Doors and Tigers and Reading to Children

DSC_0169 One thing about home school I despaired giving up was reading to my kids…until my husband reminded me it just might be possible to still read to them before bed every night.  I love reading to my kids maybe because I love reading.  I also love how good literature sparks conversations we might never have otherwise.

Like the time our home school curriculum told us to read The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli a month after we learned two of the families we were closest to would move…and we would stay.  The Door in the Wall is the tale of a crippled and abandoned boy rescued and taken in by a priest in the Middle Ages.  This boy with real suffering both emotional and physical must find a way.  The guidance from the priest?  “Thou has only to follow the wall far enough and there will be a door in it.”

My kids, one in particular, looked at their future and saw a big wall.  Life as they’d known it would change and the future contained real challenges.  The encouragement to hope and to keep following the wall…to run your hand down the wall…to stay close to, even touch, the challenge, suffering, and pain while looking for a way through resounded inside us.   I had no good vocabulary to draw their hearts into the light of conversation about all this transition in our lives but this book provided the means to talk and I am grateful.  For the other child, the wall is what keeps us from God and the door is Jesus.  Needless to say, I recommend this book often.

After sitting on a shelf for a couple of years, my daughter recently discovered and devoured Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo.  Having received the book as a gift from a thoughtful friend, it sat on our adult bookshelf (by the way, what do you call places that you store things for adults but that are not profane…I really wonder this!) after I read and pondered it.  When she pulled it down and began raving and telling me to read it to her brothers I felt compelled to understand what touched her so deeply.

The first chapter describes a boy with tremendous loss in his life that he will not allow himself to grieve.  He stuffs his thoughts into an imaginary suitcase and mentally sits on them so they won’t escape.  He has every reason to cry buckets but not even the mean bullies at school can squeeze a tear out of him.  Hmmm.

As we continue to grieve losses, I see what my daughter sees.  It is the time in grief where it is tempting to just stuff in the sadness and pain and just not remember what Halloween was like last year and the year before that and the year before that.  It would be so easy to not talk about our old friends even as we make and deepen new friendships.  It seems it would be easier to not remember but the need to avoid the pain begins to need something bigger and fiercer to keep all of it in.

In a way, we all as a family need these books to talk about the doors and the walls and the memories and the tigers in our lives.  The books mediate our conversation better sometimes than a one-on-one coffee date.  Something about dialoguing our struggles through the lens of someone else brings up what’s underneath in a way my efforts at direct assault fail.

So, we keep reading and we keep talking.  I don’t know what my kids will treasure about their childhood but this is one aspect I will treasure.

Teaching My Boy to Read

I’m teaching my boy to read these days.  Reading is a passion of mine.  If I was not so responsible I’d be up late with the light on to finish a book.  Who am I kidding? I’m not very responsible.

Luxury these days would be reading as long as I wanted rather than only as long as I could manage to put off other things.  I dream of the day when I will be the one at the pool with a book instead of the one with the bag of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

But my boy, he seems oblivious to reading. He’s compliant so he sits and participates in the lessons and he’s learning.  He’s also the one who told me quite clearly from the beginning that “some people read and some people build things.  I am the kind that builds things.” He thought that would get me off his back.  It did not though I’m pretty sure he will pursue a Bachelor of Science degree if he goes to college.

So, I sit five mornings a week and wait patiently for him to remember the sounds, figure out ways to help him blend sounds together, offer encouragement and correction, flash through cards.  It’s exhausting!  He even tells me to back off and not say “good!” after every successfully sounded out word.  Fair enough.  A guy’s got to maintain his dignity. I get it.

Recently, I noticed my son looking at some words and then trying to sound them out in his spare time. Up until that point, he’d been content to just see a jumble of words and let it be. Why try when Legos beckoned? Now, he looks, he assumes meaning can be found and he tries to unlock the code. I smile. It’s clicking. I’ve been waiting for it to click all year.

Perseverance.  That’s what it is my son does with such constancy in his learning that speaks to my spiritual life. Persevere. Keep sounding out what needs sounding out.  Keep reading the next word on the page even if I read it poorly and someone corrects me.  Even if I read it well and someone says “good!” in a way that makes me feel like a child.  Keep going until something about God, grace, and life clicks. Celebrate.  Then, move on to the next word and keep going.

Persevere.