I was pregnant with my oldest child for 42 and 1/2 weeks. That’s a lot of time to worry. I worried that my baby would be a boy and I would have to decide about circumcising him. I worried that my baby would be a girl and she would be disappointed about my inability to French braid. I worried that my baby would be of indeterminable gender and that I would choose wrong, or that even making a choice would be wrong.
But in all the worrying that I did it never occurred to me to worry that my baby wouldn’t be a reader. I discovered how to read when I was about four and was rarely without a book from then until the day those 42 1/2 weeks were over. If a book wasn’t available, I’d read whatever was, from newspaper to cereal box. I loved reading so much that I have a Master’s Degree in literature. I’m a former teacher and one of my first jobs after that was as the Editorial Director of a reading motivation multimedia project for kids. I spent years working in educational publishing. For God’s sake, I even spent one miserable year working for the Great Books Foundation! Reading isn’t just my best subject, it’s pretty much my only subject.
So I didn’t really have any worries about my daughter reading. We didn’t try to turn my daughter in to a reader, but we did all of the expected things. She was read to constantly as a baby and a small child, and she loved it. We visited the library weekly for storytime and to get new books. She didn’t watch TV until she was over two and since then she’s had about an hour of screen time a day. It all seemed to be working fine. By 18 months she had taught herself the alphabet. We routinely had to navigate our way around town avoiding the library if we weren’t planning on going in or she’d have a crying fit. “Want to go libu” was one of her most frequent sentences. We joked about the fact that our only use of bandaids was for paper cuts.
She did not learn to read on her own, but learned to read and as she says, she reads “on grade level.” She still loves being read to and we do so every night. But she has not picked up the love of reading on her own. No matter how interested she is in what I read to her, she is never motivated enough to pick up the book and keep going. I could stop in the middle of a battle between Harry Potter and Voldemort and she would beg me to continue, but if I didn’t, she would just wait until the next night.
I think this would surprise a lot of people. My daughter is exactly the kind of kid you’d expect to be a reader. She is introverted and quiet. She loves pretend play and has great concentration. She comes from pretty much the most bookish family you can imagine. She can spend hours on her own, but in those hours, she does not pick up a book unless specifically told to do so.
For the reading motivation program that I ran I read hundreds of children’s and YA novels. I joked about the fact that all the children in them LOVE to read. If the child doesn’t love to read then it’s a pretty sure sign we’ll discover he has dyslexia by the third chapter. As annoying as they are on other levels I have to admire the My Weird School books for breaking the mold and having a protagonist who is clearly smart but who hates reading and school and does not have a disability. Because in books and our culture, loving to read equals being smart.
In between college and grad school I worked in a daycare and yes, in case you’re wondering, the women working in the daycare are judging you. I always laughed at the moms who would coo, “Oh, little Johnny loves books,” when Johnny usually spent storytime throwing things. I didn’t understand why these mothers felt the need to insist that their child loved reading, when he didn’t.
I understand now. Maybe it’s where I live or the other parents I know, but I have rarely heard anyone else say “My child does not like to read.” I have NEVER heard anyone say “My daughter does not like to read.”
It almost feels like a betrayal to say that, as though I’m saying that my daughter isn’t smart. But it also feels sort of good, that I’m accepting that as smart as she may or may not be (and for the record, I still believe she’s a genius), she isn’t me. She’ll have to find her own ways of escape and development. She’ll have to find her own ways to navigate the world. She’ll have to find her own strengths, and if reading isn’t one of them, so be it.
Unless she gets interested in those Redwall books because there’s no way in hell I’ll ever suffer through those again.