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?