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A wrinkle in title...oh, whatever

For her first second grade project, Mallory had to go through a magazine or newspaper and cut out words that describe her likes, interests, and personality, and then glue those words to a paper apple. We don't get the newspaper, and the only magazines we subscribe to are Entertainment Weekly and The New Yorker. I figured that the former would be more fruitful in this instance than the latter; so the words that Mallory ended up finding and cutting out were "Movies" and "Music" and "Games" and "Alvin and the Chipmunks" and "Future Star!" We finally got to the end of the magazine, to its one lone page of book reviews. "Books!" I said, pointing to the headline. "You like books, cut that word out."

Mallory sighed. "Mommy, actually, I don't really like books at all," she said, and I keeled over dead.

No, I didn't. But I sighed heavily, on the inside. I don't know if she means it, really, although it's true that she now seems to view reading as a chore rather than a pleasure. I think she's getting bored with picture books, but she refuses to commit to chapter books. Ramona, Nancy Drew, Magic Treehouse, Junie B. Jones -- we have a whole shelf of these, and she'll read a page or two and give it up. She won't even allow me to read those books to her.

How can this be my child?

Maybe I'm taking it too seriously -- and believe me, I know that the instant she knows that it bothers me that she doesn't like to read, she'll never pick up a book again as long as she lives. Mallory cannot be convinced of anything, least of all by me. So I'm playing it cool. I make her read something every night -- because she's supposed to, for school -- but I don't push it. I am noncomittal. I don't comment. But I still read to Phoebe, usually while Mallory's in earshot, and I'm still carrying around my own books and reading in every spare minute of my time, which she sees, and I guess that's all I can do.

But it hurts, a little. You see, long ago, when I young and naive and not tired all the time, I pictured my future family as being like the families in Madeleine L'Engle novels. We were going to be like the Austins or the Murrays -- we'd listen to classical music and recite poetry from the star-gazing rock in our backyard. We'd have discussions about religion and science and literature and art while eating our dinner, which would always be home-cooked and nourishing and delicious. We'd read Charlotte's Web or Alice in Wonderland at bedtime. We'd take rides on time-traveling unicorns and solve mysteries in the catacombs of the Cathedral of St John the Divine. Well, maybe not those last two. But my family doesn't do those first things either. Instead, we eat frozen pizza with Spongebob Squarepants playing in the background, and we listen to Hannah Montana music in the car. Phoebe's favorite books are all tv-character based (Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Pony) and now Mallory doesn't like to read at all.

I feel like I've failed. I feel like I messed up at the very beginning. I should've set better limits on TV watching. I should've read more nursery rhymes (I don't know if my kids can even recite Little Bo Peep, or Little Miss Muffet.) I should've been stricter about the kinds of toys they play with and I should've taken them to the library more. I should've been a better guardian of their little brains.

It's hard, though. It's especially hard because I've been away from them most of the day every day since they were very little. It's hard to control what I don't see, and, frankly, it's hard to care at the end of the day when everyone's tired and it's all I can do to get them fed and bathed and in to bed. Those are just excuses, though, I know. I should've tried harder. I should try harder now, starting today.

And it's not that I think my kids are ruined, or that I wish they were different than they are. They are both bright and funny and imaginative and sweet. They are typical 21st century children and there's nothing wrong with that. It's just that...I want to do better than typical. I want them to exceed their potential, and I'm not sure that I'm doing enough to help them along their way.


aimee said…
I don't know how one kid loves to read and one doesn't. My kids love it but it is not like I did anything more than you (seriously, I didn't). They watch way too much tv and play too many video games and have the dumbest toys. So, I hope I am making you feel better. In the fact that I don't think it is your fault. You are doing a great job by pretending you don't care but having subtle hints. And hopefully, she'll come around.
Anonymous said…
I agree with Aimee. In the end people learn to love reading because of what reading gives to them. I think that you learned very early the joys of reading, in fact earlier than most. So, just keep doing what you are doing and maybe she will come around sooner rather than later.

Chris said…
You're being too hard on yourself.

The families in Madeline L'Engle novels didn't have video games, the internet, and cable TV to compete for their children's attention, nor Happy Meals, toy commercials, or the Disney Promotional Machine to contend with. They also didn't have to worry about working, at least not with both parents. You're making comparisons to a fictional ideal, which I'm sure you're aware of.

There's plenty of time for the girls to discover reading. And if they do or don't, it has nothing to do with you, it has to be their call. We can give positive reinforcement, but we can't force anything. Well we could, but I guarantee that they would wind up hating it more if we did. They already hace great imaginations and artistic ability, and are very creative...if nothing else, that should be enough for now. The rest will come, or it won't, but either way it won't be because of or in spite of you. You're a fantastic mother, just believe that.

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