We have a Sunday morning tradition at our house. Vivi and Carlos pile on to The Big Bed and snuggle up with G and me. (Victoria outgrew this a few years back and opts for a good ole teenaged sleep in until noon.)
Carlos climbs up from the bench at the foot of the bed then folds himself quietly into my side. Vivi pounces onto the bed with her Pengy then settles under G’s arm. They kick and wiggle and make up games about the cave (under the covers) or the waves (over the covers). It’s delightful.
I sat up and swung my legs over the side of the bed. Carlos said, “No, Mommy! Cover up your feet, Mommy! Go to sleep, Mommy!” so that I wouldn’t leave The Big Bed. I promised him that I wasn’t leaving, I just wanted to sit up for a minute. This morning, I was wearing my Heart Month t-shirt–the one that says “Keep Calm and Go Red.” Carlos saw the message on the back of my shirt and started naming letters. He’s been doing that for a year now–no interest in writing them, but he knows all the letters and the sounds they make.
But today, something magical happened, right there on The Big Bed.
I felt his little finger poking the back of my shirt. He chirped, “R-E-D…RED!”
“R-E-D spells RED! Exactly right, buddy! You are so smart!”
He read each letter.
“K-E-E-P….” He didn’t know what to make of these, so I said, “Keep!” He echoed, “Keep!”
“C-A-L-M…” I jumped right in with, “Calm!” He repeated it.
“G-O!” He waited for me to tell him the word. I said, “What’s the opposite of stop?”
Vivi shouted, “GO!” before she could stop herself and we all chimed in, “GO!”
Then he stopped. No pressure. But the moment happened and we had been there to see him take letters and pull them together to read a word. RED. R-E-D.
This afternoon, I had crept off to a quiet corner to read a few chapters of a wonderful book that my friends Abby and Rachel recommended: The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. Get it. Read it. Love it. Thank me later.
Anyway, there’s a young girl in the book, Maya, who grows up in a bookstore, surrounded by people who love letters and words and stories. Yes, I cried a couple of joyful tears when I read this passage:
A.J. reads, “. . . on the very top, a bunch of red caps.”
The picture shows a man in many colored caps.
Maya puts her hand over A.J.’s to stop him from turning the page just yet. She scans her eyes from the picture to the page and back again. All at once, she knows that r-e-d is red, knows it like she knows her name is Maya, like she knows A.J. Fikry is her father, like she knows the best place in the world is Island Books.
“What is it?” he asks.
“Red,” she says. She takes his hand and moves it so it is pointing to the word.
When I made my bucket list all those years ago, one of the items on it was “Teach someone to read.” I didn’t know then that it doesn’t work that way. We don’t set out to learn how to read as something separate from our lives. We just grow up around letters and one day, they click in place and we realize that R-E-D is the way of expressing the idea that is the color RED. So my bucket list item should have been, “Watch while someone makes the leap from letters to words.”
Thanks, Abby and Rachel, for sharing this book with me. Thank you, Carlos, for sharing your world with me. I promise you a life of letters and words and stories.
Do you remember the first time the letters lined up into a word?