This morning, Westley climbed in bed with me, snuggled in, and started telling me the story of Mrs. Lovewright and Purrless Her Cat. He recited the first few pages, almost word-for-word, pronouncing the words he knows perfectly, filling the sentences in with appropriately cadenced, believable-sounding nonsense words.
Just like I used to sing when I was little, I thought. Belt out the words you know, make up the ones you don't.
And then it hit me: He knows the whole story. He has the book memorized!
When Westley discovered that books were good for something other than teething on, he fell in love. Big time. Now he's almost always up for books, whether they're simple picture books or more complicated stories, like Mrs. Lovewright. He's always asking Rob or me (usually Rob) to "wee books" with him. Dinner conversation frequently revolves around the storybook or two that occupy the table along with plates and forks. We read pages between bites.
A remarkable portion of Westley's spoken vocabulary comes from the books we read to him. Often he'll say something ("caterwauled," "alphabet", "holy Toledo!") and I'll have to stop for a moment and wonder where he heard that. And then I'll realize--of course!--it's from a book.
Fortunately, he hasn't picked up anything objectionable or too annoying. But I know that time is coming. Especially since he's started committing whole books to memory, and there are some words (even in his current crop of storybooks) that I'd rather he not say on a regular basis. Westley's Mrs. Lovewright recitation this morning was a potent reminder that he really is listening to everything.
I feel simultaneously amazed by and protective of Westley's little mind, expanding to contain all of these words and stories and ideas. I want to ensure that the stories he hears are good ones, filled with worthwhile morals and cool words. After all, I have things memorized that I wish I could get rid of: disturbing images from movies, mean remarks, commercial jingles. Most of that mental debris comprises things I encountered as a child, and it would be so satisfying to forget it once and for all, and make space for something better. A funny story about a lonely woman and her cat, for instance, where the message is, "Accept people for who they are."
I want to go through the books and weed out anything that's not really excellent. And I also want to dust off my mental library, peek through its contents, and recycle the things I don't agree with any more. After all, Westley is making space inside himself to hold all of the stories I tell him--whether or not they come from books.