Reading to my sons is one of the chiefest delights I have always associated with mothering. Snuggling up with freshly-bathed and jammied babies, winding down from the day, reading about worlds of fantasy and imagination. It just doesn't get any better. My Mom used to read to me, exhaustively, and tells me that she never taught me to read; I just picked it up by following along. So it makes sense to me, experientially, that my sons would learn in the same way that I did. I know that boys often read later than girls, and I know that pressuring a child is the fastest way to get them to resist (and according to some research, to instigate dyslexia), so I've bent over backwards to make books as friendly and non-threatening as possible; to introduce them to the boys as the friends they've always been to me.
But like so many things with Rowan and I, it materialized before I was aware I should be looking. A few weeks ago, he started asking us what was in packages and boxes in the garage. There were visual clues on the boxes, so I didn't think a thing of it, but then he started asking about words, and there really isn't any doubting that. But still, I didn't want to fuss, because what if he was guessing? What if he'd just heard someone else say it, and wasn't truly reading? I was hesitant, not wanting to pressure him or freak him out or anything, and so I didn't make any big and startling noises.
Luckily, that's what kids have Grandmas for.
While visiting my mother, Rowan asked her a question, and Mom, without hesitation, swooped him up, hugged him, and said “Ohmygosh, Rowan, you're a Reader now!” She was instantaneously, unreservedly, wholly enthused at his accomplishment.
And it's amazing what one act of total affirmation can do for a kid. Because the very day we got home, Rowan decided that it was his job to read to Kestrel. I found my boys cuddled up in the rocker together, reading one of Rowan's truck picture books. Rowan would say the name of the truck, and Kestrel, who is just now barely stringing two words together, was gamely trying to imitate him. All the while staring adoringly at Big Brother, who clearly can perform Magic.
I'm still not entirely sure he's reading. He has a phenomenal memory for lyric and image, and might well just be memorizing. But that completely pales in significance to the reality of what he's doing. Whether he's truly reading or not, he thinks he is, and his first instinct was to share that joy with someone else, like it had been shared with him. And because he believes it of himself, he is a reader. The barriers to truly learning to read have just been utterly demolished, because by giving him the knowledge that he is doing it, my Mom enabled him to think of any problems that come up as small inconveniences, not as doubt as to his ability.
An act of affirmation. An act of sharing. Let the wonders circle 'round.
Laureen is a writer, a professional editor, a scuba instructor, a beginning sailor, a traveler, and an obsessive researcher who's chiefly focused on, and delighted with, her husband Jason and her sons Rowan and Kestrel. She's a lifelong Californian, which lends a very distinctive spin to both her ideas and her politics, and she's discovered, in her peregrinations, that the world is far smaller yet far more fascinating than anyone gives it credit for being. She holds forth her opinions on that in her blog, The Elemental Mom