My kids don't love to read. I'm okay with that.
I was a bookworm. But my boys don't need books in quite the same way I did.
It's a sunny summer day, and I'm holed up in my attic bedroom, eyes glued to A Wrinkle In Time. At age nine, this is how I prefer to spend my waking hours. I ride my bike sometimes. I've helmed a lemonade stand or two. But nothing outside competes with my weekly stack of library books. Certainly not fresh air, which my mother regularly implores me to partake of, as if my books might suck the oxygen out of my immediate atmosphere.
Now, in my bedroom, I hear mom coming up the stairs, and I know what to expect. Hands on her hips, she plants herself in the doorway. "Read, read, read," she says, shaking her head in exasperation. "It's a beautiful day. Don't you want to go out and play?"
"No," I murmur, barely raising my eyes from the page.
Meg Murry is facing IT, a raw brain on a pedestal, ruler of the planet Camazotz. She's desperately trying to think of the one thing she possesses that IT hasn't got, the only thing that can save her brother from being sucked into the brain's evil orbit.
How could running around outside possibly compete with this?
My mother sighs and stomps down the attic stairs. Her footsteps barely register. Suddenly, Meg realizes what she's got: love.
Ah. Love defeats evil. I tuck this knowledge away, along with everything else I've gleaned from a life of reading. Then, almost subconsciously, I renew my vow: When I have children, I will never, ever hassle them for being bookworms. I will always remember what I know right now: Reading is better than being out in the sunshine.
It's a vow I've never had to keep. My children, as it turns out, like running around outside. Actually, they like it better than reading.
It took a while for the realization to sink in. Like most kids, mine adored being read to. Brown Bear, Frog and Toad, Frances; I reveled in introducing these beloved characters to my boys, and they could always cajole me into "one more" book.
Later, as independent readers, they latched onto Tintin, then Harry Potter, and my old pals, the Great Brain and the Three Investigators. Not until he was 14 did I stop reading to my oldest son at bedtime. So yes, my kids read. But rarely, and only when there's nothing else to do.
For my two boys, outside fun with their friends trumps reading, every time. We live in a neighborhood where kids can safely roam, and I've been happy to watch them enjoy that freedom: building backyard forts, constructing bows and arrows from sticks and string, waging epic water gun battles up and down the block, riding scooters and bikes and skateboards.
Yet sometimes, as I wave them off with their friends, I wonder. After all of that reading aloud, why aren't books more of a necessity for my kids, the way they were for me? My sons don't carry novels around with them at all times, waiting for the opportunity to plunge back into an imaginary world. They don't regard the public library as a personal treasure house, the way I did. Our home shelves are crammed with my own childhood books, everything from Pippi Longstocking to The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and they'll try what I recommend. But they don't peruse those shelves on their own, the way I did, eager to discover new companions.
Maybe, I've begun to think, my boys don't need books in quite the same way I did.
I would have been a bookworm no matter what, like plenty of people with happier childhoods. I'm convinced of that. But I also recognize that for me, reading was an escape, a solace from problems my own kids have never faced: a school that tolerated bullying, parents enmeshed in a bitter divorce, a life that was lonelier than it should have been.
So, even as I wish my boys enjoyed the deep affinity to books that I do, I rejoice in the other connections that enrich their lives, the ones I missed out on: with friends, hobbies, and the world around them. I hope they're more drawn to reading as they get older. I hope they follow the example of their father and me, two adults who read for pleasure every day. But that's something they'll decide for themselves.
For now, thanks to all our read-alouds, my kids are emerging from childhood familiar with the same literary companions who kept me company in that attic bedroom long ago: Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder, Sara Crewe, Cassie Logan, Taran of Caer Dalben, the Melendy siblings. And whether or not they become lifelong readers, they do know that love defeats evil — and they learned it from Meg Murry, just like I did.