14 May

Although I find the term “gateway drug” faintly hilarious, smacking as it does of REEFER MADNESS-style clueless overreaction, I think the concept is sound. When I’m dreading a house’s worth of housework, I’ll ease into it by doing a few gateway dishes. Once the kitchen counter is clean, I can focus on sweeping the floor, then straightening the front hall, then heading upstairs for the bedrooms, etc. Same goes with writing work—I trick myself into it with some gateway tweets or a status update, just to get typing.

I didn’t recognize my 7 year old son’s passion for car magazines as his gateway to reading, but in retrospect, that’s exactly what it was. Our 10 year old daughter is a reader like I was, so her journey to fluency felt comfortably familiar. She transitioned from frustrated halting-sounder-outer of picture books to absorbed silent reader of chapter books seemingly overnight. I can remember walking into her room one morning to rouse her for kindergarten, only to find her dressed, sitting cross-legged on her made bed, and deep into a Rainbow Fairy paperback. (We may be similar readers, but she will one day kick my ass at cleaning the house.) I’ve never had to sell her on the benefits of reading. When she’s bored, nervous, or needs to wind down before sleep, she just naturally reaches for a book. Being of stubborn mindset, if she’d thought reading was good for her she might have refused to learn. She does it because she thinks it’s fun.

I’m just the same, even if my iPhone competes with my reading time more than it should. My number one choice of leisure activity is to read. Vacation plans, weekend downtime, and evenings at home revolve around a comfortable chair, a refreshing beverage, and a book. Sshhh, don’t talk to me, I’m at a good part.

My son has taken a different path. He’s the most extroverted of our family foursome, and he draws his energy and fun from interactions. He craves physical contact, and loves nothing better than an audience. On family vacations he pings and pongs between the other three of us, literally wagging his butt and nudging with his head like a puppy. Let’s go play! Wanna hear a joke? Play! Joke!!

So, I think for him reading has always seemed like a spoiler activity. It’s something other people focus on instead of him, something he’s crossly reprimanded for interrupting. He loves to be read TO—the cuddling, the chitchat about the plot, the collaborative choice of what to read together next. But he probably suspects that my dream is all four of us sitting together quietly absorbed in books, and not one of us wagging our tail and begging to play paddle ball, thus distracting from the climax of chapter 5.

One thing that has consistently–on occasion, usefully–kept him quiet for the last couple of years, however, is a glossy car magazine. Never mind that the print is tiny and the vocabulary beyond most grown-ups. He inhales them and commits their esoterica to memory, spouting back facts like a fire hose. I do spot check him occasionally, like when he tells me that a Ferrari goes 185 mph, or the new Prius gets 51 miles per gallon on the highway, and he has about an 80% accuracy rate. (He’s probably noticed that when he makes up facts, there’s hardly anyone able or willing to contradict him.) As far as I can tell, and based on his out-loud reading homework from school, he’s been able to decode the car magazines by brute force of will. Kevin Henke can trip the kid up, but Consumer Reports readily yields up its secrets.

However, just in the last few weeks, right here at the end of first grade, he’s turned the corner. It started when he went on a run of checking out “Jack and Annie” (or Magic Tree House) books from the school library instead of his normal picture variety. He’d amble off the bus, nose ostentatiously stuck in his big boy book, angling the cover so all the bus stop moms could see and admire it. “Oh yeah, just reading a CHAPTER BOOK here, no bigs.” But it wasn’t just for show—some of those Jack and Annie facts were sticking in his mind, too, as I found out when he wowed me with some impressive Egypt facts. Someone paid attention during Mummies and Pyramids! He’s now loving the A to Z Mysteries series, and even dipping into some of his sister’s old Rainbow Fairy books. And this morning, when I walked in to find him already dressed and perched on his made bed, totally absorbed in The Empty Envelope, he uttered pretty much the sweetest words this mama could hear: “Hang on, I’m coming. I just want to finish my book.”

4 Responses to “READER MADNESS”

  1. Jenny Robinson May 15, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

    This is great. Just great.

    • amomynous2 May 15, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

      Thanks so much, Jenny! Thanks for reading. 🙂

  2. Casey May 15, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

    I love this one Miller – not only as a mama but as a teacher and a reader!

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