Friday, April 25, 2014

Matilda

While Will was painting her bedroom walls, our seven-year-old daughter, Katie, made dinner the other night while I was at work. Baked pork chops and microwaved sweet potatoes.

She's already a better cook than I am.

Will called out the instructions to her. He asked her to peel a potato, and she peeled a sweet potato, but that's a simple misunderstanding. He let her poke holes in it and put it in the microwave. She got to unwrap the meat and stick it in a baking dish. He let her put it in the oven and turn it on, but he took it out for her so she wouldn't burn herself. She's only seven, after all.

She felt proud of herself and told me all about it first thing this morning. I'm too much of a worrywart to let her use the toaster in my presence. Will encourages her to make a meal.

Will's an amazing parent. He has the rare ability to walk the fine line between protective parent and overprotective parent.

Parenting is hard. I think Will's so good at it because his dad was a good role model. My dad was a great provider, but a distant dad. I've had to learn how to parent well through my own trial and error. I've learned so much more about myself and the world around me since I had a kid. You'd think parenting would suck the life out of you, but I find it adds meaning to my life. Before Katie was born, when I'd fantasize about what it would be like to one day be a mother, I thought I'd be the teacher who has all the answers. I had no idea how much I would learn from my kid simply by seeing how she models my behavior. I think hard about my behavior and how it influences my child.

One thing I feel I've done right as a parent, modeling good behavior for my child, is reading. My parents were good role models in this area too. We went to the library several times a month, and both my parents checked out a sack full of books each time. They talked to each other, and to me, about the books they read. Instead of going to preschool, my mom took me to story hour at three separate library locations.

It no doubt influenced my career choice: my paying job, what I do when I'm not writing and taking care of my family, is at the public library. Even when I'm not working with books and people who love books, I'm constantly reading at least three books at a time. My favorite thing to do with Katie is reading together. Long before she could read, when she was just a few days old, I read a book to Katie and I never stopped this daily habit. She can read to me now, and she often does, but I still love our time together, when she's on my lap, when she still allows it, as I read to her.

My dad never changed my diaper. He worked outside the home and came home grumpy at night. But in the early years he read a book to me every night before bed.

My husband Will is much more involved in Katie's life. When she was four weeks old I went back to work full time. Will stayed home with Katie while I was at work and went to work nights and weekends when I was off work and could care for Katie at home. We switched off a few years ago. Now Will works full time and I'm part time, but one of us is always home with Katie, no matter what time of the year. It's a schedule that works great for us. It gives us ample time to be good role models for Katie, and since Will and I have to sneak in a date here and there since we work opposite shifts, it helps us to not take each other for granted. I ADORE spending time with my husband, which is saying a lot for an introvert like me who generally is drained of all my energy after spending a few hours with someone. Not Will. Will's one of the few people on the planet who actually restores my battery. I crave spending time with him.

Will's not just a good parent because he knows how to balance between being protective and overprotective. Will reads a lot too. He consumes a steady diet of about a book every two weeks. He can't wait until Katie's old enough to appreciate The Hobbit and Harry Potter so they can read them simultaneously and discuss what they've read.

It's no wonder Katie is a voracious reader with such good reading role models around her. She routinely reads more books by herself in a month than all her classmates combined. And that's not counting the books she fails to jot down on her reading log for school.

Seeing Katie flip to the back cover of a book, I ask "Are you going to write that one down on your reading log?"

Katie sighs dramatically like I've asked her to go pick up the dogshit from our back yard. "No."

"Why not. You read that whole book, didn't you?" I ask.

"Yeah, but I already wrote it down on the reading log a couple of months ago when I read it the first time," she argues.

"It doesn't count the second time you read a chapter book. That's a lot of effort for it not to count, isn't it?" I ask.

"Not for me," Katie says, picking up another book.

When I catch Katie finishing a book she's read for the first time and I ask her if she's going to write it on her reading log, she sighs in the same dramatic dogshit way and says, "I guess." Then she counts how many words are in the title of the book and lets out a sigh in size relative to the amount of words she has to write down.

Katie loves to read. Katie hates to document what she reads.

I think in Katie's ideal world she would go to a school where she could hang out with her friends and eat lunch and take PE, music, and art, and have recess, and field trips and all the fun social stuff, but one in which all the instruction she'd receive was mostly self-instruction. To be left alone in a corner to read every book in the library. Not to have to listen. Or follow directions. Or keep track. Blech.

I'm happy with Katie's public school education, and for the most part, Katie's happy with it too. She has her days where she wakes up and wishes she could just check-out of reality and spend the day on the couch binge-watching cartoons, but don't we all? On most mornings she awakens excited to go to school.

Especially this morning. She wants to get back so she can read a book the teacher loaned her. She has to keep it at school. She can't bring it home and binge-read it like she likes to do.

Katie's second-grade teacher assigned an extra book report to four enthusiastic readers in the class. She picked a different book for each child, according to their individual taste. She assigned to Katie Matilda by Roald Dahl. Katie said her teacher handed it to her and said, "I think you're really going to like this one."

I'm excited to see what Katie thinks of it.

First, I need to see what I think of it. I put a hold on a copy of the book at my library. After I logged off, I thought to myself, Katie is so lucky to have parents who are interested in her education. My parents never read the same books I was reading to see what they were all about. I'm not just interested in what she's reading. I want to read it too. I smiled at myself, because I know the cycle of crappy education in my family is broken.

My parents never asked me if I had any homework when I was a kid. In fairness, we hardly had homework until seventh grade, and even then I mostly got it done in study hall. But my dad, especially, was completely indifferent toward my education, if not out and out cruel in regards to it.

When I was in seventh grade, after we had moved to a new school district and I knew no one, I mentioned to my parents one night at the dinner table that there was an "open-house" at my school if they wanted to stop by and meet my teachers.

My dad slammed his fist on the table. He burped out his rant about being too old to be my father. How he didn't have time for this "bullshit".

I will never tell my child her education is bullshit. I will see the beauty in it, right along side my child.

From what I know about this Dahl book, Matilda, it's about a girl who loves to read whose father does not see her worth. She seeks revenge by pulling pranks on him, something I was never brave enough to do as a child myself, but I'm certain I would have LOVED to read about a girl who was brave enough. Unfortunately the book was written when I was already an adult, but I'm going to read it anyway. For Katie. And for myself.

They say the best revenge is a life well lived. I say it's a life well read. I'm so glad to share a lifetime of reading with my child.