A Clean Well-lighted Place

My children like to read. They just
do. This makes me lucky, I think, in no small part because it's something we all like in my house. No one has to feel left out or uncomprehending; it's a shared family love, sort of like chocolate ice cream.
There have been some bumps,
I guess. There was a time when Chestnut was struggling with the fact
that it was harder for her than it was for a lot of other kids to
decode the words and figure out what they said, and she would come home
and say "No! I won't read! I hate reading!" But somehow I
didn't really believe it, so I didn't worry about it much, and happily it just
went away.
So where is this going, you might wonder?
I had thought of myself as someone who made an environment that encouraged reading, or at least, welcomed it. That is, until we went to Sweden, and stayed in someone else's home with a Home Exchange. The girls got to stay in the room of the Swedish girls (loft beds instead of bunks, how thrilling!), and mounted on the wall of each of these beds was a reading light.

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The joy with which each child stayed holed up in those Swedish loft beds, reading and manipulating her own reading light just so, was intense. And the embarrassment with which I thought about their room at home—overhead light so Chestnut had no light at all in the bottom bunk, while Diana was more or less blinded—was also, um, intense.
So when we returned home, and had an unexpected free weekend, we descended into the soul-destroying hell that is Ikea, and bought (among other things) a reading light for each girl, red for Chestnut, silver for Diana, along with an armchair, a fake leopard skin rug, and other library essentials. The lights were $7. Cue more intense embarrassment—how could this have taken us eight years to do?
It's true, I think, that the reading environment can change everything. And I even know that. Nonetheless, it took us a while. But now, at least, we have all the more reason to be sharply aware of the indescribable pleasure of having two happy girls, sitting quietly on their bunk beds with their reading lights, making their way through something or other, on a gray afternoon.

5 thoughts on “A Clean Well-lighted Place

  1. I’m struck by you mentioning that one of your girls hated to read initially. When did that stop? I am a real bookworm, always have been and always will be, but one of my boys just hates it and really struggles. Nothing is “wrong” with him — he just has a hard time. He is eight years old. It’s just so weird that a child of mine would hate to read. He does like me to read to him, though. I guess I’m writing this in hope that you’ll tell me that one day the light came on for your child.

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  2. I truly don’t know exactly when it stopped. We were graced with excellent teachers, a reading specialist with whom she more or less fell in love, and we just kept reading to her. That seemed to be the thing: to never push her too hard about it, just to do the fun stuff. A friend also used to let her child see the movie first, then read the book, and the understanding of the plot and all really helped him get through books. Once she could read, though, it was easier…

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  3. Ah, Ikea. A friend of mine and his wife used to remind themselves before they went into the quarrel-starting hellhole that Ikea can be:
    “Remember, we DO love each other”.

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  4. I have such a love/hate relationship with Ikea. I actually once posted a request on Craigslist to have someone go there for me. I needed one very specific thing and wasn’t willing to drive all the way across the city with three kids to get it. And I got a ton of responses! The woman who actually did it for me wouldn’t accept gas money or anything; she said she just did it for the karma. So I may never actually set foot in there again.
    When I was little, my parents had two bedtimes for us: one if you just wanted to go to sleep, but half an hour later if you wanted to read. I think that’s part of the reason we did so much reading! My boys just moved into a room together, and it’s a large enough room that there are two ceiling lights, one on each side. So we’ve been able to tuck one in and read to him, turn off “his” light, then go do the same with his brother. But as they get older and independent reading is more a part of their life, I’ll be sure to remember the difference that little things, like a reading light or a safe place to set a book at night, can make.

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  5. Kendra – what a brilliant idea from your parents! I will have to remember that when my children are older. As it is, I have fond memories of reading under the covers with a flashlight long after ‘lights out.’ Hmmm… now I wonder if the flashlight in my Christmas stocking was an implicit invitation to break the rules and read in bed!

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