To have to admit that at the age of nineteen my son has never read a book fills me with the sort of bad-parent angst and shame that I imagine I would experience if I stood in front of an AA meeting and admitted to being an alcoholic.
He reminded me of this fact yesterday when we shared a rare hour together when he didn’t hate me and we went to return a shirt that I bought for him for Christmas, in the hope that he would look smart on the day. Like a lot of teenagers, he is so particular about clothes that he would prefer not to have any, rather than wear something he doesn’t like, and he has a penchant for particular brands – expensive ones in the main, most of which do not suit our pocket – so when I saw the designer shirt at half-price, and it had the sort of insipidly hippy pattern that he loves, I jumped on it.
Inevitably, he hated it, although in fairness to him, he did some excellent role-play on Christmas morning that convinced me that those thousands of dollars spent on drama lessons were worth every penny, and that he did like it, but wanted to save it for a special occasion. Sorry Jesus!
Anyway, as bonding hours are few and far between, yesterday I managed to resist the temptation to trigger a fight in the way that only mums of teenagers can, which would have involved me asking any of the following questions:
WHAT THE FUCK HE INTENDS TO DO WITH HIS LIFE?
WHY HE EATS ALL THE CEREAL IN THE HOUSE?
DOES HE HAVE ANY PLANS TO LEAVE HOME YET?
Instead, I asked him if he would do me the honour of reading my manuscript, now that it’s close to the end, and maybe because one of the character’s bears an uncanny resemblance to him and I don’t want him to find another excuse to do fuck all by suing me when my book is turned into a movie.
‘How long is it?’ he grunted back at me.
’80,000 words,’ I said, proudly.
‘Are you f…cking kidding me? That’s like all the books in the world, isn’t it?’
It saddens me that my son is not a “reader” like the rest of the family.
Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t for want of trying. We ruined most nights of his school life with those twenty-minute reading sessions and I remember visibly shaking as soon as I saw his book bag clutched in his sticky hands at the school gates. That was on the rare occasions when he remembered to bring it home.
Most of my exhausted comments in his school reading book were along the lines of ‘refused to read’ or ‘no reading tonight, Kurt was tired….’ Somehow, I refrained from writing the truth, such as ‘Kurt had an major meltdown and I cried all night.’ I tried reading to him to encourage him, bought him books that I hoped would engage him, but even when we snuggled up in bed in what should have been those special moments of togetherness at bedtime reading, he would struggle and squirm next to me until I lost my rag and stormed out.
Not entirely his fault, I now understand. The ADHD brain is only capable of digesting information of interest, and in hindsight, perhaps a book about the life and times of Pablo Escobar might have been a better fit.
So the only way he can have learnt to read is via the Internet, in search of articles in connection to his passion for music. It must have happened organically, and all those nights and parents’ evenings when I felt such a failure as a parent, reached for the wine (which I suspect ultimately caused me to become the functioning alcoholic I am today), were completely unnecessary.
We learn at different speeds and in different ways. I’m still learning now. So don’t be too hard on your kids if they aren’t reading Harry Potter at age 2. Kurt didn’t speak until he was three, and when comprehensible words eventually tumbled forth, there was an abundance of them, an array of intelligent vocabulary that even his sister couldn’t spell, and he’s never stopped talking since.
Reading, not so much.