March 24, 2014
Growing up, I looked forward to having children who would share my love of reading. I pictured myself reading Little Women to three rapt little girls, perhaps wearing smocked dresses in contrasting shades of pink and green.
But as most new parents learn, our offspring make monkeys of us and our rose-colored expectations. I had one boy. No pink smocked dresses would ever beckon, but I looked forward to reading adventures with the kid. I loved reading to Jeff the preschooler and buying classic books for him. At 4, I was thrilled when he began sounding out words in Dr. Seuss’s Hop on Pop. I rejoiced that I had a reader.
But as he started riding bikes and playing sports with the neighborhood kids, I noticed that the physical life was taking over. One rainy day during summer vacation, I remember asking the 8-year-old why he wasn’t reading a book. Jeff looked up at me innocently with his big dark eyes and explained it. “Mom, when you read, nothing moves.”
I still enjoyed reading to him at bedtime and usually picked out books that I’d loved at the same age. I got about halfway through Little Men, Louisa May Alcott’s sequel to Little Women, before he began to rebel. He found the saga of life at a boys’ school far too old-fashioned. Not much moved.
I still tried. When I was 14, I had loved the rebellious spirit of The Catcher in the Rye, so I recommended it to my own teenager. He was unimpressed. But about the same time, something wonderful happened. An older cousin mailed him a bunch of paperback science fiction novels, including Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. Jeff was hooked and started doing with science fiction what I’d done all my life – reading himself to sleep with a good book. I’d gotten the genre wrong, but he found his way to the books that spoke to him. Now he’s a scientist – a microbiologist – and still reading.