I blame Elena Ferrante. Late last year, I started reading “My Brilliant Friend” and stopped reading to my 6-year-old daughter at bedtime. Instead, I started reading next to her, greedily grabbing every moment I could to sink into the dense, richly drawn world of the Neapolitan Quartet. Sydney would sit beside me, night after night, slowly sounding out the words in a picture book. When she got stuck I helped her, then immediately turned my attention back to Elena and Lila. I hadn’t been this obsessed with a book series since “The Baby-Sitters Club.”
As liberating as it was to read for myself again, I felt guilty for basically ignoring my child. But then something unexpected happened, a shift so gradual I didn’t recognize it at first. Toward the end of the Quartet, the soundtrack of pronunciations stopped. Sydney was still reading beside me — just silently, in her own head. The transition seemed remarkable, magical even: She had made a leap of faith and fluency without me, there was that. But I also became keenly aware of her interior life; or rather, I became aware of all that I didn’t know about it. Reading became a private activity for Syd that synced up with her budding independence and sense of self. I had been worried about ignoring her; now she was ignoring me, lost in a story.
I blame Ann M. Martin. For Christmas, my husband, Addie, bought Syd the first book in the Baby-Sitters Club Graphix Series, “Kristy’s Great Idea” (a full-color graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier, based on Martin’s book), and she’s been hooked ever since. These days, I’m lucky if Syd even looks at me when I pick her up from school. Nose in a book, she often hands me her backpack so that she can focus on reading and walking to the car without tripping.
I get it. I devoured the original “Baby-Sitters Club” books as a girl and savored the chance to interview Martin many years later. I still remember the characters and storylines, and chime in agreement when Syd says Claudia is her favorite BSC member. Secretly, I’m thrilled to see my daughter’s interest in Disney princesses subside in favor of strong girls with entrepreneurial savvy; and while it’s tempting to underscore some of the feminist themes in the books, I hold my tongue. For a 6-year-old going on 16, nothing can ruin the joy of discovering something like your mom saying she discovered it first.
Now that I have some free time in the evenings, I’m reading more than I have in years. I’m currently finishing “White Noise,” a book I’d always meant to read. Meanwhile, Syd is on #11 of her BSC series, “Good-Bye Stacey, Good-Bye.” In these precious moments before bedtime, her body snuggled against mine, we are worlds apart; we are never closer.
Brooke Hauser is a Boston Globe assistant arts editor and the author of “Enter Helen: The Invention of Helen Gurley Brown and the Rise of the Modern Single Woman.”