The Novel of Having Kids

Category: Weekly Columns

 having kids

What’s your favorite novel? Do you like Grisham? Prefer historical fiction? Romance? Epics? I’ve loved a lot of the great epic novels such as Herman Wouk’s WWII books, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. I also liked great historical fiction like James Clavell’s Asian Saga of King Rat, Tai-Pan, Shōgun, Noble House, Whirlwind, and Gai-Jin. What about the Fifty Shades of Grey? Is that your cup of tea? My favorite book of all-time is Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett. What are yours?

And, like most of us, I’ve gone through phases of reading non-stop and not reading much at all. I miss the reading habit, as it’s been a while since a book grabbed my attention so consumptively. When I was a boy, I carried a tattered piece of paper in my wallet that had the names of authors I liked. In those days, the books were mostly about sports, hot rods, and The Hardy Boys. I’d scour the library shelves for those books.

I read the first four Harry Potter books out LOUD to my boys, when they were young. It was a nightly ritual we all loved and I was as into the stories as they were. The only reason I stopped was that when they were able to read on their own they preferred the quicker pace of doing it themselves. My boys both spontaneously began to read in kindergarten and I do wonder if all the reading aloud helped? Their teachers said it was often just something that happened, whether parents read to their kids or not. No matter, I’m glad it happened.

My younger son, 15, still reads voraciously while his older brother has long given up regular reading replaced by his music, which he plays and listens to relentlessly. He does read Rock ‘N’ Roll biographies, but not much else anymore. I hope he returns to reading a broader range of subjects. Given he’s starting college in the fall, he may not have a choice.

BUT, the greatest novel I’ve ever read: I’m still “reading.” It’s the novel of my boy’s lives. It is also the greatest soap opera I’ve ever watched. It’s a serial drama that exceeds anything daytime television or a telenovela can possibly offer. It has more ups and downs, twists and turns, than any television series season-ending cliffhanger.

I suppose it also includes the soap opera of my own life, but I’d rather stay focused on the evolving story of my son’s lives. Every ingredient for a good story is present and, I’d suggest, the same is true for most parents. Sometimes it’s a lovely G-rated family story while, at others, it ranges from a hard R to a mild PG-13.

Obviously, the seriousness of the chapters changes with their maturity, or lack thereof. It was mostly a light comedy, though during-the-baby-years was an exception. It was a horror story for the first three months of my first son’s life. He had colic. Please play the Jaws theme music now. Or, choose the Psycho music from Bernard Herrmann. Maybe “Chucky” is a better metaphor? I don’t know, but those three months were certainly a trial and, largely, a nightmare inducing sleepless story of terror.

It passed. Most things “pass.”

I’d suggest the majority of the “baby years” were simply Disney-esque or belonged in the children’s section of the bookstore. Dancing animals, grand adventures, taking too many photos and videos, and the usual drama, excitement, and when-will-it-happen of first words, first steps, and first time on the potty.

I documented so much of it all with stills and videos. My boys still love to go through the 40-odd photo albums I still meticulously assemble. We transferred much of the video taken when they were young to DVD and when we got them done; the boys reveled in those memories. I sometimes wonder if they really remember an incident, place, or event or simple remember the photos and videos?

A favorite video they discovered was when we were on vacation in Hawaii. It was when my first-born was maybe one year old and before his brother had join the family. His mother – my ex-wife – was always in the videos along with my boy and later both boys, while I was always the narrator. In this one scene, my son is walking around an area by the hotel pool while his mother is reclining in a lounge-chair.

All of a sudden he gives his mother a particular look that elicits a “do you have to go?” response from his mom. He looks at her, turns away, and a moment later lets out the funniest word, which phonetically sounded like “Oyeesh.” More than a decade later, when my much older boys discovered this video, they played that short scene over and over again.

The serial nature of parenting is an analogy I’ve not heard or read; yet it seems so perfect as the drama of our children’s lives progresses. First day at school! I remember taking a photo on our front step with my older son eager, excited, and a tad scared as he was heading to school, looking back at the front door window and seeing his baby brother looking out in wonder at what was transpiring. What a drama!

The divorce wars also belong in the horror section of the bookstore or movie aisle. Use your imagination, but add into the mix a disappearing mom and treacherous lawyers – hmmm, that’s redundant – and you know the story all too well, I’m sure.

The bottom line, to use yet another show-biz term, is that I am both enjoying the evolving “Novel” of my parenting as well as sitting on the edge of my seat during the scarier and more suspenseful episodes. I just continue to hope and pray for a happy ending!


    I really like this ” the evolving novel of our lives” ~ and BTW I agree about “Pillars of the Earth” which has special significance for me as James (my partner) was reading it at the same time I was, when I met him in 1990.  That’s a whole other chapter in the “Novel of My life” ~ Thought NOT a real life parent I really enjoy your posts.

    • Bruce Sallan

      Thanks Caroline. I really don’t think I’ve heard or read this view, before? Have you?

      • CASUDI

         Yes, I have heard “the novel of our lives” or “soap opera of our lives” used, but it’s the “evolving” that adds additional meaning. Well of course a novel as such IS evolving 🙂

  • Pete G

    The teacher that said reading aloud had no impact on your kids reading is crazy!  There’s been a ton of research about that topic correlating the two.  You did your kids a huge favor.  Also, thanks for the reminder to keep taking pictures and videos of my little ones.

    • Bruce Sallan

      I don’t care if she was right or wrong…I loved doing it and I’m thrilled they read so easily and quickly. Thx Pete!

  • Lance

    Ahh…Bruce…yes, we are living the novel as our kids continue to grow!!

    Tonight’s story – here – involved a little table tennis (yep…I let him win, that’s it…) and a little “hmmm, where is that other kid – it’s getting really late (or early, I suppose).  And that’s how it goes, isn’t it – some of the lighter stuff along with the more serious stuff…

    Love the picture, by the way!!!

    • Bruce Sallan

      So glad you feel the same, Lance…not so sure about “letting him win” though?

  • Betsy Cross

    I swear that God saved my last two little boys for last for a reason! I wait for them to come downstairs in the morning because they are so funny. They don’t mean to be. Their minds are just so strange. The things that they say keep me laughing to myself when they’re not around. They keep me young AND wear me out, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I’d have 20 more just for the adventures and the laughs. 
    What’s #DadChat about this week BTW?

    • Bruce Sallan

      You are a lucky woman, Betsy Cross! We have renowned pediatrician Dr. Hill with us at #DadChat Thursday – ask ANY question you want and you can also maybe win a copy of his new book – 3 chances!

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  • David Weber

    Good column.  Although the boys’-lives-as-novel analogy seemed to be addressed with more of a feature film analogy.  What is that last photo with the red clothing?  High school graduation?

    • Bruce Sallan

      Ahhh, you got that sort of misplaced analogy DW! I do mention chapters a bunch. No, the last photo was prom day/night and Arnie’s date!

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  • Brian Vickery

    Great pictures throughout, Bruce – and I agree with the story of our kids’ lives makes for great reading/living. Of course, I look at it from a 1st Person story telling that also includes my wife since she will be by my side through it all (we celebrate 23 years marriage next weekend).

    We took turns reading to our girls at night. Kris would go for the classics, and I would read CS Lewis, Richard Peck, and many more -> and yes, we started out with Dr. Seuss. Then my oldest asked for me to read to her again her senior year. I read Frankenstein, The Things They Carried, Cat’s Cradle and My Ishmael to name a few. She would curl up on the arm of Daddy’s chair. I treasure those moments. Meanwhile, my youngest seems to have my taste in authors now.

    And oh yeah, they are both fantastic students – and I attribute a lot of their success to all of that reading.

    • Bruce Sallan

      BV, I do love and even sort of envy the long and great marriage you have. You ALWAYS mention your wife in the most glowing terms. Lucky you; Lucky her! I CANNOT believe your daughter asked you to read to her in her senior year! OMG…no way would that EVER happen with a boy!

      • Brian Vickery

        I was over on Google+ after posting my first comment and saw a beautiful picture of a black horse. I also read most of the Black Stallion series to the girls – great books. We also would do the books on tape while traveling in the van.

        Yes, having daughters has been an incredible blessing. They still want me to read to them, they want to brainstorm with me prior to writing papers on current topics, and I still get awesome hugs and kisses in the mornings/evenings. I would not trade that…EVER!

        • Bruce Sallan

          Lucky YOU!

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  • Charity Kountz

    So cute! Love the prom picture! Awesome!

    • Bruce Sallan

      Thanks Charity – I sure wish I was THAT cool back in high school!

      • Charity Kountz

        ROFL – you and me both! Although my prom picture looked pretty good, I had no friends in high school. Literally. Lol

        • Bruce Sallan

          I was 16 when I graduated high school – NOT GOOD for a boy!