Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Mommy Stuff: The Pitfalls to Raising a Reader

 Everyone (and by everyone, I mean parenting "experts") always harps on how important it is to raise a reader. It's in all the parenting emails, magazines and blogs: "Ten Steps to Raising a Reader," "How to Get Your Child to Love Reading," "Is Your Third-Grader Behind Because He Hasn't Read 'Atlas Shrugged'?" - you get the idea. But nobody ever talks about the downside.

 Not that I'm against reading. Far from it. We have a good-sized library - now squeezed into the computer den, since our former library became the girl's room. The boy has so many books, they spill out of his bookshelves and are scattered all over the room, and the little girl is following in his footsteps (sometimes literally, as she follows him into his room, and then runs out with as many of his books as she can carry.) So the "experts" would say we're doing it right.

 Now, I learned to read before Kindergarten, and I've had my nose in a book ever since. As a pre-teen and teenager, I often whined about being the only kid ever to get in trouble for reading. (Of course, the problem wasn't the reading, it was that I was reading instead of doing whatever I was supposed to be doing. But logic never stopped a teenager from feeling unfairly persecuted.) Well, now my Mom can laugh, because karma has reared up to bite me on the you-know-what, in the form of the little girl.

 She loves books. And I mean LOVES books, in the way only an obsessive two-year-old can. It started simple, with a couple of books a night before bed. Then three or four. By the time she turned two, trying to put her to bed with anything less than six bedtime stories would evoke an hysterical meltdown. So, as a compromise, we started putting a couple of books in her crib with her, and leaving her lamp on for a bit so she could look at them before sleep. Of course, it quickly got out of hand.

 She started waking up in the middle of the night, crying. Did she want a new diaper? Maybe a cold drink? Well, sure, but those were secondary. What she really wanted was a story. When I'd try to put her back to bed after the diaper change, she'd scream and thrash around, pointing and saying "book." So, blind and half asleep, I'd hand her a book. And she'd say "No! Moon!" (Not that book, Mama, I really want to read "Goodnight Moon.") So I'd hand her "Goodnight Moon" and she'd point and say "chair." (I'd really like to sit on your lap in the chair so you can read me "Goodnight Moon.") At which point I would respond, "Are you out of your $^%& mind? I'm not reading you 'Goodnight Moon' in the middle of the &%$#* night! It's 3:30 in the morning, go back to sleep!"

 No, not really. I just thought that.

 What I said was, "No story. Nightime. Time to sleep now. Night-night." To which she replied, "Oh of course, how silly of me Mama. I'll see you in the morning."

 No, not really.

 She screamed her head off, at a decibel level usually only found in tornado sirens and Justin Bieber concert fans. But I stood strong, closing the door and going back to bed, determined not to give in no matter how long she screamed. And it was a looooong time, at least 45 minutes. Oh, she'd settle into anguished whimpers for awhile, just long enough to make me think she was done, but as soon as I started to doze off, the outraged shrieking would begin again.

 This middle-of-the-night power struggle went on for about a week and a half. She's stubborn, but I knew if I gave in I'd be reading her stories at 3 a.m. for the next three years. For now, we seemed to have reached a compromise. She still wakes up, but if she has enough books in her bed, she'll happily read herself back to sleep by the light from the hallway. Of course, now there are so many books in her bed, there's barely room for her.

 But, as I keep telling myself, in five years this won't be a problem anymore.

 She'll probably have a Kindle. They don't take up as much room.



  1. Brilliant entry! I raised a reader, too, and she is constantly asking me to "read just a couple chapters of this," or "listen to how this is written," or "has Dad added anything more to his novel?" She's 37 this year ... brace yourself for decades of book-talk.

    1. I do look forward to being able to introduce her and her brother to my favorite books. It'll be even better when they're old enough to recommend books to me!