A couple of weeks ago I read a piece entitled, “The Right Way to Bribe Your Kids to Read.” I was raised by two parents that scoffed at the idea of paying for grades and certainly never used money as incentive for habits and behaviors that were “good” for me. So I suppose like all of us, I am a product of parental molding, and therefore lean into that belief. So when I opened up the article in my hands it was with skepticism. Sure, it turns out, lots of you believe in using allowance or money, even in tiny allotments, as reward for the lovely habit of learning to love to read. That extrinsic motivation isn’t wrong — and there’s a bit to it, incentive-wise. The article reviews how it can work and how it certainly does for some families with somewhat hesitant, young readers. And although it didn’t convert me into pushing quarters around the house to urge the boys, the article really has changed the last week and a half around here.
Not all babies come out great sleepers and not all babies come out eager readers. That being said, even those of us who don’t come out that way sometimes learn to love it (I’m exhibit A). We really should read to our babies the day they are born.
I’ve got one boy in my house who can’t get out of the books. Wormy and delicious, he’s constantly distracted by the stories of the pages. Two days ago he’d announced he was saving the new Harry Potter book for a ferry ride we have coming up and then last night, sitting on our front steps, he whispered to me, almost as an admission, that he’d finished it. Just couldn’t not open it up…
The other little boy around here is a lot more like I was. He’s drawn to the vivid emotion of human interactions; he’s buoyant and wild. In his loudness with life he gets jet fuel energy from playing with people and their ideas, humor, and emotion. He feeds off reciprocity. The characters and stories and prose of books haven’t yet snagged him in a way that he reaches for those characters like he reaches for his brother or for me in the morning. He loves to see how his emotions change ours. And the characters and ideas in his books haven’t yet started talking to him.
So the article about bribing and reading together got me thinking I could help. And a little voice rumbled around in me after reading it urging, “Wendy Sue, no matter how ‘busy,’ it can’t just be books at bedtime, you have to sit together and read at all times of the day.”
So for the last week and a half we’ve been reading together at unusual times. Snuggling up on my bed after getting home from work, on the couch with the coffee, in the corner of the room reading together or outside as the sun creeps up. Ten minutes here, 20 minutes there. Sometimes my little extrovert reader reads out loud to me or sometimes we each read our own. And this bounty with him came from realizing, of course, that I could show him that someone just as desperate for the people I love to share my moments and experiences, my laughter and hopes for the world can also find a bit of salvation in story and poetry. That over time I could live out the truths in front of him that there is safety and solace, intrigue and escape, hope and helium-heart courage, and essential camaraderie in these books. We can stumble upon an even bigger sense of self from words in a book. And sometimes it can take our breath away.
Like today. This morning as we sat together as the morning unfolded and the minutes poured out, I fell in love with a poem I’d never read before. Fell in love with the words so much that I ran my fingers over them after I found them. And I especially danced around in a few lines of it.
Even this middle-aged extrovert is finding newness in words in the morning. Thanks to my little 7 year-old reading partner.
It’s a hot and dusty world. Glimmering , and dangerous. ~Mary Oliver in Prose Poem: Are You Okay?
Yes, it certainly is. Thank goodness we have each other and thank goodness we have the prose of these books and these writers. Thankful for this new habit of togetherness with words with my little reader. Hopeful and knowing you’re also finding similar pockets of stillness this generous summer, too.