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Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Joy of Reading

The magazines and newspapers are filled with statistics how reading to your children has a very strong positive effect on their lives. They tend to grow up valuing reading more and they tend to be more curious and more anxious to learn.  I read to my children. I started reading to them long before I heard these statistics. It never occurred to me to read to my children because it would make them smarter. I read to my children simply because it was fun!
Many of the books I read to them are books I read as a child. What a joy it is to have the opportunity to read these books again with the new eyes of my children. I was almost giddy when I brought home “A Wrinkle in Time.” I still have images in my mind from that book from my first reading nearly 40 years ago.  But not all the books I read to them have I read before. For some reason I ended up with a copy of “The Fellowship of the Ring” from the “Lord of the Ring” series and started reading it to my then six year old son. My four-year-old son listened in although he usually fell asleep. What a wonderful experience we had traveling together through Middle-Earth. I discovered my four-year-old was listening when one day I heard him say “my precious” while he was playing by himself in the living room.
My three sons are grown, now, and out of the home. But I have the five younger children and am getting to read them all my favorite books all over again. At the same time we are discovering new books and experiencing them for the first time together. The “Abhorsen” series had us staying up late for several weeks. “Saffy’s Angel” and the follow up books on the Casson family charmed us. We grew closer as a family with “Homecoming” and the other books involving the Tillerman family. Of course we thoroughly enjoyed the Harry Potter series. We read the “Golden Compass” series long before the hubaloo about the movie came about. Reading out-loud to my family had created some of the best memories I have.
Currently I am reading three different books with three different children. With my ten-year-old son I am reading “The Secret Garden.” It is a classic written long ago. Its power remains and my son is enthralled with the images of sickly Mary, the moor, the long corridors, and, of course, the secret garden. My twelve-year-old daughter and I are reading “River Secrets” by Shannon Hale. We’ve already been through “Goose Girl” and “Enna Burning.” My seven-year-old daughter and I are traveling through the enchanted, but dangerous, world of “Fablehaven.”
It takes time to read so many books at once. I can’t read to each child every night. Our house is not a clockwork house and so there is never a set pattern to the schedule. I end up reading to whoever is still awake and ready to be read to when my other evening activities have ended. Tonight it was my ten-year-old and “The Secret Garden.” Mary Quite Contrary is finally getting a bit healthier from playing in the cold moor air outside. For the first time she found an appetite and ate all her porridge. Amid the “wuthrin’” of the wind she heard a cry from down the hall. I can’t wait for the next chapter.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Of Teeth and Tears

                The tooth fairy has been the source of a lot of fun in my home. With eight children many teeth have been lost over the years and we are still losing them. Losing a tooth in this home pretty much follows the same patter.
                “Dad, I have a loose tooth. See!” The child opens his mouth and pushes a tooth forward with his tongue.
                I cringe, because it looks painful to me, and then say, while making a fist in front of their face, “I can help you get that tooth out.”
                “No thanks,” he answers without much worry. I’m not a very scary father. Actually, my making a fist is a kind of joke among the children because they know that I can’t stand the sight of blood. My two attempts at pulling teeth in the past with my finger and a string ended in miserable failure. The stories have been passed down from my older children to my younger children and is still a joke. No, all of the teeth that have been lost in this home have been of the “do-it-yourself” variety. It is always a relief to me to have a child excitedly run in to show me the tooth that is in their hand and the bloody spot where it had been in their mouth—and I didn’t have to do a thing.
                The child will put the tooth in a little ceramic “tooth” container on top of the piano. Then the “wait” begins. The tooth fairy never comes the first night. He might not come the second night. In fact he might not come for three weeks. I think that is the record. When my kids remind me that the tooth fairy hasn’t come I will consult the “tooth fairy blog” (you may have trouble finding that blog) to learn where he has been. He might have gotten caught in hurricane in Mexico. It might be that he was over in Russia at the time of the tooth loss and it just takes time to work his way this direction. Once he was on vacation (even fairies need a break). His GPS has been known to go out and it takes a bit to get repaired.
                Eventually the tooth fairy does arrive. This is usually about the time my child’s patience is running thin. My wife will quietly come out one morning before the kids have arisen and ask, “Has the tooth fairy come yet?” With that little prod I will hurry over to the tooth holder and find that, yes, indeed, the tooth fairy has finally arrived. My child will come and excitedly show me the loot while at the same time giving me the “it’s about time” look.
                Recently my ten-year-old son had been waiting for an especially long time for the tooth fairy to arrive. The big snows on the East Coast had really messed up his schedule. Checking the tooth holder became a daily ritual with him. He would be full of anticipation on his way to the piano and then resigned to the quirkiness of the tooth fairy schedule as he walked away empty handed.
                On the morning the tooth fairy finally arrived my son had not kept his scheduled visit with the tooth holder. His seven-year-old sister, even though it was not her tooth in the holder, was not so remiss. She checked and found the tooth had been replaced by a dollar and immediately ran and told her big brother. Instead of being excited at the news he puzzled us by breaking into tears and running to his room. This son has a record of being a little moody and everyone just rolled their eyes at his behavior. I had inkling that there was something more to his behavior than usual. Could it be that he was unhappy that his long wait had only produced a dollar? I didn’t think it was that because greed and ungraciousness has never been his style. I learned that it was the amount of money at all. It was the disappointment that he hadn’t discovered the exciting arrival of the tooth fairy himself.
                When I told others the reason for his behavior they just rolled their eyes again and thought that he shouldn’t be such a baby. I had to agree that he was acting like a baby, but on the other hand  I could  understand his bitter disappointment. Each morning he had had the delightful anticipation of checking the tooth holder. He knew that on one of these mornings his anticipation would be rewarded with the prize. As the days went on the anticipation of that moment grew. Finally, just when the moment the anticipation was to be rewarded his little sister had let the air out of his balloon with her untimely information. She had basically told him the ending of the mystery he was only half-way through reading. She was the cold-sore on the lip of his girlfriend who he was going to kiss for the first time. She was the one who used up the hot water right before his shower.
                This son will have to grow up and learn to handle disappointment better. There are unpleasant places I can go in my mind where the residue of memories of disappointments in my life remain. I wish I had the right to cry about each and every one of them, but as an adult I no longer have the right. This son is still young. He still has the right so I let him cry it out and pretended he was also crying for me.