[in which I shamelessly brag on my kid]
A few weeks ago, Rio was struggling with Dr. Seuss. She’d made huge strides in reading since starting first grade. Which is to say, she’d moved from complete disinterest in the subject to a determined, steady effort at mastering simple words.
She could totally wrestle Red Fish, Blue Fish to a draw, relying partly on memorization and partly on some rudimentary ability to sound out letters. But Green Eggs and Ham was still beyond her.
Last weekend, we were in the local bookstore picking up a birthday gift for a friend. She saw the latest Bean and Ivy book had finally appeared on the shelves and her eyes lit up like Christmas morning.
Bean & Ivy, for those not familiar with them, is not a picture book. It’s a full-fledged chapter book, about two amazing little girls who break all the rules, get into scrapes, get in trouble with their moms, yet somehow have a completely awesome time. I love these books almost as much as Rio. We have both been eagerly awaiting the appearance of Book 7.
Now: I am a sucker for books. They are my weak spot. That’s why I almost never set foot in a bookstore. I just firmly believe that books are essential expenses. Like food and housing. I believe this so firmly that I am always surprised there is sales tax on books, since in Massachusetts, essentials like food and clothes are not taxed. Books: obviously just as essential.
Here I am, in the bookstore, with a six-year-old who is literally shaking with excitement over a book. I remember that feeling. So vividly that I feel it with her.
I loaned her $10 advance on her allowance money. What else was I going to do?
So after buying this book with her own money, Rio proudly carried it home. Where she began nagging us to read it to her RIGHT NOW PLEASE. Her dad was making lunch, I was wrangling her sister. We asked her to wait five minutes.
Instead she picked up the book and started reading it aloud. She made it through the first two pages with no help and no errors, just like she’d been doing it her whole life. And then kept going. She wanted to stay home from the birthday party we were heading to and just read all day instead. I talked her out of that barely, but she dove back in headfirst as soon as she got home.
Rio can totally read. And suddenly wants to. I’m in love with Reader Girl. We’ve been sitting together reading every night since, and it is just as awesome as I always dreamed it would be to share reading with my daughter this way.
I’m most especially proud because she learned it through hard work. I taught myself to read. I remember the street signs coming into focus, almost as if the letters were moving to shape themselves into words. It’s one of my earliest memories. By the time I was in first grade, like Rio is, I was blowing through Nancy Drew books for fun, and the whole “reading lessons” thing was a boring, repetitive chore.
Not for her. She sits down every afternoon and applies herself to her literacy homework. Now I know what my teachers meant when they wrote “Does not work up to her potential” on my report cards. They meant I was not doing this thing Rio is doing. I never worked hard at school.
It’s amazing to see my little girl so hungry for it, so eager and ready to learn, and so willing to make mistakes, try again, practice, and press through the hard parts.
I volunteered for literacy group at her school this week. I sat with her at a table full of girls. Their assignment was to work in silence, and to underline the rhyming words in a poem. Rio carefully read the poem aloud and started underlining the words. The other girls started copying her paper, and then realized the answers were already posted on the classroom board in neater handwriting, so they went to copy it from there. Rio stayed in her seat.
She proceeeded to make several mistakes, and scribble out her answers and try again. At the end of the exercise her page was a mess and she had underlined some words that don’t rhyme and some that do and missed a few. The other kids had attractive papers with the right answers on them.
After the worksheets, they got to pick out books. Rio chose a challenging book a little above her reading level and sat there carefully sounding out words like “penguin” and “arctic” for ten minutes while the other kids gossiped together and idly turned the pages of a nature encyclopedia, cooing over pictures of baby animals.
Clearly, my kid is way nerdier than she looks.
I don’t mean to say the other kids were doing it wrong. It’s clear copying wasn’t against the rules, nor was using the quiet reading time afterwards to chat and look at cute animal babies: the teacher watched them do it and smiled. They were totally doing the lesson the way it had been planned, taking advantage of all the resources given.
Copying from the board is one good way to solve the problem they were given. It was clever to figure it out, and in real life noticing that the answers are neatly posted on the wall nearby and copying them over is a more useful skill than doggedly reinventing the wheel.
But I’m Rio’s mom, and this post exists to brag on her. I loved how hard Rio worked, and how unafraid she was of being different from the girls in her class. She obviously cares more about learning the skill than she does about getting the right answer today. That’s awesome. And not something she learned from me. See also: I was the world’s most impatient and lazy student.
Anyway, Rio, if you’re reading this ages and ages hence: I love the moment you learned to read. You’re doing it perfectly, in absolutely your own way, and it’s a joy to behold.