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The Wallpaper of my Home: Part 2

My son's father is many brilliant things, but a reader he is not. I saw him reading a book exactly once. It was Hyperbole and a Half, a hilarious sad book about depression and other life events as narrated by a character resembling a beetle. I had left it on my nightstand. When I came into the bedroom one day, I found him swaddled in covers, working his way through the pages. I took a picture to commemorate the occasion. Stumbling across that picture later in my camera roll, we laughed.

We laughed because for him, reading is like many of his hobbies - salsa music, dirt bike racing - are for me. They're interesting, they're fun, they're not a big part of my life. His decision to pick up that book was like the time I hopped on his motorcycle, grabbed the handlebars and said, "Take a picture! Make it look like I'm moving!" It was a momentary experiment in a different way of life, but it was a set-up. It wasn't real.

So I had some reason to worry when I presented Micah with his first book right around a year ago today, and he picked it up with trembling fingers - this was a new skill - and threw it on the floor. My mom and I laughed: a mistake. I handed it back to him, and he did it again. On and on this went, for weeks and then months. When I tried holding a book firmly in front of his face, not allowing him to grab it, he stubbornly turned his head to one side and then the other, staring out at the world that awaited him once Mom finally gave up her game.

When it was up to him, he'd spend his time dragging pots and pans across the kitchen floor, ripping books off the bookshelf and sitting on them until the spines broke, or racing around the living room on his giraffe on wheels until dizziness knocked him sideways.

But by force of will I've kept books close to him, and now, fourteen months in, I've found exactly three books he'll tolerate: Eight Silly Monkeys, with 3D plastic monkey heads looming out of the pages; Where is Baby's Belly Button? with lift-able flaps on every page; and Diez, Nueve, Ocho, a simple lovely book in which a father gets his child ready for bed. This is Micah's favorite. As I read through the pages - Diez deditos lindos, limpios y calientitos; nueve amigos suaves en un cuarto calladito - Micah's body slumps warm against my chest. His head drops to one side. There's something about the rhythm of these pages that he loves. Something like the way his dad turns up Hector Lavoe on the radio before fully relaxing into his seat in the car. Or the magic I found for years in performed poetry, the way that rhyme and rhythm bring a crowd together.

A couple days ago, I lay on my stomach on the floor and let Micah sit on my back and bounce. Then I rose up and swayed and he tumbled off, cackling. We did this a dozen times, and by the end, our cheeks were pasted together on the floor, our smiles so close they almost touched. When he was in bed, I called his dad and told him about it. He laughed and said the same thing he's been saying since before Micah was born: "I can't wait until he's big enough to take him out on my motorcycle."

Those words used to scare me. I'd hide the fear behind an eye roll: "You and your past times." When he said it the other night, though, I imagined it for the first time. The way Micah would lean forward, straining to touch the handlebars. His eyes widening as they picked up speed. How the wind would seal them together, their bodies the only solid thing. How they would be together, a thing Micah and his dad haven't been enough in this world.

Occasionally these days, I catch Micah reading. A book at daycare. A magazine at my parents' house. He looks up instantly and catches my eye and grins, and I wonder if the act is for me. Either way, I'm starting to think that it isn't books that matter. It's connection, it's humanity. It's in salsa music and literature and even motorcycles, I guess. It's everywhere, and Micah's in the thick of it.

So I read him his three books over and over, and for those few minutes each night, I'm so grateful for his weight in my lap.

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