on her feelings is loosened by exhaustion.
Tonight, at dinner, the mere act of calling her to the table has her on the floor.
“I don’t want dinner. I’m not hungry. I just want to go to bed!”
Kevin says bluntly, “Sit in your seat. It’s time for dinner.”
She drags her body up from the floor, slumps into her seat and glances at her plate. She is galled. “What is this? Gak! It’s disgusting! I will not eat it. Not ever!”
“It’s the delicious dinner Mommy cooked for us tonight. You’re eating it.”
“If you make me eat it, I’ll never sit in this room again!”
“Take a bite, Sophie.” It’s said as a warning.
She takes a different tact. “My head hurts.”
“My heat hurts, too.” I say. “Must be all the noise in here.”
“STOP COPYING ME!”
“Sophie, take a bite.” Kevin says again.
And so it goes. Dinner takes an hour. I hustle her up to her room. She changes, we brush teeth, read half a book, and review the stars she’s earned for the day (one).
“Mommy, can I leave my book in the hallway?” she angles.
“No. Give the book to me.” I hold out my hand.
“No. I won’t read it. I promise. I just want to put it in the spare room.” The spare room is where we have placed all of her books, having removed them from her room two nights ago.
“Okay,” I relent. “But you are NOT to go in here and get this book. You are to go to sleep.”
“I trust you,” I say with great emphasis on the word trust.
“Thank you, mommy,” she replies and hugs my leg.
Kevin and I retire to the attic, where we veg out in front of the television. An hour later, we hear the pitter patter of feet on the stairs and the light goes on.
“Sophie? What are you doing out of bed?” Kevin says in a stentorian voice.
“It’s too hot in my room.”
“Then turn on the air conditioner. Good night, Sophie.” We have to be firm.
“Have you been to sleep?” I interrupt, suspicious. “Have you been sleeping or reading?”
“Sophia! Did you go in the spare room?”
“No. I went in your room and got the fairy book we were reading this morning.”
A loophole. She finds every one.
“I told you to go straight to bed.”
“No buts. Go downstairs and go to bed. Daddy and I will discuss your punishment.” I feel like I’m channeling my own parents.
My eyes widen as I give Kevin my most exasperated look. This is the cycle we have fallen victim to: She sneaks books at night and stays up all hours, reading. The next day it is impossible to get her out of bed, which makes both of us cranky. She’s exhausted by the afternoon and becomes a bruin. We battle our way through dinner and bedtime, and then the whole damn thing happens all over again.
And it’s not just bedtime either. It’s hard to get her anywhere because she’s too busy reading. I have to rip the book out of her hands to get to get dressed, get in the car, get out of the car. She begs to bring books into the grocery store, to school, to the shower.
Books have become the bane of my existence.
It felt cruel to remove her books the other night—the piles that have formed in every corner of her room, the shelves packed tightly, the stash underneath her pillow, a couple forgotten ones under the bed. But she was chipper as I carried them across the hall and stacked them on the floor. Her mind was probably already working on a plan to buck the system.
What do you do with a child who reads too much? Is there a support group out there? A book written? An easy 12-step process to releasing your child from the grips of literature?
Must we lock her books in the basement? Barricade her door? Patrol the hallways?
You can have too much of a good thing.