Smoking Meat in Stumps


Photo: Peacock with bright feathers

My kid’s read ALL the Chronicles of Narnia, bitches!

Every parent has a few gaudy tail feathers to shake at the world regarding the brilliance of their children. LE could ride a bike a 5, cross any monkeybars with ease at six. She doesn’t lie, she bathes and dresses her brother, and always says thank you. And stuff. Shake shake shake…

But there’s one plume I don’t have. A huge one. One that every other parent in my world seems to have firmly attached to their rears, swishing proudly in my face.

My daughter doesn’t like to read, and she watches a lot of television.

“Oh we began reading the Little House on the Prairie books to Alfreda when she was three.” Swish swish swish.

“Just let me finish the Sartre criticism and I’ll be right in to watch Waiting for Godot with you, Mother.”


You know what? I’ve read the first chapter of that series quite recently. You know what it was about?

19th century rural food preservation.

Which I found interesting because I’m a 35 year old who lurks in local history museums, waiting till the retired volunteers aren’t looking so I can reach across the cord tying off the kitchen display, snatch a sad iron off the monstrous old stove and pretend I’m starching my husband’s Sunday best church collar with it.

THAT is the kind of nerd you need to be to appreciate the first chapter of Little House on the Prairie. It’s boring. If you’re three you will have NO idea what they’re talking about when they’re talking about smoking meat in stumps. And if you’re old enough to understand it, there’s a great chance you won’t care. Because it’s about strangers smoking meat in stumps.

Oh I know my grapes are sour. To have a small child with the attention span to even try to absorb LHotP, or Little Women, or Johnny Tremain, or any of the other “children’s books” that I had no interest in until I was 15. That was the year I decided to embrace my inevitable destiny, which I figured was the life of a lonely Victorian spinster who read tattered books in a rocking chair by a window.

I would love to have that in my kid. Of course I would.

We tussled through my own old favorite, Ramona the Pest, and a Junie B Jones book. It was not a pleasure for either of us.

“LE, honey why don’t you like to read?” I finally ask in frustration.

“Because…you just…sit there!” she answers.

Ah. So there it is. That means her mind isn’t taking her away. She’s not playing Brick Factory with Howie and she’s not enjoying the vicarious thrill of being a sass mouth with Junie B.  Her imagination doesn’t work like I thought it did. Thought it should. She’s just sitting there.

Maybe she was born that way; not everyone is a reader. Maybe I did it to her with my reliance on the television to help me parent. At any rate it’s a feather, one of the biggest and fluffiest, decidedly missing from my parent plumage.

And I have mentioned that her mother is a writer and her father is a library tech at an enormous academic library, right? That the piles of books in our home choke every counter and table top and our egregious library fines are what we pay in lieu of charitable donations?

Loving reading doesn’t guarantee happiness or success, I suppose. But it still feels like I’ve let her down somehow. To be restricted to living only in the real world, or the one structured and painted for you by television and movies seems so dismal. Or maybe she’s having a good enough time she doesn’t see the need for an escape.


6 thoughts on “Smoking Meat in Stumps

  1. I like the possibility that her reality is so good she isn’t drawn to the escapism of reading. It’s also possible she takes it for granted since her parents are such big readers… we all have to rebel in our own way, y’know? Or maybe she doesn’t like it, period. I think she’ll be fine no matter what. I’m sure some parents would have shaken their heads at me sadly when I didn’t want to play soccor or softball and felt badly that their child would miss the joys of athleticism. Whatever. Happy kid, happy life.


  2. Long time reader, first time caller. Or…commenter. Whatever.

    My daughter (8) is the same way. My husband and I are voracious readers. We gave up one of the bedrooms in our house just to hold our ever-growing book collection. When we met, our conversations were about the adventures we embarked upon as young readers and, frankly, as not-so-young readers.

    It breaks my heart that my daughter hates reading. I just…I don’t get it. How can you hate reading? How is that a thing you hate? I’ve tried to engage her in every way possible and I’ve finally come to the conclusion that her imagination just doesn’t work like mine. I long to escape into new worlds; she doesn’t understand the possibility of a world different than the one in which she lives. She can’t buy into the stories because the stories aren’t even possibilities in her realm of being. I will never understand it, but I’ve accepted it. She reads every day, but she will always prefer to read stories about “real people” in the “real world”. We’ve compromised and she reads mostly what she wants (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Ramona, Captain Underpants) and a little bit of what I want (Bunnicula, Spiderwick Chronicals, Lemony Snicket). It’s not perfect, and we still have genre arguments at the library sometimes (Not ANOTHER stupid book about elephants and magic, Mama!), but at least she is being exposed to it. It’s the literary equivalent of a no-thank you bite.

    I have to believe–deep down in my soul of souls–that every child will be a great reader someday…they just have to find the right book. Keep searching, friend.


  3. I experienced this gut-wrenching blow last fall when it was decreed by his school that my smart, engaged, highly articulate 7 year old needed to be pulled from class everyday for remedial reading. I cried. It was just a few tears, but it happened. How could this be happening to my child? The kid has been going to the library since he was teeny-tiny. I had done all of the things “they” recommend to parents to raise readers: singing, nursery rhymes , story time at the library, reading out loud w/my finger under the words as I went, etc… I read out loud all of the Harry Potter series to my boys in one summer for god sake! How was this kid not a reader??!?!? Once I got beyond my own ego and dug a little further, it turns out that the boy loves storytelling and narrative, but he’s just going to have to go about things a bit differently b/c he has dyslexia. We’re so grateful for the huge availability of e-books, podcasts, PlayAways, etc…

    Long-winded point: these kids; they’ll be fine.

    Thank you, Therese, for sharing.


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