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Inspirational Reads

Constant Vigilance!

September 16, 2009

Remember back when I told you about going to see Miss Saigon in Raleigh? One of the things--aside from all the mostly-nekkid chicks grinding in front of me--that made me love the show was that it reminded me just how much I missed being on the stage. From my senior year in high school on through the end of my college career, I had been fairly active in pulling off live productions on the stage. Whether it was plays, musicals, one-acts or doing improv work--or even the time spent doing student-run television shows--I've had an active career in the dramatic arts.

And, now that I'm out of it, I miss it.

So, I've found a way to get past this: reading to my children.

Shortly after the Miss Saigon viewing, I started reading The Tale of Despereaux to my kids. The good thing about Despereaux (the book, not the movie--the movie is an abortion of the story) is that most of the characters (since it's written for kids) are achetypes. So, it was pretty easy to get into character by varying my voices. And once I started getting into character, well, then I felt like that piece of me that void in my life that had formed since I left the stage had been partially filled.

And, honestly, it was fun. The voices were easy to create: Miggory Sow had a heavy, gravelly, cockney accent; Roscuro had a slimy, evil, plotting voice dripping with vile and revenge; Despereaux had a soft English accent; Despereaux's brother had a bit heavier English accent; Despereaux's father had an even heavier English accent; Despereaux's mother had an over-the-top dramatic French accent. And so on.

Well, we finished Despereaux months ago, and, well, I've had to find other ways to work this stage-presence-cum-narrator persona. For some reason, the same Thomas the Tank Engine books over and over again don't work quite as well, though my son has decided to begin with the Magic Treehouse Books. Again, the characters are largely the same, and therefore don't really offer much of a creative outlet.

Fortunately, my daughter is having me read her the Harry Potter books.

Since most of you are familiar, I won't have to rehash the wide variety and depth of characters here. A lot of the characters are easier to do than others: Hagrid's part is written for him; McGonagall's voice is slightly lilting with her words clipped; and Snape I try to do my best Alan Rickman because, seriously, it's Alan Fucking Rickman.

So, we're currently working our way through Goblet of Fire, and last night we got through the first Defense Against the Dark Arts class. In case you've forgotten, this is where Mad-Eye Moody shows the class the Unforgivable Curses and how to prepare for them. The best preparation for the Unforgivable Curses? CONSTANT VIGILANCE!

Now, when I do Moody's voice, I give him a gravelly sort of voice, lower and rougher than my normal reading voice. It's not quite Christian Bale doing Batman, but it does convey a bit of the crotchety old man that is Mad-Eye Moody.

So, last night, I'm going along, reading away and my daughter is flipping through an American Girl magazine looking at the pictures. She's listening, but she doesn't know what to expect. When we get to the proper place, I fire off a loud, booming "CONSTANT VIGILANCE!" I thought she would jump out of her skin! It was so entertaining to have her jump, catch her breath, and then stare at me with those big, blue eyes that convey the question "What the fuck was that?" oh so well.

We continue reading, and she lets her guard down and goes back to flipping through her magazine (she's a multi-tasker, that one). We come to it again. "CONSTANT VIGILANCE!" I roar. Again, the same satisfying jump, the same satisfying "What the fuck was that?" stare.

Finally, we come to a break, and I close up the book and she's like, "Is there going to be much more of that, with Moody shouting and all?" she asks as I'm tucking her in.

"There might be," I said, bending down to kiss her pure, sweet, angelic forehead. "You know what the best way to prepare for the yelling is, though, right?" I ask her.

"What?" she says, her face the very picture of angelic charm.

"CONSTANT VIGILANCE!" I roar once more.

I thought sure she was going to wet herself the third time.

Parenting skillz: I has 'em.


JenJen said...

Your poor daughter. Mean Mean Mean.
Crackin up Matt. What a good daddy.
And curse those damn AG mags! My 8 yr old circles EVERYTHING for Julie. We go to dinner, and say, party of 4. NO!! Pary of FIVE mom. Your fucking kidding me right??

Mz. Spider said...

Oh God, I think I may have peed. This was so funny. My stomach is absolutely killing me. I was totally with you from the beginning - lots of "younger years" drama longer having that same creative having children to read to...yadayada. I have my own little ones that I read to every night so I share in the joy of entertaining with what I consider to be a fabulous show. The voices are really what make a story great, in my opinion.

Still cracking up here. Being the Harry Potter whore that I am, I can't get the image of you nailing each voice perfectly while managing to scare the absolute crap out of your daughter. Mwah-ah-ah-ah, victory!

Chemgeek said...

My 5 year old chastises me if I don't do the voices correctly. I get a lot of, "Daddy, don't do the voice like that..." I usually end up going prima donna on her and storming out of the room and locking myself in the bathroom until my agent talks me out.

Kids can be so particular sometimes.

Jeney Peney said...

*LOVE* Harry Potter!

I wish I was young enough to have someone read them to me... Maybe I still have some of that 'Daddy's Little Girl' charm left in me. ;-)

Noel said...

Best. Parenting. Skills. EVER.

Pearl said...

Nice work, Dad. :-)


Sass said...

Reading to kids is the best.

Although, I often wonder if I'm doing to entertain them...or more to entertain myself.


I think we could ask you the same question. ;)

Nej said...

You must be the coolest dad ever.

Mala said...

Jenksy - is that you in the suggestive v-cut grey sweater???

See, this would have made a perfect vlog.

And you must always remind your kids to be on their toes!! Well done.

heh, word verf is "dicless"

Jules said...

The Tale of Despereaux is BY FAR one of my favorite ALL TIME books!!!! ALL of my students LOVE it!!!

Glad you liked it!!

snowelf said...

You got some skillz Mjenks. There's no denying that. :) My kids have the same issue as Chemgeeks's. "Do it like this mama..."

Kids these days...


dude, the word verification was squids. seriously. Squids. Nice.

Cora said...

Jenks, is that YOU in that pic?! Hubba hubba.

Happy Hour...Somewhere said...

Triple shit, man~! I can't wait to find out how she gets back at you for that, but as you say, 'CONSTANT VIGILANCE!'

Scope said...

If you are looking for a new book, you can try "B is for Beer" by Tom Robbins.

SoBeAck-with a K said...

My dad used to spill his beer on me when he slurred through bedtime stories. Now that I think about it, HE may have peed his pants too...but for a totally different reason than your little angel. Poor little thing, too funny.

Cool as Folk said...

Oh no, you've traumatized her. English accents and glass eyes will probably terrify her for the rest of her life.

On a sidenote, I have about 1,054 books to read this semester and I wouldn't mind if someone read them to me in various accents. That way, I wouldn't fall asleep halfway into them.

Moooooog35 said...

The pleasure of delivering mental torture is one of the main reasons I had kids in the first place.

otherworldlyone said...

That was adorable.

I love reading to my daughter as well. The only thing is, being four, she interrupts me every 3 seconds with, "What is that" and Why" and "Ooh, that's funny". So a 5-10 minute book before bed time turns into a 30-45 minute ordeal.

Pfangirl said...

Classic story:)

Coincidentally I was just revisiting Fantastic Mr Fox last night and the thought came to me how awesome it would be to read it aloud to little kids one day. Such fantastic characters with distinct voices to "play." Perfect for all us former thespians :)

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

@ Jenjen: Okay, good. I was beginning to worry about how Kimberly was going everywhere with us. Fortunately, she stays in the car, though, so I don't have to reserve her a seat at the restaurant.

@ Mz. Spider: I don't know if the voices are perfect, but I give them my best. I've also dropped the English accents (and the Scottish, since Oliver Wood has graduated), since they were getting confusing. I reserve them for certain characters now, like Lupin and when Umbridge shows up, I think she'll get one, too.

@ Chemgeek: I refuse to read unless there's a bouquet of flowers in the room with no yellow ones in it and a bag of M&Ms that don't have any brown.

@ Jeney: I'm sure if you bat your eyelashes enough, someone will read you stories.

@ Noel: After 8 years and always asking myself 'What would Homer Simpson Do?', I've got them finely honed.

@ Pearl: Thanks, Pearl. *thumbs up*

@ Sass: I can find lots of ways to entertain myself that don't involve English accents and CONSTANT VIGILANCE!!!!. I'm mainly doing it so that they get free stuff from school.

@ Nej: No. Jimmy Buffet would be a way cooler dad. And Batman.

@ Mala: The hovertext for that picture will reveal which one I am.

@ Jules: Loved the book; was very disappointed in the movie. The whole tale of redemption? Gone in the movie. Ugh.

@ Cora: Like I told Mala, the hovertext tells all...

@ Snowelf: Ha! Squids! I think I just inked myself laughing.

@ Happy Hour Somewhere: I'm too vigilant. She gets back at me by waking me up while fighting with her brother.

@ Scope: Is this suitable bedtime reading for an 8 year old?

@ SoBeAck: Yeah, I don't drink the beer during bedtime stories, but I can't promise that a little spittle doesn't get released when I'm screaming CONSTANT VIGILANCE! at my daughter...

@ CoolAsFolk: If they're anything like the books I had to read while in college, I'd fall asleep while reading them to you, too.

@ Moooooog35: Yes, that coupled with the ability to command them to go get me a drink from the fridge is the main reason why I let them spring from my loins.

@ OtherWorldlyOne: My eight year old still does that, especially with Harry Potter. We'll come across some magical term, and she'll ask what it means, and I have to hold up a finger to tell her to wait while I read the explanation on the very next line. Although, she did want to know what a ferret was the other night, which wasn't explained in the next paragraph.

@ Pfangirl: I'm going to look into that story. It might be a good one to read before bedtime, as well. No pressure on you for recommending it several times now or anything.

Frank said...

Rather than read to us, my dad would just shell out some money to buy a tape deck and an audiobook. True, I didn't get that father-son connection that comes from reading a book in bed, but them audiobooks did have some pretty bitchin' sound effects.

Gauche said...

I seriously think I just wet myself.

so you're one of those types who get into character while reading out loud too, huh? I think that happens with us former theater buffs. (I'm one too.) my younger cousins have me read to them when I babysit and I often find myself without a voice by the end of the night from trying to change it so much.

hmm...right now we're reading the 3rd Harry Potter book...I'll keep this in mind for number 4.......

p.s your daughter is either gonna have nightmares for a week, or she'll find some way to get back at are funny that way.....

Raine said...

I listen to NPI's podcast where they read short stories (dorky?) and it has inspired me to read Ryder's books more passionately outloud. You can only read Goodnight Moon so passionately, though

Charm City Barfly said...

I see large therapy bills in your daughter's future.

Scope said...

Appropriate for an 8 year old? Probably, but I'm sure you will read it first, and be the judge. At 120ish pages, you can burn thru it quickly on your own before doing your first live performance.

Amazon has a good review for it:

Bev said...

Sounds like good story-telling to me! Kids need to toughen up. ;)

I had no idea you were a fellow drama geek. That was also my thang, straight on thru college.

Ok, so I know you've said your students think you look like a "fatter Tom Green," but in that picture I think you look like Jim from The Office. Just sayin'.

Jan @ Struck by Serendipity said...

I can't believe you would take a photo of your daughter like that and post it on the internet. Shame shame.