Among the mysteries of becoming a family of four are the sticker books. Meant to be gifts for the big brother, these skinny books arrived from all sorts of people. There are truck sticker books, farm animal sticker books, God help us yes, Disney sticker books and a solitary ABC sticker book. Which takes us to the real issue at hand: reading.
A couple of weeks ago, my sister in law, normally a wonderful and sensitive person, called up to tell me that my neice, who is also typically rather wonderful, has begun to read. [Note: the neice in question is three months younger than my older son.] My son belongs to what his teachers call the 'trucks and train' set - if it's got wheels and velocity, he loves it. Otherwise, not so very much. So, you can just imagine the delicate shade of green that I tried not to turn as I listened to my sister in law's news.
Let's face it - there are two problems here. First, childhood these days is designed for parents as a set of milestones. At age X, skill Y should be achieved. A child who does not reach the milestones 'on track,' as it's called, is then subjected to a host of therapies in order to bring him/her back into line with what is percieved to be normal. Oh, joy. It is the rare parent who can resist the siren's call of these milestones, especially since in the chaos of child-rearing, the milestones offer a soothing, simple way to see whether or not your child will survive your parenting more or less intact. I spent months requiring reassurrance from my older child's teachers once he turned three and was not yet potty trained. On the one hand, I didn't want to force the issue, but on the other hand, well, was this late start okay? [Note: at 3.25 yrs he decided to toilet train on his own, and was completely trained in two weeks. I have a bottle of single malt scotch which I reserved for my use during this process, and it is still virgin.]
The second problem is that I am horribly competitive. I bury it deep, but from time to time the old streak resurfaces and I have an evil green moment. So there we were: two bookwormy mamas, a deep affectionate relationship, and she's telling me the preschooling equivalent of 'my kid slept through the night.' I was very very glad at that moment to be on the telephone, so that I could make sure that my (real) pleasure at her news would not be too badly overlaid by my silly jealousy. I soothed myself with the truth: different kids develop differently, and mine is just not interested in reading. It's kind of like potty training - when he's finally ready, it'll happen all at once, but if I force it, well, there will be some kind of metaphoric pee on the floor.
And so the sticker book. The past two days he's been carrying it around, trying to figure out which lowercase letter goes with which capital letter, which word in a set doesn't fit (bat/ball/wombat/butterfly), etcetera. I've been happy to see him buried in an activity that doesn't involve unscrewing lightbulbs, but I finally snapped to attention this afternoon, when we read a new book together.
I was reading it to him, and I paused to jiggle the baby on my knee. "Oh, no," he filled in helpfully. I looked at where his finger was pointing. Sure enough, the finger was on the word 'no.' I pointed to a harder word. 'What does that say?' He told me. I tried a harder one. We sounded it out together: 'heeeemmmm, heeeemmmoh, heeeeemmmmohf - ' 'Hemophilia!' he shouted. We grinned at each other in triumph. Then he pointed, 'what does that one say?'
Hm. Maybe it really is like potty training, after all.