On the Dangers of Raising a Child Who Reads

Nobody ever tells you, when you first become a parent, that teaching your child to read is dangerous business.

Nobody ever tells you that, by encouraging your child to read, you’ll end up with a bowl of pasty, icky, gooey-goo, with half a stick of butter (no, I’m not kidding) floating in the middle, on your front porch for five days and counting.

The 9yo attempts to find a brownie.

The 9yo's gooey-goo on our front porch, hidden behind a paver she painted last summer in honor of her favorite Harry Potter character, Hedwig - two little mementos of her love of books.

I used to DREAM of the day I’d see my daughter sitting quietly on a chair all day long, lost in a good book. I wanted this for her, because I loved reading as a child (and still do). And, I confess, I also wanted this for her because I wanted it for me: I figured if she was content reading, then I, too, could sit quietly and read,… rather than play yet another round of Mama and Baby, where I always had to be the Baby, pretending to nap on a too-small blanket on an uncomfortably hard floor.

But reading, it turns out, is fraught with peril.

Take, for example, the time when my then-5yo daughter – just learning to read, mind you – asked me, oh so innocently, while we were in the car and stopped at a light (read: with ample time for practicing newly acquired reading skills on nearby, not-necessarily-child-friendly or even G-rated billboards and store signs), “Mama, why is that place called –” wait for it… “The Love Zone?”

Yep. My mouth literally hit the steering wheel. For crying out loud! We were running late for her Aikido practice. We were in a CAR. I had not done the research yet on how to have “The Talk” with my children. I was NOT PREPARED for this kind of interrogation!! I had nothing. Nothing.

“Uh. ‘Cuz… Uh. Uh. ‘Cuz that’s what they decided to call it?”

Shockingly, she was satisfied with this lamest of answers. And with a huge sigh of relief, the light turned green and I zoomed away from the danger zone. Later, when I told my husband what happened, he told me I totally copped out. And I did, too. I admit it! But, yeah… That whole reading thing was looking to be highly overrated; it would just have to wait. Until she was, like, at least fourteen. We would just focus on math work for a little while…

But then came the peer-pressure to read the Harry Potter books. She swore that “all the kids in her class” were reading Harry Potter. I’m not so fond of doing something – anything – just because everyone else is doing it, so I resisted her desire to join in the trend (only the second time I’d seen a fad sweep through all her friends, the first being the Silly Bandz craze). But that was only a partial reason for my refusing to let her read the books. I personally thought Harry Potter was a pretty sweet fad, all things considered, and I had no problem with her reading the Harry Potter books, per se (indeed, I love the books). However, I wanted her to LOVE the books when she read them, and I thought that required her to be just a little older to really understand the moral dilemmas that the books engage. Also, I worried that her reading skills weren’t quite there yet. So… I told her she had to read all five of the Percy Jackson & The Olympians books first.

Which she zoomed through. Of course.

So… on the first day of summer vacation before she started 3rd grade, I let her start reading “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

Danger!! Danger!!

She opened the book, with much delight, while eating breakfast. I, too, was reading a book (while nursing my coffee), as was my then-4yo son (though still safely out of the dangerous reading period, he enjoyed “reading” his favorite books from memory). The 11mo baby was toddling around, eating Cheerios that had dropped to the floor. All was peaceful and idyllic. I let myself sigh in contentment, thinking that this summer was going to be absolutely blissful.

You’d think I’d know better by now not to let my guard down like that!! Go ahead, and imagine me smacking myself in the forehead.

All was bliss until… I looked up and met my daughter’s eyes, hoping to share this moment of serenity, only to see her quickly drop something to the table with a look full of panic and guilt, instantly putting my Mama Instincts on red alert. Clearly, this adorable child of mine was up to no good.

Yeah… So… She’d gone ahead and drawn A LIGHTNING BOLT on the BABY’S FOREHEAD. In orange marker.

The dangers of raising a reader.

The upside is that the baby seemed quite happy to have his big sister draw on his face, and said sister was quite happy reading all SEVEN of the Harry Potter books before the summer even ended (!!).

Reading "Harry Potter"

A nest of pillows and a good book. I'm pretty sure this is the definition of "bliss."

After which, she devoured all 13 of the A Series of Unfortunate Events books, and all eight of The Spiderwick Chronicles books.

It’s this last series that raised it’s dangerous little head last weekend…

Our family loves loves loves the Friends of the Seattle Public Library book sale, where there’s about a gazillion gently-used books on sale for very little cashola (usually 50 cents – it’s crazy). We usually come home with BAGS of books, mostly children’s books. The other week, the 9yo found her newest greatest treasure: “Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You.” She hasn’t put it down for days, bringing it in the car with her, and reading it while she eats breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, and dinner.

Saturday morning, Bill took the boys to the park, in hopes of wearing them out before the10am Tar Heel basketball game (Hahahaha! He’s so cute. Wear them out??). It was just me and Paisley, who had opted out of getting some fresh air and Vitamin D in order to read her book while eating breakfast at the dining room table. Which is where I (presumably safely) left her when I went upstairs to get dressed…

When I came down, she proudly presented me with a small little bowl of icky, gooey-goo with half a stick of butter floating in the middle. Apparently, the “Field Guide” said this crazy concoction of flour, milk, sugar and butter would lure a brownie to our home (sadly not the chocolate kind), a kind of fairy-like creature who would then delightfully do chores for our family in return for random scraps of food and bowls of milk. She was “doing this for me,” so I didn’t always have to clean up after everyone; the brownie could do it!

Which is really very sweet of her. So I didn’t make a fuss about the mess in the kitchen or on the dining room table, or about the waste of expensive, organic butter…

I just cleaned up the spilled flour and sugar, and I put her little bowl of goo into the refrigerator to wait until the evening. Apparently brownies only come out at night? I thought she’d forget, but she didn’t, carefully putting the bowl out on the porch after having a minor meltdown at the initial problem of not being allowed to leave it out on the kitchen counter or dining table where the cat could eat it (and subsequently vomit). And then she went to bed. Happily.

I briefly contemplated treating the goo the way I would Santa’s plate of cookies, staging the bowl to look as if the brownie had eaten the little treat left by my daughter. But I quickly abandoned that idea when I realized she’d then think we had a brownie to do all the chores that I would then be responsible for, in order to maintain the charade (Me: “Please clean up your playroom.” Her: “Oh, the brownie will be happy to clean up for me. I’ll just leave him an extra pat of expensive, organic butter!”).

So, it was with dread that I waited for my daughter to wake up the next morning and discover the uneaten gooey-goo on the porch. I worried about tears, and the disillusionment that books aren’t real. And oddly, I worried about her no longer embracing the dangers of reading – of falling in love with characters and worlds that don’t exist outside of our imaginations, and our desire for them to be real.

But, I needn’t have worried… After a brief quivering of her lower lip, she quickly blamed the dogs for scaring away the brownie. Duh! “See,” she said. “The spoon moved! The brownie was clearly about to eat my treat when Papa came home from his walk with the dogs.” And she went to the table and opened up her “Field Guide” and set to eating her breakfast…

With plans to make more gooey-goo that night. And the next night. And the night after that. For five nights now.

And though I sigh with exasperation as I chip the cement-like floury goo out of another little bowl this morning, I do also realize that, ultimately, it’s perhaps more dangerous to raise a child who doesn’t love to read, or worse yet, a child who never even learns to read.

So, I guess I’ll just have to embrace those innocent but awkward questions (I still don’t have a good answer to why they call that place The Love Zone, though, so feel free to leave your advice in the Comments section!), the pressure to read books that look particularly tantalizing before I think she’s ready (Harry Potter and Twilight* being just the beginning, I’m sure), and the occasional bowl of pasty, icky, gooey-goo, with half a stick of butter floating in the middle, sitting on my front porch for days and days and days.

But how on Earth am I going to handle her dejection when she doesn’t receive an acceptance letter to Hogwarts on her 11th birthday???


* You can read all about how I somehow managed to keep myself from going all “Fahrenheit 451” on all books in my house after finding my copy of “Twilight,” under the 9yo’s pillow in Creative Consequences.

7 thoughts on “On the Dangers of Raising a Child Who Reads

  1. I just got my sit-ups done for the day!! Thanks for the howling laughter that came from within me!! Get some discount butter for any future brownie seducing!!

    • Yes, I, too, think of my children as a very good alternative to a gym membership; though my exercise is rarely in the form of belly laughs and more in the manner of running pell-mell across the park – while carrying a 25lb sandbag (aka The Baby) – to break up a fight between the two oldest kids… Why, yes, I’m still a bit grumpy about that! 😉

  2. A little while back Eli asked me in a very crowded public space: “What is a Blow Job?” As soon as I got done dying, I said: “uh, huh? I have NO idea!” Then I set to the task of figuring out where he heard that term. It was in a hand-bound book store in Beijing. Apparently, they had a naughty section. He also asked if we could buy the “Don’t SHIT here” notebook.

    BTW, I can get you a discount on stripper shoes at LOVE ZONE, you know, in case you need some. 🙂

    • Classic! I can just see his innocent little face asking that question, too. Ack! And to have learned it in a Chinese book store, rather than from some foul-mouthed hooligan on the playground back here in the States… you just can’t get away from the potty-talk, can you?? 😉

      And I’m not shopping for stripper shoes without you, so I guess I’ll have to wait to take advantage of your very generous offer when you visit in August!

  3. I had to read this when I saw the title. I never had children, but had a career working with at-risk youth and was a HUGE reader since age 3 or so. I did notice books started to change a bit at some point and that due to reality TV or something, kids just seemed to know w-a-y too much that they shouldn’t! I have a story, but I’ll keep it to myself. Rather Love Zone-ish (trying to remember if I saw that place before I left in ’03) and found by 4th graders in the dumpster. You can read between the lines, but what they said to me was priceless (as one boy held it in his hands!). I love the Fahrenheit 451 comment. Ha! Can we just have Judy Blume back?
    Great post!

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