I remember a morning this past summer, when a little girl leaned in against me, her small shoulders pressing close. In the loud raspy force that children think is whispering, she blew into my ear, “My mom tells me to not read and read. So I stop but then when she goes away, I start again. I can't help it. I want to know more stories.”
I nodded knowingly to her, turning my head so we'd be eye to eye. "Yes,” I answered back. “My mom used to tell me the same thing.”
With her eyes wide, her mouth agape, so astonished, she asked, “She did?”
“She did. And I would wait until she went away and then I'd start reading again...”
She was too young, or else I'd tell her, that she will never change. That even when she gets to be as old as she thinks I am, which is from a time where she needs to question me about my life, “Did you have TV? Were there cars yet?” that this will always be.
That if she one day shares her home, her partner will call to her at night from upstairs to put her book down and come to bed, that she needs to sleep.
That if she has children, over breakfast they will ask her, “How late did you stay up to finish that book?”
I want to tell her how wonderful it is to be a reader. That one day, the people around her will begin to see that's who she is. Their questions will change from “Why do you read so much?” to “What book are you reading now?”
I want her to give herself the title of Reader like a crown, with a jewel at the tip of each letter like the points of a star.
I want her to fill in the blank with Reading as one of the firsts under "Your hobbies or interests?" I want her to feel no embarrassment or shame over her love of books, as if it's something she didn't want to be true about herself. When someone asks her what some of the things are that she likes to do, I want her to answer “reading,” just like that, and not stumble for other things to say instead.
I want her to remember how words fill her mind and take her to a place where time stands still. Where turning page after page soon becomes an impatient 11p.m. rap on the bedroom door with orders to put away the book now and get some sleep. I want her to spend afternoons amid piles of books, where each story calls to her, as if chosen especially.
I want her to forever love the feel of the weight of pages in her hands, to look forward to the stories that await on her nightstand at the end of her day. I want her to flutter to sleep with her finger lingering on the last words she reads as one day crosses the thin line into the start of the next.
If I could have whispered a confidence back to her that day, it would have been to tell her to swim, full and deep, no matter what, in the words that make her laugh, her heart pound, her throat gasp, her mind think, her eyes tear, and that take her into another world.
I want her to always smile, hard -- and never second guess when asked, "Tell me about yourself..."
"Well, I like to read,” is my dream for how she one day answers that question.
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