I may blog for a living, but I have never been much of a reader. In fact, my Facebook feed is about all the reading you’d find me making time for. Given the choice between a book and Us Weekly, I’d choose the Us Weekly every time because Ooo! Look at all the pretty pictures!
I suppose it comes as no surprise when I tell you that reading with my 6-year-old killed me a little inside. It was a slow, tedious, frustrating, and oh-so-painful daily chore. But knowing how important practice was for my developing reader, I did as any non-reading mom would, and faked a deep and profound love of reading. I pretended to love me some Thomas the Tank Engine and Curious George literary fodder, feigned excitement for every obligatory trip to the library, hell, I even pretended to read Hawking’s On the Shoulders of Giants with my phone between the pages, all because I wanted my kid to see me reading.
Look! Mommy loooooves reading, just look at that giant book!
Despite my best efforts, BooBoo never really took interest in books, and daily reading became a chore that left each of us searching for shortcuts. Maybe mommy’s throat was hurting too much that day to read. Maybe BooBoo was too tired to focus. Maybe we’d do it later or promise to start fresh again tomorrow instead. While the excuses came easily, reading remained a struggle because we weren’t putting in the time.
That’s the thing about learning to read. There are no shortcuts. Sure, some kids take to reading more easily than others, but every early reader needs practice. I always knew proficient reading took time and energy, but when he’d rather do anything than sit and focus and I had about a billion other things to do, prioritized reading just sort of slipped through the cracks. It wasn’t my son’s fault, it was all mine.
It wasn’t on purpose. I was working. I had another son. I was busy. We’d do it later. All of these excuses rationalized my lack of attention to his literary development, that was until his first trimester report card revealed that he was reading well below grade level. BAD MOMMY.
Oh, the guilt and shame. Over the next few weeks, I made a conscious decision to take his reading seriously, but I knew we had to first start with his attitude toward books. Books were not the enemy. We headed to the library without a schedule or agenda to just “hang out.” There’d be no pressure, no catalog, no schedule, just rows and rows of books to choose from. He roamed and explored, picking up whatever piqued his interest. I didn’t worry about reading levels or inclusion in the Accelerated Reader program, I just wanted him to shop for books and shop he did! He selected 19 of them! Nineteen! Sure, the majority were picture books, but we borrowed them all in an effort to make books a deliberate part of our everyday.
We spent at least thirty minutes a day combing through books, looking at pictures, and tracing cool things we saw there. We discussed the pictures in detail, chatting up the hows and whys of each image. When he wanted to learn more, we’d read the captions. When he didn’t, we didn’t. I followed his lead when it came to reading, knowing that if he was to ever develop a love or even like of reading, it would need to develop organically. I’d tried forcing it in the past; no more.
As BooBoo started to develop more focused interests, he began looking for books at the library that spoke to him at his reading level. His insatiable curiosity for dinosaurs and reptiles began making text on a page seem far less intimidating. Perhaps it was the excitement he felt every time he learned something new, or the personal high that came from tackling a word without help. Maybe it was the security he felt snuggled up next to me that made him feel safe enough to try, or maybe he was beginning to develop a genuine love of reading.
We began calling his daily reading our “special time” and we meant it. We’d retreat to my queen bed, settle under the covers and snuggle close. It was the one intentional moment each day that allowed us to step away from distraction to connect. What was once a source of excuses and high stress somehow began to develop into a beautiful daily bonding experience that we both looked forward to.
And to think I’d been missing it!
All this time I’d been missing the opportunity to connect, snuggle, and support my growing boy. I’d been missing the opportunity to reprioritize my focus. I’d been missing the opportunity to contribute to his learning. I missed smiles and beams of confidence, fits of intense laughter and so much imagination. While I surely regret every sorry excuse ever made in the name of reading with my son, I’m thankful for the many lessons and experiences reading together taught me as a mother. The closeness we’ve developed from reading together continues to strengthen our relationship and shift my overall parenting focus. I’ve noticed an increase in patience, desire to teach both of my children more, and parent with purpose whenever I am able.
In so many ways, I have reading to thank for helping me redefine my role as mom. Reading is a sport of the present mind and open heart, an invitation to imagine, opportunity to explore, and gateway to logical and emotional growth. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that it’s taken me 37 years to believe it for myself, but in working to develop my little boy’s love of reading, I unexpectedly developed my own and became a better mother for it.