What's a mother to do when her twelve-year-old computer addict asks her to drop by the Barnes and Noble on the other side on Route 9 and by a book?
This mother swerved into the right lane u-turn exit, narrowly avoiding a grandma in a golden Toyota Corolla (note to self: next time CHECK YOUR MIRROR, even if giddy with excitement). Then she backtracked a quarter mile to the B&N in which Benjy's reading habit would shortly be born.
So, we went into the store and Ben IMMEDIATELY wandered into the aisle with the books entitled "Major Battles of WWII," and "WWII Tanks," and "The Encyclopedia of Guns and Machine Guns."
That last one scared the bejesus out of me.
He picked it up. Gazed lovingly at the firearms on the cover. Slowly opened it and scanned the first few pages. Savored the damned thing like a steaming cup of Ovaltine in mid-winter.
He glanced at my frowning face.
"No." I would be damned if I was going to stoke this obsession.
"Why not? It's an encyclopedia. It's a HISTORY OF MODERN GUNS."
"No, no, no. Besides, don't you have a library book that looks just like that somewhere in your room, under a pile of laundry or something?"
"That's different. It's not an encyclopedia."
"Oh," I said. "And have you even read it?"
"Of COURSE I have. Several times."
"Well, I am NOT going to spend my money on a book like this. How about a nice novel? A mystery or fantasy or something." (I have given up on him reading "All Creatures Great and Small," much to my chagrin.)
Benjy scowled. "How about this history of WWII, then?"
This made me uncomfortable. He could be reading about bovine bowel surgery in rural England but instead he wanted to look at pictures from Auschwitz? Good God!
"Ben," I said, "you are freaking me out. Go look at the novels."
Of course, there were no novels that quite met his specifications. So he asked for the computer books.
We rode the escalator to the second floor and perused the mind-numbingly boring computer science line-up, but he wasn't enticed by "Excel for Dummies." Thank God!
After a few minutes browsing the field guides to North American birds, and a few rebuffed suggestions on my part of interesting-looking options, he found his mother-lode.
A whole rack of survivalist literature, Such as, "Surviving Hell on Earth," and A Survivalist's Guide to Everything." He had struck gold.
Shit, I thought, remembering that only a year or two ago he was OBSESSED with and TERRIFIED by the end of the world, which was coming in 2012.
"I want this, Mom," he said, handing me the Survivalist's Guide.
I hemmed and hawed. "Uh," I said helplessly, as he gazed imploringly in my eyes. He did watch Bear Grylls, the survivalist, on TV. He'd seen Bear eat and drink unmentionable things, build shelter and weapons from who knows what. How different was this?
And then I had a rogue thought: Maybe it's okay that Benjy doesn't like to read novels. That his interests are WAY different than Lars's and Saskia's and mine. Maybe that even makes him an interesting and independent kind of guy!
Now, I'm not saying I approve of all these subjects of Ben's obsessive interest. But Ben is not me. And reading is reading. And at some point I have to let him follow his own path.
"Okay, Ben," I said. "Let's go." But this is an expensive book. You'll have to do quite a few loads of laundry to earn it."
"I will," he agreed, clutching the treasure to his chest.
I apologized to him on the way home, for not understanding. It's reading, after all, I told him. But someday I want you to try "All Creatures Great and Small -- will you?"
"Sure," he said, but he hadn't really heard me. He was deep into Surviving.
So I put on NPR and listened to stories about financial and ecological and political disaster. Maybe 2012 WILL see the end of the world as we know it. If it does, Benjy will be ready.