Mr. Moony presents his compliments to Professor Snape, and begs him to keep his abnormally large nose out of other people’s business.
Mr. Wormtail bids Professor Snape good day, and advises him to wash his hair, the slimeball.
— Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
The deal was this: Nick would get a computer, an old laptop I had, when he learned to read. It hadn’t been a bribe exactly. It was something I’d said years ago when he’d asked for his own Mac, a delaying tactic I’d used since he had no interest in reading at the time.
But now he was learning. And, I reasoned, the promise having been made must be kept.
“How good a reader do I have to be?” Nick asked.
“One page of Harry Potter, my choice, no help.”
YOU KNOW WHO
Nick started applying himself in earnest. A few weeks in he said, “I think I’m ready.”
He wasn’t ready. Mostly we’d been working on the alphabet, and a few two and three letter words. I had no intention of making it easy. I regarded the laptop as a necessary evil. Nick would have to read a page of the last and hardest volume of Harry Potter to earn it. It suited me fine that this was at least a year or two away.
“You’re not ready yet,” I said.
“Yes, I am.”
Against my better judgment I took down The Deathly Hallows and opened it to a full page near the end. Nick got the first two words, then stopped.
“I don’t know any of these words,” he said, looking over the page.
He slammed the book shut.
“I’ll never learn to read.”
I’d never seen his spirit so broken.
Congratulations, Lord Valdemort, I said to myself.
MILES TO GO
Over the next year, Nick never asked to try Harry Potter again. But somehow he kept at his lessons, fitfully and resentfully and with much argument.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” I’d say. “If you counted all the times you fell down you’d never have learned to walk.”
“This isn’t a journey of a thousand miles. It’s a million trillion miles,” he said.
The difficulty was finding material he didn’t consider too babyish. He stumbled his way through Captain Underpants and other, simpler books. Happening on Down Our Way was a minor miracle.
“I need the computer now,” Nick announced a month ago. “Mommy says I don’t have to be perfect.”
He was making headway, but I knew another round with Deathly Hallows wouldn’t be pretty.
“Mommy says I don’t have to read Deathly Hallows. I can read Prisoner of Azkaban.”
“You told him that?” I said to Nora.
“He’s been working really hard,” she said.
Nora had been practicing with him. They showed me the page.
“This isn’t a real test if he practiced the page,” I said.
“Didn’t you practice the Torah reading when you were Bar Mitzvah’d?”
If you can go with it, a wife who is smarter than you is a great relief.
We opened the page.
“I’ll help you three times,” I said.
“Five,” he said.
We settled on four and he began. With some prompting he made it to the end. I didn’t count but was sure I had helped more than four times.
“I’ll never get a computer,” he said, near tears.
“Did I say that?” I said.
“Please, dada,” he said. “I really, really need this.”
Like the closet full of stuff you’ve forgotten you have? I thought.
When I was in Cub Scouts, another world it was, you had to do projects in the scout book to earn points. Enough points, you got to sew an arrow patch on your uniform.
I remember looking with my dad at the photography project. To earn the points you had to develop pictures, enlarge and print them. You needed a darkroom, which we didn’t have.
“Well,” said my dad, “You took pictures.”
He signed for ten points. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. I got the arrow, and knew I didn’t deserve it.
The point, of course, had been to do things with your dad.
I couldn’t help comparing that little episode to Nick’s first attempt to earn the laptop, the Deathly Hallows disaster. Soul crushing, it was. He could read now. Not well, but he read.
So what’s it going to be, I thought, a pat on the back or a kick in the gut?
A phrase from the Serenity Prayer crossed my mind. The phrase was: the wisdom to know the difference.
“Nick,” I said, “The goal is still for you to read Deathly Hallows with no help at all. If I give you the computer now, how are we going to reach the goal?”
“I’ll read two pages every day,” he said.
He was already doing two pages a day.
“Four pages. Every day. Or you can’t use the computer.”
“Okay,” he said.
I took the laptop down and handed it to him.
“Congratulations,” I said.
We signed a contract for four pages a day.
STORIES FROM EVERYWHERE
Why a barely eleven-year-old needs a computer is beyond me. But I was born in another world.
As with any other thing he’s ever gotten, I expected he’d soon tire of the laptop. But this has been different. Not a day goes by that Nick doesn’t thank me again.
“I can’t believe I have a computer,” he says.
Every day he reads four pages from Down Our Way. We’ll soon be done with it. I happen to have a copy of Stories from Everywhere, another reader from my past, which is the sequel. I showed it to Nick.
“This is even better,” he said.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:
Magnify the Universe. A positive thing your kid can do with a computer:
Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)
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