Easy peasy lemon squeezy

by Wolf Pascoe on April 1, 2013

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.”




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.




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.

“It’s mine?”

“It’s yours.”

We signed a contract for four pages a day.




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.



Down Our Way

Computer wars



Magnify the Universe. A positive thing your kid can do with a computer:

The Universe made possible by Number Sleuth

Image Credit: Valdemort, The Horcruxes by ron-guyatt




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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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara April 1, 2013 at 5:17 pm

It’s so exciting to see them discover the world of books on their own. I think you’ve compromised wisely, and it just shows how smart you are that you appreciate it when Nora is smarter than you. Also that you’re willing to be flexible. (Patting you on the back!)


Wolf Pascoe April 1, 2013 at 5:20 pm

“it just shows how smart you are that you appreciate it when Nora is smarter than you.”

Very astute of you to notice.


Privilege of Parenting April 1, 2013 at 9:12 pm

“The point, of course, had been to do things with your dad.”

We built rockets and launched them today. This was a good day.


Wolf Pascoe April 1, 2013 at 9:34 pm

To the universe, and beyond!


Pamela April 2, 2013 at 5:57 am

All the parenting books make it sound so easy and it’s always so much more grey than that. Congrats on teaching Nick to read!


Wolf Pascoe April 2, 2013 at 6:21 am

I’m sorry that this post almost makes it sound so easy, when it’s been a mountain of grey.


Jim Parkevich April 2, 2013 at 10:53 am

Just spent the last week in the hospital..O2 stats down to 60 last week..My lungs were drowning in fluid….I vowed to allow my son to direct my care with the docs and medical staff..So there I am like a cold/wet puppy..being made warm by the intelligence and skill of the child I brought into the world. I taught him resilience and love of education…Nick’s time is just starting..patience and love …..*** Get him a copy of “The Pearl” by John Steinbeck…Read it to him..then ask him to read it by himself…he might even read it several times over.


Wolf Pascoe April 2, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Jeez, Jim, you sound like something out of Breathing for Two. I hope you’re recovered.

I remember The Pearl. Will do.


The Exception April 2, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Ah the lessons we can learn with/from our kids and with an open mind to give ourselves room to change our minds and be flexible. It is the process and the journey – the stepping into the arena… Continue to dare Greatly as a dad of one terrific kid


Wolf Pascoe April 2, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Dark and lonely work it is, but someone has to do it.


Kyle Bradford April 3, 2013 at 4:45 am



Wolf Pascoe April 3, 2013 at 6:03 am



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