It was a first, a first on this Easter Eve afternoon. Sure, we’ve read to our son at bedtime almost every night of the week since birth, but this was the first time ever, on this warmest and sunniest day of the year thus far, that my son and I were to sit down together, both independently reading, side by side, because it was a good thing to do. He was reading Beatrix Potter. I was reading the new memoir by Jay Ponteri. And it was a kind of magical moment, magical, because the reading was not foisted on my son in any way, and it wasn’t part of a nightly routine or a homework regimen; instead, the boy saw his father reading in the warm spring air, and the boy decided that this must be a pretty cool thing to do with one’s time. After Dad had read solo for awhile, continuing even after the boy had brought him a freshly baked cookie from the kitchen into the yard where Dad was settled into the camping chair in the shade, the boy said, “I’m going to go inside and pick out a book.” I said all right to that. Minutes later he came out with a whole stack of Beatrix Potter, from which he chose The Tale of Pigling Bland, the longest of the books in the stack at 80 some Beatrix Potter pages. We were moving our chairs around, negotiating between sun and shade. I found a good spot, and the boy ended up leaning up against the mossy trunk of a gigantic and ancient oak. And there we read. He devised a reward system whereby a little badminton or frisbee with Dad followed every 20 pages he read. But the play served only as a brief respite; after about 5 minutes he’d say, “Shall we get back to reading?” Then we’d read some more.
It was heavenly.
This reading with my son gave me hope for him unlike almost any other experience we’d had together in his seven years. One of my most vital dreams for my son, beyond what sport or what instrument he will choose, beyond which girl (or boy) he will love, beyond which school, vocation, or career he falls into, is that he learns to love to read. I know in my English teacher soul (bolstered by recent research about what literature actually does to the brain) that the benefits that come with a love of reading will be profound and lasting. I don’t want to jump to conclusions with a premature celebration; one afternoon with a book under a tree is no guarantee he will be a lover of books any more than he will be a lover of trees. But it’s a start. It’s a good start, and I’ll take it.