Like most New Yorkers, Wyatt usually reads the Times -- at 20 months, he refers to it as the "papersbook," one of the many apt linguistic constructions he has authored -- when he wakes up. So I read it carefully while he naps, so that I am alert to things that will interest him.
Page One usually has something arresting above the fold, designed to catch the attention of adults as well as toddlers, so we usually begin there. The first section also contains advertisements for absurdly expensive watches, especially now, with Father's Day approaching. How many clocks do you see? I ask him, and he scans pages two and three until he finds some. There are almost always two, and sometimes three. And usually there are one or two ads for women's shoes. Mommy's shoe, he says, pointing at one half of a pair of $1800 Chanel pumps. Not since you came along, I tell him silently. But one can dream, I suppose. Yes, Mommy's shoe, I tell him aloud.
Wednesday is always food day in the nation's papersbook of record, and those pictures are always fascinating: fruits and vegetables to identify and name, delicious-looking desserts and ice creams. Today we hit pay dirt: a strawberry-studded version of tiramisu, and some amusing cake pops on lollipop sticks, each decorated to look like an animal's face. And the sports section never fails to please: balls fly through the air in each one. Where's the ball, I ask, and he searches intently for it until it reveals itself. Even the business section yields at least one thing he finds interesting: pictures of cars, ships, trains; pictures of various commodities, pictures of traders with their heads in their hands. These weeks, pictures of the oil spill.
His interest in the newspaper is a little different from ours. There are things he doesn't know -- that the birdie he thinks is sleeping in the man's hand is actually dead, for instance, or that the vacant woman being put to bed by her sister -- She's going to take a nap now, I tell him -- has had Alzheimer's disease since she was forty. She's sixty-one now. Her whole family has it, except the sister who must care for all of them. Last week, there was a 1950s archival shot of a lunch counter sit-in: four carefully dressed black college students in a row at the counter, a stricken soda jerk wondering what to do with them, a fellow patron glaring at the scene from across the room. They're going to have some ice cream, I told him brightly. Ice cream, he said, and that was that -- fifty years of struggle went right by him. He'll never believe there was a time when some people couldn't even sit down and eat ice cream in a public place. But it's right there in the papersbook.
There's President Obama, I say, pointing. He spies a picture of Lance Armstrong on his bicycle and says that's his daddy. The waters in Nashville were up over the roofs of the cars. Big water, he said. Yeah. Sure was. He lives a safe life, this blessed and beautiful little boy. The papers are full of other lives, lives not so fortunate. That's why they're in the paper, so we will know. So we will not forget about them.
He already knows a lot about the beauty of the world, its endless mysteries, but blessedly little about its many sorrows. He will not escape the whole truth forever. None of us do. Life will teach him what we already know too well.