How my dad (unintentionally) taught me to love reading

I grew up an only child. That doesn’t necessarily mean that my parents had the luxury of time to shower me with attention. They worked around the clock, and sometimes they needed to be away for days. I spent a lot of time alone as a child, finding solace in the company of my Barbie dolls and self-narrated tea parties. I wish I could say I spent all that solitude reading, and that would be the end of this story, but that wasn’t the case.

Necessity forced me to learn how to read. According to my dad, I was three years old. My dad was always the parent with reading duty. Our ritual consisted of me picking out a book every night (I never tired of these giant Disney princess picture books), jumping into their bed, snuggling beside him while sucking my thumb, and drifting off to sleep as I listened to my dad’s sonorous voice narrating princess woes, prince charmings, and fairytale endings.

At least, that’s what I always expected. Dad never got to the part with the prince or the ending. He would nod off to sleep by the second page despite my violent protests. I have recollections of tears streaming down my face, begging him to wake up and finish the story, my tiny fists grabbing bunches of his pajama top, because I was so desperate to find out what happened to Princess Aurora even though I already knew the answer from the previous night.

I just wanted someone to tell me. Tell me what happens next. Tell me it ends well.

I didn’t know it then, but Dad did me a favor. He would keep his eyes shut throughout my tearful episode, eventually really falling asleep, signaled by his loud snores. That’s when I knew I was really on my own. I would wipe my tears on the sleeves of my pajamas, pick up the giant book in my hands, and read. I would sound out the words. I would push myself to finish every one until I could turn to the next page until I got to the end.

It turns out that I knew the story before I even knew how to read. Decades later, my dad told me the truth.

”I came up with the idea because I saw you mouthing the words while I read. I knew you knew the story already,” he said, his eyebrows furrowed, recalling the time as if I were the one who had scammed him. Perhaps I did—I was scamming him out of a few hours of a good night’s rest.

This went on for a long time, maybe a year. Then I stopped sleeping in my parents’ bed. They would lay out a pull-out bed for me every night, next to theirs. I would pick out my book, graduating from Disney Princesses to Dr. Seuss, and read to myself every night. And then I got a little bit older and started sleeping in my own room, poring through Nancy Drew and Ally McBeal books until I fell asleep. Reading helped me grow up, and find my independence.

In hindsight, perhaps reading was a form of self-soothing for me. It was my way of telling myself things would work out if we just kept going. The happy ending is out there somewhere, waiting at the end of all these pages.

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out my other Shelf Reflections.


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