I learned to read at a young age. It’s not something I think about often, because it’s so far beyond any concrete memories. Mom read to me every night, starting the day I came home from the hospital. My earliest memories are sitting on my mom’s lap, and following the words she was speaking with my eyes. I don’t know if she started by sliding her finger across the page, or if I figured out the motion on my own. What I do know is that in that moment, I was already reading along. Taking bathes with Mom and going to the creek with Dad are some of my clearest memories. The creek trips were my favorite, and I’d spend the whole time wading in and out, giggling from the cold water. It felt powerful, unstoppable, but I always knew I would be warm and safe in the bath with my mom that night. My mom and I also bonded over books, moving up to Goosebumps and Nancy Drew as I grew older. Like stepping into a warm bath, my literacy was an ongoing event for most of the early years of my life. My education wasn’t limited to children’s novels. Mom taught me to add with colorful beads, and patiently taught me how to write on those huge lined pads. Sometimes I would get a new kind of lesson from Dad. Sometimes he would take me on long hikes and teach me to recognize trees by their leaves, and other times we’d just go catch crawdads in the water. I helped him build tables and doghouses, and then that night he’d show me the constellations.
One day he started taping pieces of paper to the wall of the living room with odd symbols on them. At the bottom on the page he wrote some words, words I could read, but words that had no meaning thus far in my three year old mind. “Alpha, beta, gamma, delta,…” They were cool words, and I liked saying them, so I read them over and over until I could remember them. This was the Greek alphabet, and later dad taught me a few bible verses and small phrases. You won’t catch me speaking Greek, but I did learn to recognize structure and patterns applicable to any language. I understood our English as more than just what happens when I open my mouth. Every word, sound, and letter had so much thought and mechanic behind it. Soon, I understood literacy as something more than what I do when I see paper. By the time I was four, I was beyond confident in my literacy. I guess I was about due for a toss into the cold, fast creek of reality. About this time I had begun to read the books that Dad would leave in the bathroom. One day I walked in and there was something new on top of the stack. The Hobbit was a pretty book, that was a good part of the reason I decided to try it. But the gilded cover held the beginnings of my first true fight with my own mind. Funny thing about this novel, the first pages are absolute gibberish, because they’re in Elvish.
With context, this isn’t confusing at all, and it’s actually pretty cool. But after giving my little brain hell trying to understand the first paragraph, I put it down. I felt like I was sinking, the cold water rising above my head. This was my first defeat. I started outgrowing my warm bathes when I outgrew my bedtime stories. Even though I could read for myself, mom had always read to me. I never picked out the books, and mom set the pace. One night, like many nights, mom fell asleep while reading. But tonight, the book was exciting, and there was no way I could let that slide. I slid the book out of her hands, rolled over, and kept flipping pages until I reached the end. I remember it was a Boxcar Kids mystery, and I just had to get to the bottom of it. In all of my five years, nothing could be more important than finding out if those four little orphans were safe! Shortly after that, mom had me figured out, and I was now responsible for reading myself to sleep. Homeschoolers are rarely known for their outstanding social skills, and I was no exception. I made one of my first friends (who wasn’t a cousin) at the library. At six years old, I didn’t bother learning her name, and I doubt she could tell you mine, but our short conversations were the highlight of my day. We’d talk about the books I was checking out, and she’d suggest some to me, and I to her. I was able to explore whole new sections of the library with her help. I got excited about fantasy, and took to reading books larger that my head.
Protector of the Small, The Chronicles of Narnia, if it didn’t have a touch of magic, I wouldn’t touch it. I was adjusting to the chilly water of the creek, a huge step towards independence for little me. My taste in fantasy led down many different rabbit trails, but there was one I refused to go down. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is a classic, the epitome of the genre, yet I still steered clear. I read every other book I could, avoiding it. A continued treading water, until one day when seven year old me ran into a dead end. I didn’t know where else to go, so I thought I’d consult my friend. The first book my librarian suggested for me, of course, was The Hobbit. I blushed, and asked for a different one. But lucky for me, she knew what she was talking about. My problem was a common one, and she knew exactly the fix for it. I didn’t even know you could read books in any way except start to finish. She flipped through the introduction and marked the first chapter to start reading, and in doing this, removed my water wings. I wasn’t just surviving, treading water, I was swimming like an olympian. This was my first victory. I took this knowledge with me into my teen years and further. When challenged by my Dad to write a novel, I was able to look at it from a different angle. Writing becomes a much smoother process when you learn that first things don’t always have to come first. Looking at things in such a spontaneous helped me to keep myself afloat as I grew up. A random pop culture reference is what secured my friendship with my best friend! My literacy is the foundation of my personality, and taught me my most important lesson in life… Just keep swimming!