“Dad, I’m drinking ink.”
It’s 6 AM, and when your five-year-old says he’s drinking ink at 6 AM, you forget for the moment about overactive imaginations and the fact that five-year-olds will say just about anything for the pure joy of trying it out. I whirl and look, and he’s grinning at me with a made-you-look smile, his tiny hands wrapped around his Pokemon tumbler and a smear of pink foam glazing his lip.
The sleepy haze recedes a bit. Of course he’s not drinking ink; he’s drinking my smoothie. But where’d he get that idea? Ink? It’s …
I haven’t said anything to him yet, and this kid requires a response to everything he says, no matter how off-handed or to-himself it seems to be, so he starts repeating himself.
“DAD. I’m drinking ink.”
“Yeah. Pink ink.”
Pink ink. Pink ink? That sounds Seussian. More fog recedes. It is Seussian. He goes in cycles — about two weeks at a time, wherein he loves a certain book like air itself while totally forgetting whatever book he was over the moon about just a few days prior. Currently, the Book he Loves is One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. The nonsensical novelletta about a menagerie of monsters.
I hate this book.
I grow to hate all the books he loves; as an adult, you can only read the same series of simple sentences so many times before you begin to memorize it, and once you’re muttering the phrases to yourself as you walk the halls at your job, well, you start to suffer from social problems more than you already do.
This one has a little star. This one has a little car. Say, what a lot of fish there are!
(And then the murders began.)
I hate this book more than most, though, because it’s not a narrative, not a story. Every page just presents a new, weird little critter, spurts off a few rhymes, and then sends you on your merry way to the next critter. No throughline, just “look at this weird little thing. Isn’t it weird? Hey, here’s another one!”
But at the same time, I hear a tiny voice from the depths of distant memory telling me that I once loved this book — our copy of it was quite well-worn — when I was my son’s age, for much the same reason as I hate it now. The sing-songy little rhymes. The cute little creatures. I dug it.
Where was I? Oh, yeah. The morning haze recedes enough for me to realize — he’s quoting the book. Which is awesome. I mean, sure, thinking about the Yink kinda makes me want to put an elbow through a wall (really? It drinks pink ink, and that’s it? There’s nothing else worth mentioning about it? How about those bizarro weird tufts of fur all up its neck? Can you explain for me the evolutionary processes that spawned those, perhaps? WHO CARES WHAT IT EATS?). But the kid is quoting literature. Identifying with a character from a book. I approve of this development in general, if not in the particulars of the moment.
But I’m a dad. And the dad circuits are waking up. I can’t just say, “oh, that’s nice.” I have to tease. I have to troll.
So I say, “oh, that’s right. You’re drinking ink like the Gox.”
He laughs at me. “No, dad. The Gox doesn’t drink pink ink. That’s not the one.”
I nod and smile. “That’s right. I remember. It’s not the Gox. It’s the Zeds. They drink pink ink with one hair upon their heads.”
His smile disappears, replaced with a scowl. “Dad, no. You’re not getting it right. It’s not the Zeds.”
I smack my forehead. “I forgot. It’s the wump. That one –”
“Dad! Stop! You’re not paying attention.” He’s mad now. He hops down from the bench and goes running upstairs, only to reappear a moment later with the book clutched in his tiny paws. He plops it on the table, starts flipping pages, finds what he’s after. Turns to me, with every ounce of I-told-you-so that a five-year-old can muster dripping from his voice.
“See, dad? It’s the Yink.”
And I pause. Blink. Things start to rattle around in my brain. This little midget just cited his source on me.
As a teacher who has been trying for seven years to convince students of the importance of doing exactly this thing — to point to your source material and use it to prove the point you’re making, so you’re not just pissing opinions into the wind — I’m gobsmacked. My five-year-old just did this thing automatically, for a thing that had literally zero stakes.
He can craft an argument. Make a literary allusion. Cite his source.
If he could just write his own name, he’d be ready to graduate high school.