We’ve had such a long road to literacy.
The odds were stacked against my son. He knew less than half the alphabet when he arrived at our house. He was 5.3 years old. Most of my friends’ kids knew the whole song before they were three. For someone with a life-long reading love affair, watching him struggle to find the word “the” on a page was soul-crushing.
I’m obsessed with reading. Words demand my attention; if something is written or printed, I have no choice. Must. Read. Sometimes it’s annoying, especially when a sign catches my eye and I end up with whiplash or smash my nose on the headrest, trying to decipher it as we drive by. This addiction paid off big-time, however, when the medical records arrived the year we adopted. I sat on a hard wooden chair, elbows on the kitchen table, and read every page. One was missing. Our son was born with a heart defect. Multiple notes made clear the danger, but none showed a resolution. If not for my enslavement, we might have never known.
I was an early reader, happily consuming Seuss on my own before I was five. On my seventh birthday, I received The Chronicles of Narnia. I finished all seven books in the series within six months. Granted, I didn’t expect our kiddos to read on the same time table, but nevertheless, I was distressed. Books bring joy, open doors, transport to new worlds.
Entering 2nd grade, our son read on a pre-K level, thwarting my desperate wish to introduce him to the incredible experiences available in books, especially, as he calls them, “chapter books.” I wanted to take him to Terabithia. Show him the wardrobe, the Shire, the cupboard under the stairs. I dreamed that together we could Number the Stars, meet the Giver, sit in the Secret Garden, listen to the Trumpet of the Swan.
Audiobooks (if you’re not familiar with Audible.com, I highly recommend the site) have been an incredible boon. We’ve listened to treasures like The Secret Garden, Bunnicula and The Tale of Despereaux on road trips. And in the meantime, it’s happening. He’s caught the bug (thankfully, not the flu bug) and made a sudden shift from reluctance to fluent reader.
He’s a bit obsessed with a graphic novel he won at the library this summer, The Family Secret. It’s a WWII story written at the late elementary to early middle school level, but he loves it. The WWII era has always been one of my favorites, so it’s become a shared passion. He reads as much as he can on his own, stopping periodically to sound out a word or ask me for help.
What used to be the bane of his existence is now his lifeblood. A year ago, I despaired of ever seeing him love to read. Now, he can’t get enough.
But we have a problem.
Here’s the irony. He’s getting in trouble for reading.
He reads when he’s supposed to be getting ready for school, or eating, or doing homework. He sneaks books under his desk in the classroom. He reads the street signs and advertisements. If I drive slowly enough, he’s going to finally figure out that the building on the corner is not, as I’ve claimed, a “ladies’ swimsuit store.”
Two days ago, I did the unthinkable: threatened to take his books away. He went ballistic. Begged me to take his prized submarine instead. The enormous one, with flashing lights and “dive, dive!” alarms. He promised to get ready on time.
Yesterday, I apologized to the reading teacher, who was handling school check-in for tardy students. “I’m so sorry we’re late. I left him alone for half an hour. I thought he was getting dressed, but he spent the entire time reading.”
She grinned and high-fived me.