Inheriting the Fun-damentals

13 12 2009

When I was a kid the whole “Reading is Fun-damental” campaign was pretty much unnecessary for me, as were the summer reading programs where kids could earn a pizza or some other treat for reading a certain number of books. Or any of the other incentives adults came up with to teach children to make reading a habit. I loved to read. I still do. By the time I was in high school I would sometimes read up to 2 or 3 books a day. Yes. I meant “per day.” I’m not exaggerating.  One of my coworkers insisted that I must be lying about this statement. I’m not. I know you’re doing the math right now — how many pages per hour?

Well, I can read pretty fast. I actually read slower now than I did in high school and college. But I read so much because I quite simply couldn’t put books down. Once I started a book I had to finish it immediately. This means that I was frequently walking around with my nose in a book, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to stay up in bed reading only to discover that the sun was once again rising. Luckily, I have  always been able to survive on very little sleep (a trait that has been very handy to me as a mother).

One of my sisters also loves to read as much as I do. We both still read constantly, and many of our conversations revolve around what we’ve read recently. My other sister is so very different from us, however. She does not enjoy reading. In fact, she’s not really very good at reading and was nearly illiterate for most of elementary school. It is this fact that breeds internal conflict in me.

See, I love reading so much that this is the one trait of mine I deeply hope Azita will inherit. If she has no interest in science and math, I won’t care. I won’t mind if she does not inherit my musical ear or artistic capabilities. I could care less if she looks like me. I want her to be a reader, and I want her to love it. I want her to be intensely curious about the world around her and to want to read everything there is to know about it. It is this trait of mine that has not only made it just about impossible for me to ever get bored, but it has made it possible for me to learn quickly and adapt to almost any situation.

I once had a professor who professed admiration for the fact that I learned new things by throwing myself into the deep end and learning as I did. It is true that I do this, and the only reason I am able to do this is because I feel confident that whatever I don’t know (and I don’t know a lot) I can learn from what someone else has written. I lack confidence in myself so frequently, but it is my confidence in learning that holds me together and brings me any success I may have in life. I want Azita to always feel secure in this way. To know that the great unknown is not so scary, because it is learnable.

I desire this so much that I obsess about it. I watch her every action around books. How can I tell if she will love reading as my sister and I do, and not dislike it as our youngest sister does? I mean, we all grew up in the same  household, and yet we are so very different in this aspect. How much of the love of reading and learning is nurture?

I frequently talk to my sister about my fear that Azita will not love books. Considering that Roger and I both love to read, it may seem irrational. But until very recently Azita would not let me read to her. Books were things to rip up and throw and chew on. On rare occasions I could make it through a couple pages of Goodnight Moon or Olivia before she would lose interest, but those occasions were very rare. My sister assured me that my worrying was for naught. “Just exposing your daughter to books will teach her to love to read,” she said. I had my doubts.

Then, this morning as I was feeding Azita her breakfast, she leaned over the side of her booster chair and pulled her “Colors” book over so she could flip the pages as she ate her mangoes and waffles. She was actually eating with her nose in a book. Just like I did at the dinner table when I was a child. Maybe all is not lost after all. We may yet be a family that reads together.

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