“Guess what!?!” she squealed, about to burst with excitement as we made our way down the crowded hallway to collect her jacket and lunch box.
“What!?!” I squealed back. Pick-up time is my sweet spot. My time. No matter what other exhaustions or stresses plague me every other minute of the day, pick-up time is when I rally and find the energy and excitement within me to squeal over the high points of a small person’s day.
“I have a… reader!!!!” she bursted, dangling a plastic bag in front of me. Inside the bag was a small book full of small words telling a small story.
But to us, it was so very big.
All of us squealing and jumping and celebrating right there in the hallway big. Still squealing on the way home big. Dropping bags by the door so we can rush to read as soon as we get in the house big. Daddy starting up the squealing party all over again once he gets home and hears the news big. Going out for celebratory dessert, even though it’s a Tuesday, BIG.
Because she had been wanting this for such a long time. She’d thought it was a privilege she’d have to wait for. Like not napping and work plans and all the other accouterment of Kindergarten, she thought she’d have to wait for readers too. Until, during a serendipitous conversation with her teacher, I learned otherwise.
Like most things in life, the thrill of bringing home a book from school isn’t bestowed on you just because you show up at a certain time and with a certain number of years behind you. You work for it. Work with your sounds and work those sounds into words and show that you are working up your mastery of those oh so important foundational elements.
She’d avoided this work throughout most of the school year. We knew she should be working on sounds and letters and we tried to motivate her with promises of things she wanted – a Frozen book or light up shoes. We all tip a toe on that path at some point, don’t we. The path of exploring external rewards for things that need to be intrinsically motivated. It didn’t work, of course. She wanted that Frozen book. But at 10:30am on a Tuesday morning at school, it seemed she wanted to draw pictures of herself standing under rainbows more. (Can’t exactly say I blame her).
But the day she learned that readers were within her grasp, just sitting on the other side of a few hours of work with letters and sounds, it was on. It took her just a month to bring home that first one. And they just keep coming. She put in her work and she has now officially joined the elite club of readers.
Which, of course, is more work. Work now done in bed, after bath but before stories, when she clasps that little book in her hands and sounds her way through every word. When she pauses and struggles and sometimes just flat out guesses. When I clamp my mouth shut and remind myself repeatedly that I need to let her work it out on her own. When we’ll pull apart the same three letters for five minutes before it clicks and the word spills out of her mouth as if it’s been there all along.
It’s work. All of it.
And she loves it. All of it. And though it may be work, it’s the most wonderful, engaging, fun kind of work to her. And so she keeps at it.
We all have readers in our lives. Things that we want so badly and that we think will just come to us if time keeps moving. Things that we believe mean the world to us but that we don’t believe we have the power to procure. So we wait. We wait to be older or wiser. We wait until our children are older or wiser. We wait for spring or summer. We wait until that day when we have more time or more money or more of what we think it takes.
When really, we’re waiting for no reason.
That thing that we want so badly is within our reach. Just sitting there, separated from us by a little extra effort.
And really, we could wait forever but that thing we want, it won’t be just granted to us. There is no magical point at which all of that waiting pays off.
But the work? Yeah, that pays off.
And when it does, you had better squeal and jump and squeal some more and celebrate. Because you earned it.
And then, you better believe you have to just keep working. Because you love it. All of it.