This past week Joseph started reading My Father's Dragon. He is on lesson 190 ("The Soft Sound of the SC Blend") of 234 reading lessons, which means that he will finish the book in four and a half weeks. And when he finishes the book, it means that I will have one more child who can read.
Eight and a half years ago, Kathleen also learned how to read. After Edwin was born and we returned to Cairo in February, I decided that it was high time for Kathleen to learn how to read. She was almost three and a half and time was wasting. Every morning we would sit down and do our reading lesson together. There were usually a lot of tears (I've yet to have a child who actually enjoyed learning how to read) but I was very diligent. That summer at the beach, my mother gave Kathleen a bunch of "I Can Read" books including Amelia Bedelia, Uncle Elephant, and Mouse Tales, for Kathleen's fourth birthday. As soon as she got those books in her little hands, she ran off to a quiet place and read them all in one go.
I remember being surprised with how easy it was to teach children to read. "You can teach any three year-old to read," I confidently told everyone, "It's really easy!"
Then came Sophia. After a year and a half of spotty instruction and a year and a half of very diligent instruction, she too go to start reading My Father's Dragon - at the ripe old age of six. With time and experience I've realized that she was dealing with other problems that made learning to read much harder, but at the time I thought that I was going to die of frustration. When I thought back to my jaunty assurances that someone could teach any three year-old child to read, I just laughed. It was a good thing I got an easy one to start with because I think I might have given up altogether with Sophia if she had been my first.
Edwin didn't start his instruction until he was four and also finished at six. He could have probably started and then finished earlier, but I was busy fighting his older sister's fight and he just had to wait his turn. Such is the life of a large family: an amalgamation of compromises that try to cover the important bases and sometimes leaves the other things out in the cold.
After having started first grade twice with children who weren't fluent readers, I decided that Joseph would not be the third mistake. A few months ago I added up the number of lessons we had left in the reading book and then looked at my calendar. This school year has a very definite end date. We leave Dushanbe the second week of May, pack out the first week of May, and so school has to be finished the second week of April. There is no way I am going to try and finish the last straggling bits of the school year when we finally unpack in Tashkent.
When I did the mental calculations, I realized that Joseph's reading was now going to be that part of the daily schedule that was non-negotiable. On most days all of the school work gets done, but occasionally some crisis occurs and I have to start shedding the non-essentials. And in addition to swapping out a grammar lesson for a reading lesson, I would also have to start doubling up on lessons. On top of that we would start reading a chapter of Frog and Toad together before nap time and before bed. It was very intense.
But of course that much reading (some days it was two hours of agony) really steps up progress and here we are with a little more than a month left of lessons together.
It's kind of crazy to look at my children and realize that all of them know how to read because I taught them the letters, taught them the sounds, and sat down and took years off my life helping them to put it all together. Reading is one of the hardest things children ever learn how to do, and it's one of the hardest things to teach them; it's one of my Three Most Hated Thing to Teach. But for the first time in seven years, I'll get a short break before starting Eleanor in the fall.
Joseph's ability to read marks the change of reading from minority to majority skill in our family. This is always a happy point for me. Most of our children are out of diapers (and even better, most of our theoretical children are too), most of our children dress and feed themselves, most can fold laundry, and now most can read. I'm looking forward to packing suitcases, cooking, and cleaning up becoming majority skills. It's a happy thing to train your own replacements.
But for now, I'll take reading. I've certainly earned it.