New Year Update

January 2012 update: Welcome to a new year and some new posts! I hope to reward my readers with regular updates now that the holidays are over. Keep reading and enjoy! Please leave a comment or two, if you feel inspired ;o)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

My Pets Taught Me How To Read

     I remember being three years old and sitting in my bed made up with my favorite Strawberry Shortcake sheets, propped up against mountains of pillows, along with Buttermilk the rabbit, Blue the cat, Mama and Baby koala bears, and many other precious stuffed animals. All of my stuffed animals had to be facing out so that they could all breathe and see everything that was going on. 

     “What book are we going to be reading tonight?” my father would ask.

     “This one!” I would respond, as I would climb off my bed, run across the room to my little three shelf bookcase already full of books, grab The Dark Crystal, and run back to shove the book into my daddy’s hands before clambering onto the bed and settling back into my pillows. This was the regular nighttime ritual. Usually storytime was with my dad, but sometimes with my mom instead. I loved story time with both my mother and father, although it was not always the same. With my mother, sometimes, we would skip the book and she would make up stories off the top of her head about fairies and unicorns and all sorts of mythical creatures. As I got older, I would have to plead with her to do this. I enjoyed story time with my father because I loved looking at the pictures, and, as I learned to read, I loved to help him read the story.
The reading ritual would start out ordinary enough, with my father reading the words and me and my stuffed animals looking at the pictures. Then as weeks, or maybe months, went by he’d start to follow the words with his finger so that, if I was paying attention, I might start to follow along. Pretty soon I picked up that reading involved moving your finger along the page. So, I would help my dad read by moving my finger along the page for him. Eventually, he picked out easy words for me to read until I was reading full sentences. This was how I first learned to read.

     Once I learned to read, I would read all the time. I read at school on the playground while the other kids played. I read in class while I should have been doing school work. I read in the car on the way to school or the supermarket or even Disneyland. I checked out book after book at the school and public libraries. No one could stop me from staying up ‘til early morning hours with a flashlight under the covers, or in a makeshift tent depending on how old I was, reading chapter after chapter until I was too tired to keep my eyes opened. 

     I get my love of books from my mother. My mother was, and still is, an avid reader, who buys books anywhere and everywhere. Books line the walls at our house and spill out our ears. Today, the first words out of my mother’s mouth whenever I meet a new fella are always, “Does he read?” and “What does he read?”

When I was in first grade or second grade -- I can’t be sure -- I would sit up against the bolster in my bed. I had two bolsters. One ran along the side of my bed against the wall to provide stadium seating for Buttermilk and the gang. The other at the foot of the bed to prop up the foot of my lean-to tent which was made from: One – king-size white sheet with pink flowers all over it that I nicked from my mom’s bed linen, One – white shelf filled with yet more stuffed animals above the head of my bed, and One – afore mentioned green and blue bolster to keep the bottom of the tent off my feet by propping it a few inches off my twin size bed. With my stuffed animals all sitting on top of the bolster behind me so that they could look over my shoulder and my cat on the bed next to me, I would read out loud to my cat. For hours, I would keep Faline enthralled in one book after another of the Sweet Valley Twins series. I think at one point I even tried to teach the cat to read.
Once more, when I was in first grade I made up my mind to teach my dog, Mickey, how to write. I would put the pen or pencil in between her toes, and write things for her, and then show these miracle writings to my mother. 

“Look! Mickey knows how to write her name! I told you I could teach her how to write!”

My mother placates, “That’s very nice dear.”

Mickey was very adept with a crayon as well. “Mommy, Mommy! Look what Mickey drew!”

“Yes, Honey. That’s lovely.” And so this lasted for probably a couple, maybe as much as four, weeks. 

Through my second, third, and fourth grade years I started slowly writing my childhood novel The Fox and the Rabbit. It was a story about a fox and rabbit that were friends based on some trauma from when they were babies. These magical creatures could talk, and belonged to a little girl who would talk to them and take care of them. She was the only human they would talk to, or who even knew the animals could talk. It was very good, but sadly unfinished. I have since lost the full paper copies. I find a few pages here and there sometimes. Sadly, computers no longer have those huge floppy disk drives for the huge floppy disk on which my novel is saved in some archaic DOS program called Ability +.

As an adult I am lucky enough to be able to go home for Christmas every year. Every Christmas Eve I slyly approach my father, “Daddy, I’m going to bed now…can you read me Night Before Christmas?”…

When I was 23, I spent Christmas with my boyfriend’s family in England. On Christmas Eve I called my father at home in the States. “Happy Christmas Eve, Daddy! We’re about to go to sleep over here…. Can you read me The Night Before Christmas?”

My dad chuckles, “You want me to read it over the phone? But it’s not Christmas Eve yet.”

“It is for me!”

“Oh, yeah. Hold on. Let me have your mother find the book.”

I am now 27 years old. I still plan to go home every Christmas. And Every Christmas Eve I will slyly approach my dad after I’ve gotten ready for bed and ask, “Daddy, are you ready to read Night Before Christmas?”

My dad always chuckles and says, “Yep. Hold on. Where is it?” And every year we go on a mad search all over the house for this tiny book. After we ask my mother were she “hid” it, and blame every living being in the house for not being able to find it, we finally find it on my book shelf in my old room -- Although, now that I’m moved out, I think we actually keep it in the living room by the fire place. -- I curl up in my comforter, snuggle into mountains of pillows, and hug Simba, my current “grown-up” stuffed animal, to me while my father finds a seat on the edge of my bed. As he reads the book, it slowly tilts further and further out of my sight, so that he can read it easier. I look up at my father with the best “daddy’s little girl” pout I can muster and exclaim, “I can’t see the pictures daddy!”

“But you’ve seen them a thousand times.”

“So!? I like looking at the pictures. It makes me feel like a little kid.”

My father laughs at me. “All right.” as he turns the book back towards me. I no longer help my father read by moving my finger along the page. I just cuddle up in my blankets and enjoy the pictures that I’ve seen for 26 Christmas Eves while my father finishes the story and we say goodnight.
(Footnote: This is taken from an essay I wrote in college one year. Sadly, I am no longer 27 years old and I no longer get home for Christmas, but I still call Dad up on the phone and listen to him read The Night Before Christmas every Christmas Eve.)

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