Friday, February 27, 2009

The Eating of Books

"She read my books the way a young cannibal might eat the hearts of brave old enemies. Their magic would become hers."

Kurt Vonnegut, Jailbird

One of the strangest thing about raising children is how it can force you to look at your own life, your own past, from the outside, from across the room.

It doesn't happen every day. Your children are not clones of you, after all. They're not mirror images. But every once in a while, you see a flash of something--an aspect of yourself inside of them. You look at your son and see yourself at that age, as others probably saw you, and it can knock you to the floor...or tear you apart.

My son learned to read in Kindergarten, and it was hard going. Although he loved stories of all kinds, he preferred to have them read to him. He didn't pick up reading naturally, as an outgrowth of being read to, as I apparently did (the story my mother told was that one day, while she was reading a story to me, I stopped her and corrected her. She had been paraphrasing and I was reading along. That was how she discovered that I could read). The reading instruction Thing 1 received at school was clumsy and poorly done, and he became a resistant and reluctant reader. And an even more resistant and reluctant writer.

First grade was even harder for him. It wasn't until we began home-schooling him, in the second half of first grade, that he began to pick things up. The increased focus on him, and the more structured phonics program we used, seemed to help. But he still didn't enjoy it. He loved being read to, but didn't want to read. He loved telling stories, but wouldn't write anything down.

And that was hard for me. Books have always been intensely important to me. I've always been a devourer of books. And, of course, a writer. My son seemed so much like me, in so many ways, and yet...why was he having so much trouble here? And why couldn't I help him?

And then, all of a sudden...things changed. It may have been the new school he went to, and the kids he began collecting as friends. But it also may have just been him. Suddenly, he's a reader. An avid reader. Suddenly, he's reading himself to sleep every night, with a book light. Suddenly, with no prompting or difficulty, he's graduated from little kid books to chapter books with no pictures. He devours them. Then he reads them again. Then he moves on to the next one. Sometimes, he'll sneak out of his bed at 10:00 PM or later, just to let us know he's finished his latest conquest.

It's such an important lesson, and one I seem to have to learn again and again. Thing 1 is his own person, and he comes to things his own way, in his own time. His process is often internal and hidden. We don't see a struggle, a gradual growth, and attainment. Whatever is going on, we don't see it. What we see is No...No...No...and then, all of a sudden, in an instant: Yes. Finished. Complete. Done.

The day-to-day can be a struggle--on so many fronts. I have to remember to trust him and have faith that, with a little help perhaps, but probably just more patience and calm, he'll get where he needs to be. In his own time. In his own way.

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