Playing the Long Game

Photo: Oh, Mr. Thoreau, what we have here is both a truth and a lie. It is true that details can weigh everything down, complicating the basic things that make life enjoyable. But then again, I believe that some of life’s most indulgent joys can be found in the details. Indeed, paying attention to the details, spoken and unspoken, can yield exquisite little treasures. Even a box of simple cards gifted from friend to friend.


Ursa Major has decided that he isn’t terribly interested in learning how to read.

He announced this decision over dinner last week. He said it in a way that only a child can: matter-of-factly, with a shrug, as if this thought did not have consequence. It is the simple whim of a child who is too smart for his own good.

There was a pregnant silence that went over entire table. Major, putting on a charming grin, waited with an expectant look on his face. The Husband looked at at the ceiling. I could see the pink rising to his cheeks. Minor held his breath, I think, waiting for something to happen. Everyone was waiting for what the tone of the conversation was going to be. Lamentation and rending of garments? Seething, simmering anger? A flippant reply, a sarcastic rebuttal? Everything was possible for just that moment. Then I realized they were all waiting on me. I decided to ask for clarity.

“What do you mean you aren’t interested in reading? Reading is very important. Everything you want to do in this life requires reading.”

Everything?” The child asked me, incredulous.

Everything.” We two parents answered, certain.

“Well there is nothing good to read that I want to read,” he said.

“There are plenty of great books upstairs that you love!” I replied.

“No, they are boring. They don’t talk about cool stuff. I want books about jets and rockets and army soldiers and stuff!”

It was one of those mother-of-boys moments. Because ya’ll surely know that I don’t want to read about jet planes and rockets and army soldiers every night for the next considerable amount of time. The books we’ve collected for the boys, books brought up from Maryland from my own childhood, books gifted from women, so many women… books that are lyrical and gorgeously illustrated and award-winning…books that feature diverse characters and all sorts of different types of stories.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is, I built the ideal little library for if I’d had little girls.

My boys? My boys who are so boyish? They’ve come to that point in boyhood where they are doubling down on boyness. Tales of bravery. Tales of conflict and overcoming them. Tales of great and fantastic machines, complete with all of their inner workings. Give unto them strategy and complexity and minutia. Open the gates to the fortress of forbidden concepts: guns and war and explosions. It is time to see with their own eyes what manhood has a possibility of looking like. (blech).

It’s not that my boys aren’t ready to read. Matter of fact, readers who have been with me for a while will recall that both boys started showing emerging reading skills back in the Spring. There are recognized “sight words” and phonetic sounding-out of words. Both boys were “read ready” going into kindergarten (they knew their letters, knew the associated sounds for each letter, recognized that groups of letters make words and groups of words make sentences). This is not about skill or preparation. This is purely about topics.

It would be so easy to simply tell that boy to learn how to read and be cool. This really isn’t a fight–the child must learn to read. It’s not optional. We told him as much. His reply? “I’ll just learn when I’m a teenager. Then I’ll be old enough to choose the books that I feel like reading.”

“By then it will be too late,” The Husband started.

I didn’t want this to turn into a fight about academics, performance and school. It feels too early for this. And Major’s disinterest is not a behavior issue. It’s just an interest issue. There was an easy fix for this, one that we could get to without of lot of extra energy. So I took back the reins:

“So you mean to tell me if I fill up this house with books about jets and rockets and soldiers, you’ll start practicing your reading?”

Major gave the same shrug he’d given earlier. It’s all so very casual to him. This is such a non-issue for him: The reading I’m doing is boring. Therefore, I won’t read. (“Simplify, simplify!”)

“I will get you books on rockets and jets and soldiers then, sir. But that means you will be reading them. You understand me?”

“Yeah! That’s great!” The child said to me.

I’m sure some of you will probably feel like I’m rewarding a bad behavior. Indeed, the Amazon box came in here on Saturday and Major was very excited to see the books therein. If I had gotten a note from his teacher about poor behavior, if this had turned into some fight, even if the boy had said “I hate school” or some sort of variation thereof, everything would have gone a little differently. But that’s not what happened here. A problem was identified, spoken plainly and calmly, a solution was offered and a deal was made. There is also a simple thing that I understand at play here: if I insist that the boy read books he doesn’t want to read, then reading will turn into a battle, and then he really won’t like reading.

And reading is the fundamental foundation of all the subsequent learning he needs to do. It’s imperative that he reads. Not only is it imperative that he reads, but that he reads well and widely and enjoys doing so. His relationship with books and the written word will dictate the entirety of his academic career (and beyond, frankly).

So he gets his books. That first Amazon shipment, a resumption of regular trips to the library, and a trip to the bookfair when the time comes. This is just a short phase, a hop to give him confidence in his reading skills. A small indulgence now will earn me necessary dividends later.

Heh, that was a heavy way to start a Monday, no? Sorry about that, Dear Reader! What is laying heavy on your mind this week? Let’s work it all out together, ok? I’m here for a productive week. Ain’t go no other choice!

Update on writing, and Nano, and blogging and other stuff on Wednesday. Get pumped!

Until then, take care.


8 Comments Add yours

  1. Jackie Law says:

    I have sent so many books to the charity shops (I think you may call them goodwill?) that I have carefully chosen for my children and they have discarded after a few pages. Thankfully they found other books they wanted to read – again and again and again. My daughter still bemoans my attempts to get her to read more widely by removing favourites from her shelves. But girl and boy books? Please, please, let girls read about rockets and heroes and battling for what is good and right. This is not a gendered thing unless parents make it so. We need strong women as well as men. And we need men who are not afraid to share their feelings. Your son told you how it was. Hurrah for him – and well done you for providing a space where he could do so 🙂

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      Oh oh oh, I should have worded that differently. Certainly you are right about Boy Books and Girl Books, there really is no such thing. I really meant that my library of books for that boys was clearly more about the books *I* loved as a child and even as an adult and so much less about *them* and what *they* seem to like and the topics they gravitate to. I was a little girl who loved lyrical language and stories of grand theme… my boys want vroom vroom and jets and ACTION. Less adventure. Just ACTION. *sigh* So it’s time to build the library to suit. With… added little treasures here and there. I’m very happy to say that we were gifted an almost complete treasure trove of old and new Cricket magazines from a friend at church. So I am hoping that they will get skilled enough that they’ll enjoy picking up a magazine with different types of stories, and that will expand their horizons over time. Who knows!? I clearly have no control over what’s happening around here.

      But yes, thank you for the reminder. This is not a gendered thing. I really don’t want to make it that way. I didn’t use “girl books” in front of the boys, of course. But I do sorta split them that way in my head… antiquated thinking. Bad, Mama!

      1. Jackie Law says:

        I think my equality radar may be a touch sensitive 🙂

  2. Tikeetha T says:

    LOL. It’s hard to get them to understand the importance. He’ll get it. I do fun books including comics now for Munch.

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      LeVar Burton is really big on this: if they like superheroes, get them superheroes. If they like comics, get them comics. Whatever it takes to get them improving their skills and loving to read. Nothing else matters. I’m with it, I guess. Reading is reading. I just want them to do it.

  3. Reading is my absolute favourite thing to do. I am so grateful to my parents for giving me this gift, the habit of a lifetime.

    We had story-time every night before bed and now at 48, I get into bed every night to read for at least 15 minutes before the light goes off. I always had a book under my arm as a child (which has translated into a kindle in my handbag :-)) and a reward for good behaviour on a trip into town was letting me choose a Little Golden Book from the rack by the cash register.

    There’ll be plenty of times Major has to read stuff he doesn’t want to so I’m with you – let him develop his enjoyment of it with things he likes to read about now! x

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      Reading is certainly escape for me. I love it, too. It means so much to me, and I don’t think I would have survived those transition years between childhood and teenager (and even just the teenaged years) without books.

      But I don’t want to lay all that heaviness on Major. I just want it all to feel –important– but not life or death. Not yet. We can ease into it. Besides, I’m still not totally sure what his learning style is yet.

      We’re all learning. lol. It’s all just one big long lesson!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.