This is one of my favorite photographs of my oldest daughter. Here, she’s not yet two, with very little hair, and she wears a striped rugby shirt and sits alone in our big wing chair in the little library by the window in our old apartment, and reads. Well, she doesn’t read, but looks through a book. One of those little board books. It’s such a sweet image and now it’s properly framed and up on a family photo wall in a hallway in our home.
Today, she is almost nine (with tons of hair) and she actually reads. She loves books and we let her stay up as late as she wants as long as she’s reading. There are many questionable parenting decisions we’ve made and continue to make, but this has been one of the best. By granting her this freedom, this privilege, reading has become this magical thing for her, a true treat, and I can see it in her blue eyes that she cherishes this time each night when she is on her own with a book.
I’ve been thinking recently about the vast difference between learning to read and becoming a reader. As parents, we tend to fixate on the former, the ability part, on the skill. Before it clicks for our kids, we worry. But as those who know tell us, it will come, and it does, early for some children and a bit later for others, but it comes and we are relieved and then it’s time to worry about the next thing. (Parenthood is unending, often beautiful worry.)
But becoming a reader is a different matter entirely and it’s not as much of a guarantee. Looking back to my own childhood, I read, but I wasn’t a reader. I lost myself more in sports and art and other things. My sister Ceara, I remember, was a reader like Mom, happy with her nose in a book. I became a reader much later in life, probably not even that long ago.
I would love nothing more than for my girls to fall in love with reading because I’m so smitten now and books have brought me such incomparable joy. And the wonderful thing is that it seems to be happening. My oldest girl is indeed becoming bookish. She stays up late with her books. She is even in the sweetest little book club with three friends. They meet once a month a discuss a chosen book. No adults are allowed. They discussed Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox last month and will discuss my favorite book of all time, E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, this coming weekend. Dad read me this book when I was little and I read passages from it at his funeral. A couple years ago, my oldest girl and I read it together, and when it was over, we clutched hands and cried.
Just last night, my smallest babe pointed up to Charlotte’s Web which I have on the bookshelf in our family room and my eight-year-old and I decided we would read it to her. We read from a beautiful inscribed copy my best friend in the world gave me on my 30th birthday, which was also her wedding day. Inside, she writes me the most meaningful note. One line: “I hope you will read this to your children as your father read it to you.”
We read just one chapter, my girls and I, going very slowly, talking about everything that was happening. My littlest was very concerned about tiny runt Wilbur and his fate and loved that Fern fed him with a tiny baby bottle. It was an incredibly sweet slice of time, sitting there reading to my three girls, one I will not forget. The beginning of a lifelong mama-daughter book club perhaps? The thought makes me smile.
Are you a reader? Are your kids?