There is a great deal of letting go required in parenting through transition. It is causing Dan to look at me sideways quite a bit. You know, like when I say: “Well, perhaps we should just accept that she is not a reader.”
This is not about trying to teach her to read and after years and years of trying deciding that it’s just not something that she will do. This is about her being really, really good at reading, and then deciding that she would really rather do something else with her time.
You see, Jessie is actually quite a good reader and when in the habit, devours books. She was raised by two avid readers and writers and grew up surrounded by shelves brimming with leather and paper and hard-backed spines beckoning all sorts of adventure—from piglets and pooh bears to hobbits and dementors. Teaching her to read was my great delight and one of her proudest accomplishments; it seemed, to her, to offset a certain challenge with bicycles and offered her a coveted and honoured spot among her peers. And it opened up worlds and words that expanded her universe and allowed her discover her potential power.
Roald Dahl was always a favorite, from George’s Marvelous Medicine to Matilda; unicorns, dragons, and river rats were as familiar and as loved as kindred spirits and life on the prairies. As she matured, so did the books, but still there was this attraction to magic—from Harry Potter to Twilight. Unforeseen climaxes would leave her shaking with grief holding on to a tree in our front yard, wailing “But Bella is going to DIE! And I’m NOT going to read any more!” Certain she was, that she could forestall that death just by not reading it.
However, these days she chooses not to read unless forced to. And then it takes at least 3 days of “forcing” (i.e., you have to read for half an hour before you can go on the computer) before she switches gears and can’t be found without the book that she was “forced” to read. But given the amount of “forcing” going on and the amount of fighting and resistance that this engenders, and given that she is a relatively mature young adult, I am thinking that I need to let go of who I want her to be (a reader) and love her for who she is (someone who reads sometimes, maybe).
It never occurred to us that Jessie would learn to read, to enjoy reading, and then choose to not read. Jessie learned to read when there were not as many resources about teaching reading to learners with Down syndrome as there are today. However, looking back I know that Jessie reading was not just a basic skill, it represented breaking down barriers, stereotypes, and prejudices. Jessie reading was a statement of liberation, of equality and equal rights. It was part of the road to freedom and self-advocacy.
So you can see why her choosing NOT to read, leaves us somewhat aghast. It’s hard to let go of something that big and deep. And then we have to step back, as all parents do (here is the equality) and let her follow her own road, her own passions and desires, and let her make her own choices, even if we think it’s an abomination! Here is the real test of how much we believe and uphold her right to self-determination, of how much we are able to really let go of our vision and commit ourselves to hers. Because, let’s face it, not reading is not a life-threatening choice. The only thing it really threatens is my sense of pride and some underlying intellectual snobbery. And maybe those need to be uprooted too.