So firstly, to clarify, I feel like other people with toddlers are going to narrow their eyes and go, “What did you mean by “read an article? Like skimmed? Like read all the captions underneath all the photographs and got the gist of it?” And here I am blushing as I tell you that no—I read all of the words in the article. The entire article, all the way up to the little black diamond that indicates a New Yorker article is finished. My father buys me a subscription to the magazine every year as a gift and for years I would read it religiously—first all the cartoons and funny parts, followed by the actual articles, followed by the book and movie reviews. For the past two years all that changed. After the arrival of my son the delivery of the magazine became a weekly reminder that:
a.) there were people in the world with journalism degrees earning professional respect and
b.) that I did not have any free time.
But times they are a’changing, because I read an entire article in this week’s magazine and by “this week’s” I mean the one that came out on December 8th, with the black and white arch on the cover.
“That’s impressive,” you’re saying skeptically. “But I’m not sure I believe you really read it from beginning to end. How could you have, with a toddler in the house?”
A good point. I’m tempted to say “Sit down and I’ll tell you the tale of how I read this New Yorker article start to finish but I know that you probably can’t sit down because you’re doing between four and nine thousand things, so continue registering your child for soccer camp and/or an HTML workshop while simultaneously making Macaroni and Cheese and breastfeeding an infant that may or may not even be yours. I can tell you the story while you multitask. It’s fine.
It all began many, many hours ago when my husband said, “Hey, do you want me to watch him for a little while so that you can relax?” Having recently become feral, I peered up from the lint-covered Triscuit that I had been eating after finding it in the pocket of my son’s overalls. My hair was matted into dreadlocks and my eyes peered out, frightened but hopeful, like the gaze of someone who has been unjustly imprisoned for many years.
Unable to speak, I nodded frantically. “Yes,” I attempted to say with Gorilla-type sign language gestures. “Me want have free time no watch baby. You is watch?”
“Yes,” my husband signed, grunting. “Me is watch baby next few hours. You is no have baby, is relax.”
And with that, he whisked the baby off to the other room so that I was left alone with a New Yorker magazine that had fallen behind one of the couch cushions. I immediately read all the cartoons and the one-page-long funny “Shouts and Murmurs” section. This felt wonderful, I thought to myself. Look at me! Sitting on a sofa reading a magazine! Like a person! This is like a thing a person would do! I imagined myself doing other “person” things like going out for a drink with friends or seeing a show. What an imagination I have! But back to the article.
The article I read was something about young kids training to ride rodeo bulls. It was between reading that and reading one about a Parisian department store, but the Parisian department store one had too many French words and even several English words I had to look up (excrescences?) so I abandoned it after a few paragraphs in a cloud of shame and defeat. The second article had fewer mentions of things like the “Pont des Arts” and more mentions of the price of bull semen so I felt it might be a better match for where I was both intellectually and emotionally. So for longer than it takes a normal person to read an article, I immersed myself in the world of eight-year-old boys who want to ride rodeo bulls.
The article starts with this crazy bull whose name is, I think, Bodacious, and then I had to take a five-minute break from reading because the baby walked back into the room going, “Pells! Sol Pells!” which means he wants to watch “Los Exitosos Pells,” an Argentine telenovela that he watches with his father on the computer. Jonathan swooped in and pulled him back into the nursery, allowing me to resume reading and learn that this one guy who tried to ride Bodacious got his entire face smashed in and it took 13 hours of reconstructive surgery to make him look human again. Another rider asked to wear a hockey mask while riding the bull and still managed to fracture his eye socket.
There are eight-year-olds who watch this sport and fervently want to partake in it, apparently, although I feel that most likely my son will not be one of them as he is afraid of my hairdryer and most playground equipment. As I am thinking this he walks back into the room holding a stuffed monkey and a toy excavator, exclaiming “Merry Christmas” and announcing that he has to go to the bathroom. I momentarily get up to guide him toward the bathroom while explaining in a good natured way that it is no longer Christmas and then I think the article talks for a while about religion or Oklahoma or something. It was really engaging. Great article!
While “enjoying the article” I am also frantically looking for the little black diamond indicating that the article is over so that I can say that I read the entire article. Every time I turn the page I look for it but page after page it is more information about rodeos and wow, I am learning a lot about bull semen. I debate slipping this information into the dialogue at my next mom’s group.
“It’s crazy that they now have events where top bulls can compete against each other carrying dummy cowboys in order to be rated on their bucking ability? And that the winner at a single event can take home a quarter of a million bucks? AND THAT A TUBE OF CHAMPION BULL SEMEN IS WORTH OVER $5,000?”
“I’m not sure how that’s related to Tamara’s homeschooling curriculum,” one of the mothers will say, eyeing me strangely, holding her daughter close.
But that’s not my problem right now because I am BLISSFULLY LOST IN THE JOY OF READING THIS ARTICLE. So long New York playground full of Beckets and Connors and Emmas. I am fully absorbed into the world of kids with names like Wyatt and Trigger, all of whom are wearing paisley shirts and belt buckles the size of my face. There is a page featuring badass elementary-aged cowgirls in events such as goat tying and mutton busting, which leads me to pull out my laptop and Google search the phrase “What is mutton busting?” only to spend the next ten minutes watching videos of six-year-olds in hockey masks clinging to sheep that are having a nervous breakdown. The sheep run frantically like someone desperately late for a dentist appointment while the children grip them like enormous deer ticks. Bull riding seems too dangerous but mutton busting seems like something I could possibly get behind—not necessarily for my son so much as for myself. I imagine clinging to the backs of one of the desperate, feverish sheep as it takes off across the arena kicking up dirt and tufts of animal hair. That is what I want, I think—to hold on to something for dear life, giddy with the joy of speed and the hint of danger. I do not want to join a gym and take a strength training class, I want to learn to shoot a bow and arrow while riding a horse. A few weeks ago I saw a video about breakdancers and wanted to be a professional breakdancer except that I am a woman in her 30’s with bad knees and all the guys I see doing it in the subway stations are 19 with bodies made of something that is half muscle, half Gumby-type elastic.
But it would be fun to compete in something. I don’t get the chance to do things that are dangerous anymore. The other day when I was at a friend’s apartment with the baby someone told me, “Be careful! He could pinch his fingers! The bedroom door is very dangerous,” and yes (Do not worry!) I was careful, but it is weird to think of a bedroom door as being “very dangerous.” I never close a bedroom door and think, “Gracious me, I narrowly escaped with my life!”
“Hi hi hi hi hi.” My son walks back into the room pulling, with difficulty, a large rolling suitcase. His father trails him.
“What the hell are you watching?” my husband asks, squinting at my computer.
“Nothing,” I say. I minimize the mutton busting video and move on. MUST FINISH ARTICLE! PLEASE STAY FOCUSED!
I continue reading (there are seemingly infinite pages in this article), learning that there is a former bull riding champion upset over the breeding of fiercer and fiercer bulls. I learn that a bull rider’s score is based not only on his ability but also on the difficulty of the bull that he is assigned at random. (If you are a great rider but are given only a mediocre animal, it is difficult to score well) I learn that Bodacious has been retired from bull riding because his owner was nervous that he would kill someone. I learn, from the black and white photos, that everybody in this sport wears cowboy hats and if someone is not wearing a cowboy hat it is because they are wearing a hockey mask to prevent their face from getting smashed in like a porcelain tea kettle under a sledgehammer.
And suddenly I glance down at the page and there it is, the little black diamond that means I have reached the end of the article.
I HAVE DONE IT. I thought it would feel more fulfilling but there is not a lot to do after you finish an article—you can either go on to read the next one or get up and eat more peanut butter cups and check Facebook again. I flip around in the magazine for a few seconds, vaguely proud, but unsure of what to do with myself.
The apartment is fairly quiet. I bite my lip, waiting to be presented with a trophy engraved with the words, “First Place: New Yorker Article Finishing,” but Jonathan and the baby are in the nursery playing and, as if often the case, no one else is around.