hello darlings. i hope you haven't forgotten about me - it's been a week! my summer classes (american sign language and advanced expository writing - woot!) started this monday and unlike my typical semesters, i'm in class every day and cramming 16 weeks' worth of work into just 3. so, i've been kinda busy. the only real thing i've written this week is the following - a narrative discussing a life event that defined my relationship with literacy, for my writing class. hopefully this will help you guys learn a little bit more about me and my relationship with words. enjoy!
I have always been a little old for my age, even as a child. In a constant rush to catch up to my brother who is two years my senior, I sped forward in my development, sponging up every lesson my parents gave to him and trying to accomplish the same tasks as he. The most important of those tasks would quickly come to be reading as I squeezed myself into the storytime sessions and alphabet lessons between my mother and my brother so as never to be left out. My development as a reader came early and soon became a key component of my personal identity.
We were always a household with a strong relationship to language. My father, a writer by trade, liked to tease my older brother that he would not be allowed to start kindergarten until he was able to spell it. K-I-N-D-E-R-G-A-R-T-E-N was repeated like a favorite lullaby, my brother singing the letters until he had them committed to memory. Though I still had years before the dreaded kindergarten lock-out, I started practicing too, just to be safe. When we had mastered the spelling of kindergarten, “bureaucracy” was our next spelling word. Realizing I had joined in on my brother’s spelling boot camp, my father extended this word challenge to me as well. My brother and I could spell “bureaucracy” with the help of a catchy homemade rhyme almost immediately and I, for one, was quite proud of this accomplishment at the ripe age of three years old.
Soon my brother entered kindergarten and went straight to work on his ABCs and learning how to read and write simple words. Though only in preschool myself, I took my brother’s at-home lessons as a chance to get a head start on all the fun things I had to look forward to. You can tell the geeks early on, and I definitely was one. But I loved everything about my geekdom, including the extra time it enabled me to spend working one-on-one with my mother, who was excited to have me jumping head-first into learning. I snuck in on every tutoring session I could, and paid attention from across the room when I was forced to act my age instead. Soon, I was reading “I Can Read All By Myself” books entirely on my own before even starting kindergarten. By first grade, everyone around me knew that I had found my life’s two great loves: ballet and reading, and if I wasn’t practicing one, I was sure to have been working on the other.
The Berenstain Bears quickly became my favorite bedtime books and unlike most children, I was not being lulled to sleep by my mother’s hushed tone reading the tales of Brother and Sister Bear. I would select a few paperbacks from the growing stack that stood beside my bed and read them to myself until lights out. I’m not quite sure how long it took my parents to realize, but “lights out” didn’t exactly mean the same thing to them as it did to me. Tucked tightly into my big-girl white canopy bed, my parent’s nighttime kisses still warm on my chubby cheeks, the overhead light went out and my quiet reading time was over. “Time for bed, Alyssa, put the books away!” Or so my mom and dad thought. I was far too stealthy for them – or so I thought. Leaning into the pool of light that spilled out of the bathroom connecting my bedroom to my parents’, I hovered with my fictional friends for as long as I could fight off sleep. Night after night, there I rested in the dim light until sleep came for me, clutching my precious books and prematurely developing back problems so that I could always get in just one more page. This went on for some time, until one night my father’s dark shadow interrupted whatever hi-jinks Brother and Sister Bear were getting themselves caught up in. My hi-jinks were the focus now; I had been figured out. It’s not unrealistic to assume that the only reason my parents were really mad about my secret bedtime behavior was because of the ungodly hour it kept me up to. I’m sure the best parenting books would agree that eleven p.m. is not a suitable bedtime for a five- or- six-year-old.
There I was, an insomniac with a vice. All I wanted to do was read, all the time. It didn’t matter what – The New York Times at the breakfast table and cereal boxes when my dad wouldn’t share the paper, highway signs on the way to Mema and Pop’s house, absolutely every item in the grocery store. I loved words. We’ve always joked that this literary affinity is in the blood in my family, and though it doesn’t seem to pass through anyone but my father and myself, it must be true. Before it was a conscious choice, I had found the way to escape. Words always had it. I would read for pleasure or relief before I understood how people could need a creative outlet. Books were always mine, and because my vice hurt no one but my social skills (which, luckily, didn’t fall by the wayside, since I’m also my mother’s daughter), there was no danger in my getting a fix. Except, perhaps, for the near-heart attack I must have given my parents when I zipped through my big brother’s entire Boxcar Children book series before even he did.
One day while playing in the basement, I spotted the red paperback sitting alone on the table, picked it up, and read. And I read, and I read, and I read. Before I finished first grade I was able to add that series, the Juney B. Jones collection, and the entire Little House on the Prarie box set, among others, to my list of completed books. By the end of elementary school, I had discovered my love for Nancy Drew and Judy Blume as well, and had begun my adventures as a writer.
Just as much as I never had a choice about being a bookworm, my love for writing was also beyond my control. The passion chose me, and I went along willingly. When I became able to write my own stories, I did that as well. I began journaling very young and practiced my writing skills without a conscious effort to do so. I had been drawn to a literary life from the moment I could comprehend it, and the idea of making a life for myself as a reader and writer was intoxicating. The relationship I developed with books and literacy as a toddler would prove to be one of the most important and longest relationships of my life, one that has continued without faltering since its inception.
The English language began shaping my life before anything else even had a chance. Breakfast spelling bees were the norm, as were uncommonly lengthy independent reading sessions. “Look it up” was heard often around my house, and I quickly became a pro at using the dictionary to make sense of whatever ridiculously age-inappropriate text I was disappearing in. By the time my first-grade peers were learning to read, I would march into school with the confidence of a third-grader with an ever-tightening grasp of reading and writing fundamentals. I became a reader and writer because certain people, like me, have no choice in the matter. The words swirled through my tiny brain, grabbed hold, and refused to let go. I never thought of fighting it; I never dreamed of laying down my beloved books. As if it were ink instead of blood running through my veins, I was always intended to have a strong relationship with the written word.