Sunday, January 28, 2007

Reading as Death, Writing as Life
On Teaching Your Own Child to Read 

So many stories about death in this year's Best American Essays: spouses, dogs, your own impending. Winter is like death, too, or so the everpresent "they" have always said. I read outside in the frigid cold, five minutes at a time, and watch last month's too-soon bulbs wither and die.

In our house life reigns. We're teaching the elderchild to read and write, the two of us in turns over the weekend. It's a difficult task compounded by her vast brains and creativity, a well-intentioned reassurance that she need not bother yet carried over from school, an ADHD instinct to look away from the page and into space when trying as if the words were everywhere at once, a tendency to already know what the words should be.

The living room gets taken over by her magnetic drawing board, a focused selection of books. We take on the task for the bare maximum of her attention, and I wonder how much we can truly get done in ten minutes at a stretch, and marvel at how much progress we've made in one short weekend.

Yesterday after I got frustrated, she copied the word "moss" perfectly from the page where we had been working. I didn't know until I unearthed the word, centered on an otherwise blank page, there on the floor where we had been working. Today she knows the word, and it's hard to tell if she recognizes it wholecloth or if she really reads it to me.

I want to keep this, her first privately written word, in my wallet, hold it close to my body forever, a talisman against the independence and solitude that reading represents. Instead, I leave it in the pile, hoping it will do her some more good.

Words are life, I explain to her when I tuck her in that night. With words, you will be that much closer to your own self, and to the world. In my head, I finish the sentence, knowing that, in the way they open up the world to her, the words will change her, take her away from me, add one more little death of us to the pile that is her daily growth.

I kiss her, and tell her how proud I am that she is learning to read. She smiles that proud, almost smug grin to herself, and I tuck her in quickly, and turn out the lights, and close the door almost all the way, hurrying to leave before I can cry in her presence.

Labels: , ,

posted by boyhowdy | 2:47 PM |

Post a Comment
coming soon
now listening