Parent Power

27 08 2011

“Long, long ago when the world was young…”  Thus began my father’s bedtime stories, told in musty, hot tent trailers while we were camping.  His stories always revolved around a character he made up called Papa Scotia.  Papa Scotia was quite a character, too!  He had a passel of kids and always took them on wild adventures, doing everything exactly backward.  The fact that Daddy came up with these stories was amazing, as he was a chemist with a mind colored in black and white and read only (gasp) non-fiction.  Mama’s camping stories were more fanciful, about fire fairies and such.  I remember one story about a spoiled fairy who cried so much she turned into stone, with a trickle of fairy tears running down her that fed into a magical mountain stream.  Looking back, I can see that their inspiration came from us, a fact that sailed blissfully over my head at the time.

My parents only told my sister and me made-up stories when we were camping, since without any lights it was impossible to read.  When we were home, we always ended the day with a story, usually one from a set of books called The Junior Classics.  I have vivid memories of sitting on the sofa, Lucy on one side and I on the other, with my mother reading to us.  We read fairy tales, folk tales, myths and legends, stories about animals, heroes, and giants.  I remember looking at the page in front of her and seeing only a mixed up bunch of letters.  What magic there was in reading!

Almost six years old and deep into a book

When I started correcting my mother’s reading, she stopped reading to me as much.  Go figure.  Instead, she got us library cards, and we went to the library at least once a week.  We were given a subscription to Ranger Rick magazine and read it cover to cover several times each month.  We thought we had struck gold when my mother gave us a “Book of the Month” subscription for our birthdays.  What fun to get a hardback book in the mail that we could keep!  Those books too were read, reread, and then read again.  And yes, packrat that I am, I still have a few.  For my grandchildren.  Many many years from now. (By that time, I’ve have to explain to them what these things called “pages” are.)

The point is, from a young age, my parents modeled literacy to us.  They provided opportunities for reading.  They made relevant, interesting literature available to us.  Rarely, they gave us pointers on reading: “Don’t worry about pronouncing names right, just say it and move on.” And they gave us time.  Our days weren’t filled with scheduled activities.  We were Junior Girl Scouts and sang in the church choir.  For a couple of years my sister took piano lessons, and I played church-league basketball one year.  But for the most part we had time: time to play outside, time to explore, time to get bored and lots of time to lose ourselves in books.  More than one long rainy afternoon was spent inside my closet, into which I had pulled blankets, pillows, and a lamp, reading and reading and reading.

My parents were the best teachers I could have had, hands down.  I try to be a good teacher to my students, but I know I will never teach with the power of a parent who reads.