There are letters, phonetic elements and, of course, words to which a vast array of meaning has been assigned over the course of history. Building blocks we parents turn to as we go about the important business of raising a reader. We tap our well of instructional instincts, consider our own path to literacy and look to the experts who willingly share all that we’ll ever need to know about teaching a child to read. Furthermore, we immerse our charges in literature, expose them to robust vocabulary, swear by the tried-and-true merits of repetition and, of course, read to them from the moment they become implanted within the uterine wall. Intuitively, we assume these ingredients help form a solid foundation upon which layers of understanding will take root and a lifelong love of reading will flourish. Theoretically, this is all well and good.
Enter: the unpredictable and highly diverse nature of children.
That said, for the better part of my oldest daughter’s childhood, she had what can only be described as a visceral hatred of books. In sum, she gave new meaning to the term “reluctant reader.” From the early days of Dr. Seuss through her interminable high school career/slightly disturbing Sylvia Plath phase, literature—even good literature, it seemed—was the bane of her existence.
Naturally, I was completely convinced that whatever I had or hadn’t done as a parent somehow led to this sorry state of affairs. Pages, upon which writers had built a rich tapestry of words, did little to woo her within. I had failed at one of the most important assignments of motherhood—to nurture a love of books. I suppose her abhorrence could have stemmed from something far more simplistic—perhaps she found books to be pitifully uninspiring…or had yet to discover an author that spoke to her…or maybe she considered reading itself to be a horrendously taxing affair (with all that page turning and whatnot). And no matter how I tried (to reward her efforts, to involve her in summer literacy camp, to make the words on a given page come to life by reading aloud till I felt compelled to light myself on fire), it was all for naught—until she went away to college, that is. It was there that her passion for books finally blossomed. Better late than never.
In a similar vein, my youngest child was and continues to be a challenge in the truest sense of the word. For the longest time, she refused to tackle anything unless its plot involved a horse that could talk, a dog overcome by some ridiculous misfortune or a hackneyed mystery soused with exceedingly dull dialogue. And I don’t know why, exactly, that sort of thing bothered me—except that I was largely responsible for reading the cussed things aloud after dinner, that is until my head lolled around as if it were tethered not to a neck, but to a spindly rubber hose. Needless to say, I remained dead asleep until my brood poked my eyelids with indiscriminate fingers, demanding to know what the stupid horse or godforsaken dog or pint-sized super sleuth had said. Thankfully, the aforementioned reader-of-that-which-is-dreadfully-banal has progressed to more thought provoking content in the titles she chooses nowadays.
In stark contrast, my middle child has a deep and abiding love of books that I did almost nothing to cultivate. In a word, she disappears into the page and is swallowed whole by the story unfolding before her. Always has. At times, I lament the fact that her sisters didn’t come to reading in the same manner and with the same ferocity. Ultimately, though, I suppose what matters is that each of my children has a special relationship with books—a relationship that is as unique and individual as they are, one that will serve them well as they wend their way forward, a bond, I hope, that will enrich their lives and forever challenge their thinking. In the end, maybe that’s all we can effectively do, in addition to our level best as curators of impressionable minds.
Planet Mom: It’s where I live.
Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel