it started like every other climbing into someone’s lap. there was the shifting of one bottom to make room for the other. the nestling down just so, the interlacing legs. then, lean back, shuffle shoulders. comfy, yet? oh, wait, the book, don’t forget the book. little legs leapt up to get just the right book. then start it all, all over again. the climbing in, the shifting bottoms, the wrapping little legs in big legs, the shoulder jostling. at last, all set.
only this time, only no one knew it, this here was a runway.
for months and months–years and years, really–we’ve been pointing at scratch marks on pages; you know, the little wisps of ink, sometimes tall like soldiers, sometimes full of humps like camels, sometimes with little dots, or criss-crosses like the jib across the mast on a sailing ship.
all those squiggles, they must have looked like this: jkelsoi sjtiwm xooe,s.
no wonder he needed pictures to tease out the tale.
but suddenly, the other night, an ordinary summer’s night with just a slice of moon, and a big brother far away, so the little unscrambler of the alphabet had his mama and his papa all to himself–and you have to wonder if soaking up all the sunlight all yourself makes the grapes on the vine ripen just a little more succulently, a little faster–that little boy took off.
the book that birthed the flight was all baseball, all the time. he’s turned the pages, soaked up the pictures a hundred times before. nothing really stuck. but this time, we could tell quite quickly, something wholly new, something deep, was clicking.
it is, i tell you, like watching someone catch the wind. talking we are born to do. these sounds come flying from our mouths, and after months and months of listening, we learn to string those sounds into little tiny words. even if at first, they are rather lumpy.
not so, reading. reading takes some doing.
there are those, i know some, who’ve never made the leap. who are locked in a world where even bus signs remain a mystery they’ll not decode. they rely on the mercy of strangers, and an odd soup of shame and gumption, to get through the never-ending maze.
not so here. not anymore.
his papa and i were practically in tears. he was beaming, plenty. it was a moment witnessed all around. often, that doesn’t happen. to learn to read, sometimes, is a solitary triumph.
but this time it was a holy communion of sounds and spirit coming together, words leaping all around the room. and with them the hearts of a mama, a papa, and a little boy for whom this leaping did not come without some true determination.
it started with the names of baseball teams, a page with logos on it. at first we thought he was merely spitting out the symbols. but then his papa pointed to obscure ones, teams that are no longer.
bing. bing. bing. he did this little trick his reading teacher taught him. he extends his lanky little arm, he taps each sound, of every letter, in a chopped-up deconstruction, then slides it all together with a whoosh. what was a string of disconnected sounds becomes a word, a necklace really, of bright and shining grunts, beginning, middle, end.
on and on, he picked up speed. grabbing book and paper off the shelf. whatever had a word, he was making sense of it. it was as if the giant combination lock inside his little head had finally, after much jiggling of the dials, settled on just the right parade of numbers, and he was off and reading.
“oh my goodness,” we mouthed, glancing back and forth from boy to page to each other’s wide-eyed, drop-jawed face. the wheels aren’t wobbling. the boy is pedaling without those back-up baby wheels. there he goes, down the alley. we’re holding tight, but now we’re not. we let go, and he is soaring.
you could see it in his face. and beneath his little arms. it was as if a wind had up and lifted him. he was glowing. he was spinning. he was reading words, plucking one after another off the fence, as if each was a big fat crow and he was tossing corn.
pluck. pluck. pluck.
there will be, of course, long roads to go. but for now he knows the feeling of the breeze, carrying him, taking him, alone, to places he’s not been. he can haul out a slim volume, or a cereal box, and he can make it all make sense. or at least grope his way through the not-so-murky swamp.
we live, ask my mother, in a house where books are everywhere. too many books, i’m told. the shelves groan, i’ve heard them. they bend. sink low as if they too are protesting, threatening to break. let go. spill stories to the ground.
a house where all the walls are reinforced with books is a house that i’d say is constructed well. it makes me feel safe, wrapped in friends.
it is a house, indeed, where you want to know the secret to unlocking all those pages. whole rooms, now, have opened up to him. worlds, too. but you knew that. because you are of the great society of readers who each, once, long ago, tripped upon the perfect combination that slid each tiny letter where it belonged. and for you, as for the latest little reader, the world was ever opened.
to have watched that moment happen, indeed, was to rediscover and remember that once upon a time the universe of lined-up letters was a club to which we did not belong.
and in a moment of pure invention and creation we stumbled on the very thing that, through the many many years, would bring solace and solution, heartache and heady heady wisdom, all rushing in.
one blessed sentence at a time. starting with each sound, then syllable. soaring high from there.
it was, i tell you, like watching birth. only this time i was not the one lying down, looking through bent knees.
do you remember the first time the letters lined up for you? behaved? made sense? for me it was “the night before christmas.” i was reading to my papa, standing just beside the darkened family room window. dinner had just ended. i remember turning, looking behind me, as if some magic wand must be tapping me on my shoulder. for this was the purest form of magic i’d ever known. have you watched a little person catch the wind? taught them how to do so? patiently stood back and watched the wheels start spinning all on their own? can you imagine a world where we were cut off, an island all our own, because we couldn’t swim across the great wide gulf of scratch marks that made no sense?
Two things:1) Do you see a parallel with yesterday’s post and today’s? One about a bird learning to sing from his papa. One about a boy learning to read on his daddy’s lap?2) Long ago, there was a teacher of reading teachers whom I heard lecture. She said that reading is like walking–when someone is ready, you cannot stop them. But, if you force them before they are ready, you might cause bowed legs (or bowed courage and mind.) So, her suggestion was to pave the way, but to wait for the moment when the children pull themselves up and, as Barb says, “Reading clicks in!” What a surprise it will be to share growth–big one camping, little one reading–when you are all back home together.
I remember being in my 1st grade classroom with 49 other children with cardboard boxes of little yellow letters that we would constantly string together in various combinations….pressure indeed! It made no sense to me at that time. Yet, one day, packed in the back of the station wagon with my brothers and sister, but with the coveted window seat, I looked up at a billboard and CLICK! I read it all by myself! What a moment….I still remember the color of the day, although not the billboard. My world opened up and what a joy it has been. It is a wondrous gift to love reading.
carol, indeed, i did. see the outlines of one meander laced on top the other. one papa teaching to sing, the other teaching to pluck words from the page. sounds suddenly making sense in both cases. all day yesterday, i kept an eye on papa, papa cardinal that is, so proudly leading his fledlging from branch to branch, as if he was teaching him the boundaries of their property as well. looked like it was singing lessons in the morning followed by a full day of branch landing. just another blessed view of papa teaching son.it’s funny how i don’t ever intentionally stack up meanders in any particular order, but sometimes, by grace i’d guess, they line up and amplify each other in the way life whispers the same truths from many corners. who knows what tomorrow will bring? maybe in this case the papa will teach the son how to read the sky. since the papa we live with is ALWAYS keeping eyes trained on what’s coming from the ground, piercing sky. if he had wings, i assure you, he’d flit like papa cardinal, who i think gets the better view. lamcal, i love that you remember even the color of the day. i remember the reflections in the glass of the window. some moments it seems are seared into our souls. the moment we learn to read, indeed.
Hey, bam, your favorit FAB fellow nurse here–I was the reading mom every Tuesday for 5 years in the multiage class when c and G were in the same class for a total of 5 years. Most days loved it, some days dragged myself there..nothing can compare with “seeing the light go on”–I felt very Anne Bancrofty then–this may shock you, but I cried sometimes. And wait, it gets better…..when the kids (now most taller than me) “reminisce” with me (cracks me up they look back on the ‘good old days’) I have had more than one kid say, “You taught me how to read.” AGH! Does it get better????? Love your blog–as if I need another thing to keep me in this chair–I am getting up now–watch me! XXXX
bing. bing. bing. a necklace of bright and shining grunts. great writing– and way to go little boy…how exciting. the journey begins!to the author & founder–god bless you for the dogged persistence to write this 5 dawns a week. you hunger for more, and much more you will get, because you give and give your very best, and so it will come back to you “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.”
For me the clicking happened in school with the kind of teacher every little girl looks up to. She was young and sweet and pretty and you always wanted to show her your best effort and work.Luckily, like you, BAM, I got to witness the clicking for my children at home. My son giggled so hard when he “broke the code”, My daughter stared at the page and her jaw dropped after she read her first words. It is a particular joy for a parent who loves books to see their own take flight into the world of reading.Congrats little boy…..bet he can’t wait to show off his new skill to the big brother.
[…] in those fitful shadowed hours not long before he was swallowed up by first grade. there was the a-ha moment where the little black squiggles on the page suddenly, out of the blue, and after much trying, […]