“Ok, what have we got here?” he asked outloud picking up the book the ridiculously eager child handed to him. “The Secret River”, huh? Sounds good… ok, let’s see what we’ve got here. Eh-hem,” he cleared his throat and focused his eyes on the first page. He silently thanked god for the large print and extra space between the sentences. “There is a dark forest far away in Florida,” he began reading.
“No- skip that part, that part’s boring,” the little girl said with a role of her eyes.
He eyed her suspiciously for a moment and then gave a reflexive smile. Her mother had told him this would be a challenge and he had laughed at her. Humoring a five year couldn’t be that difficult. “Ok, which part do want me to skip to?” he asked, flipping a few pages in. “Oh, how about we skip to the puppy- he looks cute, huh?” he asked, showing her the illustration of a beagle curled up on a mat.
“No, skip to the part with the tyrannosaurus rex,” she said excitedly, eying him with wide, bright eyes.
He flipped the pages, scanning for the illustration of the dinosaur. Having never read the book he had no expectations of it and it seemed perfectly reasonable for a children’s book to involve such a thing. He kept flipping through, scanning the pictures and seeing nothing more than a little girl exploring a river. There were big fish, brightly colored landscapes and a boat- but no dinosaur.
“Hmm…” he said as he neared the end. “Do you know when he comes in?”
“Right after the dog,” the girl explained as if it were terribly obvious and he should have found it already.
He flipped back the beginning, found the picture of the dog and started scanning the words for some mention of type of large scaled creature. There was lots of information about the little girl, her dog, the river they discovered while out wandering- but no large, scaled prehistoric monster.
“Are you sure he’s in this book?” he asked, looking over the rim at her with a raised eyebrow. He’d gotten the feeling this may have been part of the regular initiation process and he’d simply missed the cue.
“Yeah- there’s the tyrannosaurus rex and he has to fight mothra but then they both decide to squash Manhattan cause it’s more fun,” she said, making animated movements with her hands as if they were trying to eat each other, then turning her fists to pound on the pillow in her lap.
“Uh- huh,” he said, watching her over the rim of the book while he continued to flip the pages absentmindedly. “Oh, and then does Superman come in a save everyone?” he asked, thinking he got the game.
“Superman? That’s ridiculous! There’s no Superman in this story!” she said with an insulted air.
“Oh, there’s not? What about- uh,” he said, looking around the room for a cue. “What about a big, purple hippo?” he asked, settling on one of the several oversized stuffed animals on the bed behind her.
“No- are you reading the right book?” she said, grabbing the book from him and now scanning the pages herself. “Mothra fights the dinosaur and then they stomp on Manhattan and there’s fire and explosions!” she continued in her same overly animated way, mimicking large explosive waves with her arms. “And then they get bored so the ballerina comes and teaches them how to dance and they put on a show and Mothra gets a really pretty costume like- Oh!” she said, throwing down the book and running off her bed to scramble around in her closet.
“Oh, ok, Lily- let’s settle down. This is quiet bed time story time, remember?” he said, trying to coral the excited child.
“No, look,” she said pulling a large, frayed pink tutu on over her head and doing a spinning circle in front of him. “And Mothra flies and dances and then the ballerina gets on the t-rex’s back and rides him like a pony,” she said, making a galloping movement with her hands and feet.
“Ok, Lily- why don’t you finish and then we can read the nice, calm river story, ok?” he said, attempting to push her in the direction of the bed.
“No!” she yelled and stamped her foot. She turned toward him with a pout and put her hands defiantly on her hips. “I can’t finish the story because uncle mark never told me the end!” she yelled, then folder her arms in a huff.
“Oh, I see,” he said rolling his eyes in understanding at the mess he was in. “Remind me to thank your uncle Mark when I see him,” he said with a grin. He made a mental note not to share babysitting duties with his younger son anymore.