I decided to turn off the T.V*. about a year ago for my kids. With much remorse, I even gave up our popcorn, cheese and apple lunch on Fridays in front of “Little Einsteins” and “Charlie and Lola” with hopes of increasing the “I love books” quotient in our home. The result? Julia has faired better than Brighton. She will sit and listen until I grow hoarse from reading. Brighton? Well, let’s just say his ears are still in training. He’s one that will get on eye level with the edge of the right hand side of the book to gauge how many pages are left. He has found books more useful for things like holding his Hot Wheels track at an incline or being a foundation for building "New York City" or the "Texas Rangers Stadium" out of dominoes or for securing forts made of blankets. However, he is beginning to request his favorites and his book list happens to be growing. For this I am thankful because I can recite “Curious George Gets a Medal” (or “Goes Camping”, “Makes a Pizza”, “Goes to the Airport”) in my sleep. I bet he can too.
Almost everyday, we all pick some books off of the shelf for our own little story time. Julia is always in for the long haul contentedly melting into my side and never fails to ask for “one more”. B is good for as long as his goldfish last and sometimes longer depending on what we are reading. (At times, I have even resorted to suckers. Starburst suckers last the longest.) Even if he doesn't last long, he still loves the thought of it. Because of Julia’s enthusiasm for books, I was so excited when she began learning to read. I kept thinking about how great it was going to be for her to pick a book up that we brought home from the library and not have to wait, impatiently, for me to read it to her. As we rounded the half way mark into the school year, I knew she could read but I wasn’t seeing the reward of her pursuing it. As her mother, I was confused, but as her teacher, I was irritated. Thankfully, I knew not to push it, so I waited.
A month or so ago, we just happened to hit a garage sale of a former elementary school teacher who was selling most of her books. For me, it was better than being at a serious clearance sale at Half Price Books. I picked up some early readers that were on our first grade reading list and had Julia carry them to the car. As I watched her in the rear view mirror, I noticed she was flipping through them looking at the pictures - early readers are not known for Caldecott worthy illustrations- so I said, “Hey, pumpkin, you can READ those books. That is why I bought them because I knew you could.” “No, that’s okay. I just want to look at the pictures.” Mother. Teacher. Confusion. Irritation. Then a story I had read zipped through my mind and I thought, it was worth a shot. So making as much eye contact as I could with her driving through Tanglewood I said, “Hey, Julia, I just want you to know that I love to read to you and that we will always snuggle up on the couch and read books together even when you read as well as I do. It is just something our family is going to do. You know, we will even read together until you get married and move away if you want to.” Her eyes never left the rear view mirror. Her face was content but she still had a question waiting. “Well, Mommy, what about when I have children and come home for a visit? Will you read to me then?” I don’t have to tell you what I said but I dream of the day when I get to read some of these same books to my grandchildren and have my daughter listen in and remember. Well, that day, she read two books before we got home and, now, a couple of months later, we don’t have a book at home on her level that she hasn’t read… a few times.
The story that came to mind was from a book in which the author explained how she pretended forever that she could not read because it was the only time during her young life that she had her mother all to herself, physically close to her, so close that she could smell the cold cream on her face. This was something she was not willing to give up, so she pretended she could not read. I don’t know for sure if this was a fear of Julia’s that I needed to expose and chase away, but a key fit the lock somewhere in our conversation. I underestimate the value and necessity of closeness and physical touch with my kids. This revelation from the backseat is in big bold letters for me and won’t soon be forgotten.
*Turning off the T.V.-- I had to do it for a while to break the habit. I definitely replaced it with more reading time together and they figured out fun things to do with each other. Once they went a couple months without even asking for it, we decided to make watching a very special treat and something we did WITH them, for the most part. Sometimes it is inevitable and the best choice for certain situations.