What does that sign say?
It says Detour.
What about that one?
Tsunami Hazard Zone.
Ooh, I know that one! That one says STOP!
My 5-year-old is learning to read, which is great. Not just great — necessary (at least eventually). Every time she recognizes the word dog or love in a book, we both feel surges of pride. And yet, I’m realizing reading will mean the whole world of English words will suddenly become decipherable to her. And a lot of that language? Well, it fucking sucks.
My husband and I read to her a ton, but we’ve never pushed her to learn to read. We knew it would happen when she was ready. But suddenly, she’s ready.
It just clicked for her that one reason grownups usually seem to know what’s going on is we can read. We read signs and maps and phones and schedules. There are secrets all around her, and she wants to know them all.
When I thought about her learning to read, I pictured her reading books. Children’s books. Max and Ruby, and Goodnight Moon, and fuzzy books about puppies. I pictured snuggle time evolving from us reading to her, to all of us taking turns reading to each other.
And, sure. That’ll happen. But learning to read unlocks a whole lot of other things.
When I was a child, reading could unlock cereal boxes, but now it unlocks the whole internet!
My daughter built a block castle yesterday. Actually, she built the temple of Tymora, goddess of luck, and a magical portal for her Daniel Tiger figurine to travel there (her dad’s a professional dungeon master).
“This is a sign,” she told me, pointing at a rectangular block, “and it says, You’ll have a happy time here.”
She built another building, out of magnet blocks, and told me the sign on it read, All are welcome. Later she amended the sign to include, except the mean ones.
This was a window into her beautiful child mind. She knows words are all around her. But she thinks they say things like “All are welcome” and “You’ll have a happy time here.”
Meanwhile, her 6-year-old best friend is reading, and apparently finding “the F word” and “the S word” in graffiti everywhere she looks.
I don’t mind my daughter hearing or reading or saying fuck or shit, as long as none of it’s mean-spirited and she continues to understand some people — like grandparents and teachers — aren’t usually fans of crass language.
But who knows what else she’ll see? I’ve never had to think about what words I’ve left showing on my computer screen, or what novels I leave laying about.
I’m picturing conversations like, “Mama, what does rape mean?” starting because I forgot to close my Medium window.
Thankfully, she doesn’t use computers on her own yet, but oh my goddess, the internet? When I was a child, reading could unlock cereal boxes, but now it unlocks the whole internet!
She knows words are all around her. But she thinks they say things like “All are welcome” and “You’ll have a happy time here.”
I want to continue to have all the hard conversations with her, but I don’t want to have any of them prematurely. I’m thankful she’s at least as old as she is, with fledgling critical thinking skills that are essential for taking in infinite words.
My nephew learned to read at 2 years old, and I’m just now realizing what a curse that may have been.
My daughter started kindergarten this week at our local public school, where learning to read and write is part of the curriculum.
Meanwhile, many of her friends started kindergarten at the private Waldorf school, where learning to read is very consciously put off until 1st grade.
My neighbors pulled their 6-year-old out of that school because, as they told it, “Even though she was reading at home, they wouldn’t let her read at school, because her baby teeth hadn’t fallen out yet.”
I get wanting our children to stay in a magical wordless fairyland. I really do. More than that, I get wanting learning to read to be entirely self-directed — nurtured through storytelling and snuggle time with parents, chosen by children, but never pushed. But the teeth thing? That’s a big nope.
I’m viewing the world with new eyes. There are words all around us that usually don’t catch my attention. But to my daughter, they each promise to unlock some universal truth about the world.
Some of this truth will be amazing. But, like the world, some of it just really sucks.