"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes-and ships-and sealing-wax-
Of cabbages-and kings-
And why the sea is boiling hot-
And whether pigs have wings."

- The Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carrol
(From Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Ready Reader

Abigail loves books. This makes me proud. I, too, love books. But my little secret is that I wasn't such a fan of reading when I was a little girl. Well, I was and then I wasn't. I remember some books fondly - I used to beg my Dad to read to me from Uncle Wiggily's Adventures by Howard Garis. Who doesn't like stories of mischievous woodland creatures and a wise rabbit? But somewhere between pre-school and first grade I decided reading wasn't a fun past-time. I remember pretty clearly the incident that caused it, too.

I remember coming home from Kindergarten - I was in the morning class - and was super excited to share what I had learned that day. "I can read!" I exclaimed! That morning, my class had learned to read some very simple sentences, specifically, "Go, fish, go." But we learned it - I learned it - in fact, I remember being called on to "read" the sentence all by myself in front of everyone. And I got it right. Huzzah! I was so proud of myself. Of course I had to share the news when I got home.

That day, my older brother had some friends over from school in the afternoon. I can't remember really who they were, but while my brother was inside the house getting them all a snack, I (always his shadow) was hanging out with them on the front porch. Wanting - longing - to be a big kid, too, I remember telling one of them that I could read.

He laughed.

"No you can't."

"Yes I can."

"No you can't."

"Uh huh."

"Prove it."

He took out a book from his backpack - a textbook. A thick textbook that belonged to a thirteen-year-old boy. He cracked it open, pointed to some words that I did not recognize, and said, "read, then."

I sat there and stared at the book and said nothing. I looked at him, with what I'm sure was a devastated face of a five-year-old girl, and said, "I can read, 'go, fish, go.'"

He laughed, closed the book shut with a thud, and walked away saying, "Told ya."

And that was that. I blinked back tears, went inside, and felt silly and ashamed.

It's remarkable - truly remarkable - how that one incident impacted me. I went from an excited student, anxious to learn more, to just anxious about the subject in a bad way. From that point through about the age 13, I shied away from ever wanting to read aloud in class. I always hoped with my fingers crossed that I wouldn't be called on to read in front of my peers. When I did have to read in front of others, I could feel heat rise from my belly up to my neck as I stumbled on a word here or there. The thing is, I was a great reader - I could read just fine - I just didn't want anyone to know about it and I sure as hell didn't want to DO it in front of anyone because heaven forbid what if I made a fool out of myself!?

It wasn't until junior high when I had to make the fateful choice in my elective course between woodshop and choir that I finally broke out of that shell. I'd always been musical (I started piano lessons at four years old). But it was getting up and performing - getting to pretend I was someone else - that made it all okay. When I discovered acting and the theatre, well, that was pretty much the end of any public shyness in my life.

But I still remember that day on the porch when an obnoxious little boy made me doubt myself. Twenty-seven years later, and I still remember the bench we sat on, the cool air, and the book I couldn't read - it's orange, yellow and blue cover. The way he snapped it closed. The way he said, "told ya" over his shoulder as he walked away from me.

This memory came back to me recently after reading an article that a friend had shared about "How to Talk to Little Girls." Instead of always complimenting the way a little girl looks - what if we complimented their smarts? Their wits? What if we started our conversations with them with the simple question, "what are you reading?"

Of course this all has me thinking about my own daughter. The kid has no idea, really, what the words she looking at on a page mean or represent, but my God does her face light up when you open a book! Her favorites seem to be the Sandra Boynton cardboard books. She's a fan of Olivia the piglet. I love reading Goodnight Moon before every nap. We read together at a minimum four times a day. It is one of my great hopes to instill in her a love for reading that I started out with, but lost, and then found again. I'm revisiting my childhood, it seems, every time I read a book with her. And I pray that when she comes home from school, proud and excited, and proclaims that she can read, let it be me or her father who she tells so we can celebrate over cookies and stoke that fire.

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