The beginning of the school year caught up with everyone last week, I think. My kids are exhausted, a little overwhelmed, a little crispy around the edges. The other kids in and around my life seem about the same. Fall transitions can be hard even when they go relatively smoothly.
My youngest (age twelve) came home from school one day fried to a crisp—just done. When I gently suggested we skip the evening’s activities (bracing myself for her to tell my why she could-not-would-not) she surprised me and said, “Can we read?” I said, “Of course.” And we did. We read a book we’d read together before—a book some might consider “too young” for her (if you’re into lexile scores and such, which I am not). It was a lovely evening. She was back on track the next morning.
That was the first thing that happened. The second was this: Confirmation started at church. We’re at a new time this year: Sunday mornings. 9:20 a.m. The kids are, understandably, a little grumbly about the change. They dragged in, sporting adolescent grumpiness around the corners of their mouth, squinty world-weary eyes, and an attitude that was not quite Ready & Excited to Learn. I feel for them. Half of them started highschool this year. The other half are trying to survive eighth grade. Several of them are sick—the kind of sick you feel like you can’t stay home for, but the coughing and nose-blowing suggest that would a good idea, if only to stop the spread.
When I look at these kids I see both who they were as little kids and something of who they will become these next few years. They’re caught between childhood and adulthood—a netherland that is tricky to navigate at times. I was so grateful they came. It was hard to imagine we were going to have a great kick-off to confirmation, however, with everyone looking some variation of sick, slightly hostile, and just plain exhausted.
So I threw the plans for the morning to the wind. I handed out new notebooks, set out art supplies, and announced that I was going to read them a story. They looked at me with suspicion. They are, of course, much too old for stories. I smiled and opened the book. It was a terrific story—not one they probably would’ve picked up on their own, though. I read. They stared at me for awhile. Then they doodled, which I took to be a sure sign they were not only listening, but fairly absorbed. After about twenty minutes, the air in the room felt different. I stopped reading, having come to a logical ending point. They looked up, their eyes no longer squinty and suspicious.
“Can you keep reading?” two of them asked in unison. The others nodded. Well, twist my arm! I opened up the book again and kept going. Read to them for most of an hour. They left different kids than when they came in.
The third thing that happened this week was this: I overheard a stressed out parent talking about how she read to her kids only when they couldn’t read themselves. Once they started sounding out words on their own, she said, “I’m so done! It’s their responsibility now!”
I almost wept. What about joy?! What about hearing stories?! Having someone care enough to share a story with you? I care not one iota for the responsibility of reading—it’s about JOY! It’s about the magic that can happen—how things can sometimes be set right once again—simply by someone reading to you.
I didn’t screw up my courage in time to say something (appropriate and kind) to this mother who couldn’t wait to be done reading to her kids. So I’ll say it here: Read to them! Whatever kids are in your sphere—read to them. Read books they’ve left behind or forgotten about, read things you know they won’t come across, read your favorites, their favorites, something new you found at the library, their homework assignment, something that makes you laugh, a great picture book that came out after they were entranced with picture books (they will be again!). Just read to them—especially if they seem “too old” to be read to.
The two most important things I did last week was read to a crispy tween and a group of weary teens. And guess what—it did me an awful lot of good, too.