One hot summer day Mini-Me and I were hanging out in the garage. Well, technically, I forced him to stay out there with me while I conducted a one-man cleaning assault against the pile of toys, trash and recycling material that had mounted over the last few weeks of neglect.
Meanwhile, his charge was simple. "Read. Your. Book." As an incoming fourth-grader, he'd gotten a slow start at his summer reading assignment so I picked this lazy morning to get him caught up while his brothers were off doing other things at camp and a friend's house.
"How much do I have to read," he whined.
"All of it." I deadpanned. He nearly passed out.
"Whhhhaaattt??" he pleaded, eyes desperate and teary at the overwhelming thought.
"Don't worry about how many pages."
I needed to distract him. "How about I open the tailgate of the truck and you can sit up there?" I knew sitting high on the edge where he could swing his feet was a newly discovered experience for him. I also knew enough not to let him out of my sight, nor to let him get too comfortable.
"Just read a little and we'll see how it goes."
And this is how it went:
For the first 15 minutes, he asked me "How much longer?" approximately nine times. He fidgeted and fussed trying to get comfortable until I put up the back seats to barricade him out on the edge of the tailgate. Gradually, he submitted to his confinement despite intermittent bouts of restlessness and wandering daydreamy eyes.
My work at breaking down cardboard boxes and thinning out the bin of sports equipment was largely just an excuse to mill around close enough to redirect his attention back to the page and to pick up the book when he dropped it, which he did no less than six times.
While it was comical to witness, I couldn't help but sympathize with him...
I am not a "reader." Not that I can't read. I just don't like it. I'm slow, slow enough that it's not enjoyable and any book over 200 pages presents a daunting task that requires a considerable investment of time to get through.
A while back, their mother recommended I read this "really great book" about Michelangelo titled The Agony and the Ecstasy, and I will admit it was a great book. It was also seven HUNDRED and 75 pages long. So what does that mean? Well, at my average speed of about 15 pages an hour, that'd take 52 hours. Now say I religiously read for an hour a day, but only four days a week because there's a lot of other stuff I prefer to do. At that rate, it'd take me three months to finish. In reality, it probably took me closer to five because, as I mentioned previously, I. Do. Not. Like. Reading.
But then I think maybe there's something wrong with me. I've been this way for as long as I can remember. I have a vivid memory from the start of first grade when the teacher assessed our respective reading levels. She sat manageable groups of us around the table in the reading corner and challenged us to read excerpts from the text of See Spot Run. I was embarrassed that I didn't recognize a single word. "LEVEL 1, dummy!" I'm pretty sure that what she said. Reading was not fun.
I started fifth-grade at a new school when we moved to New Hampshire. Along with the challenge of making new friends and fitting in on the playground also came classroom challenges including Reading Comprehension Card Sets. They were these big boxes full of 8.5-by-11 cards. On the front side were short stories on various topics and trivia and the back was a series of questions designed to assess your reading comprehension. There wasn't a time limit, but everyone tracked their own progress. I concentrated. I was persistent. I comprehended. But my classmates left me in the dust and I still did not like reading.
Oh, but it gets better. One summer my mother instituted an initiative whereby my brother and I were forced to sit at the kitchen table and read for one solid hour every morning, 45 minutes from the book of our choice and 15 minutes from... wait for it... THE BIBLE. Nice try, Mah, but the word of God wouldn't make me like reading either.
And so it went. By the end of high school, I managed to get by despite my handicap. I'd gotten passing grades in calculus, advanced placement chemistry, and survived AP English. Someone must have made several clerical errors in my favor but I'd still only graduate third with lackluster high honors and an award for Excellence in English. No doubt No. 1 and 2 must have been readers. My God! I never had a chance against them.
College was no picnic either. Magna Cum Laude with a something-or-other in mechanical engineering and a few odd jobs to follow. In the last 20 years, I've probably only read half a dozen books by choice including that monolithic "Agony" bit.
"What a shame. He could have made something of himself if only he liked to read." That's what they say watching me shuffle out of the movie theater. Seated there on the park bench across the street they pass judgment and time between pages of the Wall Street Journal.
"That poor dumb bastard. Doesn't he know the book is better?" People who like to read always say that. "No it's NOT" quoth I say in an indignant retort... but then self doubt kicks in -- How would I know? I don't read books.
But you know, I just can't help myself. I love to watch that big screen.
Just then, his book hits the garage floor again. Our eyes meet in silence. As I calmly handed it back to him, "Dad?"
"How much longer?"
"Ya know what? Don't worry about how much longer. Just read a couple pages and we'll see how it goes. You want a snack or something?"
"Can I have some chips?"
"Sure. I'll get them while you read the next page."
"OK," he submitted.
Slow and steady, he started in on the next page and I thought to myself, "I just hope he doesn't turn out stupid like me."
Dave Brewster is a stay-home-dad being raised by three young boys in Groton. Find more at www.ADadIsBorn.com.