The Most Important Lesson

The wife of an old friend posted this today on Facebook.

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I told her “thank you,” because sometimes a parent needs the reminder that they’ve done some really good things as parents. Parenthood is often thankless; Parenting is fucking hard. Teaching my children to read is the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life.

Later, I was walking with Rollie on the cobblestone and brick of St. Augustine and we were discussing how I would be a Grandma one day, if he has kids. I said, “I will feed them candy and coca cola and let them play all the video games they want!”

“I’m going to do that anyway, because I know what kids want,” he said.

“Oh, Honey,” I said, “The worst thing I could do as your parent is give you everything you ever wanted.”

“I won’t give them bad things like unhealthy stuff,” he said. “But video games? All they want.”

I smiled and walked in silence, my arm around his shoulder. He is getting so tall.

I leaned down and whispered in his ear, “Stop growing.”

We walked a few minutes in silence, and then he said, “Mom, how did I learn to read?”

I looked at him, a little shocked, and wondered if he was thinking about the most important lesson he might teach a child of his own.

“Well,” I said, “you know books like, ‘One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish?’ We read those to you over and over again, every night, until we were blue in the face and about to cry of boredom.”

He laughed and nodded his head.

“But all that was worth it, because I got to snuggle in bed with you every night, and it was part of our sweet routine, which I really miss now.”

“You do?” He looked up at me.

I looked at him. “Sometimes.” I am a terrible liar. “And then, one night, all those nights reading ‘The Giving Tree’ to you for hundreds of nights in a row paid off, because I didn’t have to help you sound out the words anymore, and you read ‘The Giving Tree’ to me, all by yourself, while I tried not to cry.”

Rollie said, “Why did you cry?”

“Because it’s probably the most important thing I’ll ever do in my life.”

He nodded. “What was the first thing Tiller read on her own?”

The weight of parent guilt descended upon me.

“Rollie,” I whispered. “I’ll tell you a secret. Not sure if it’s just me, or all parents, but I honestly usually only remember your firsts, because they are my firsts, too. Don’t tell Tiller that.”

We walked. I thought of reading every night with my parents. It was usually my dad in my memory.

“You know, I know what Tiller’s first book was. It was ‘Go, Dog, Go!’ I know it was, because it was my first book, too. I remember reading it, I think in Dunwoody, with Grandpa Palmer. I remember how the words for colors and dogs and size and day and night all started to match the pictures and click. I remember when words started to make sense. I remember wanting really badly to be on that boat with the dogs at night. And, obviously, at that big dog party in the tree.”

Rollie smiled. “Yeah. That book was good.”

“No,” I said, “that book was great.”

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  2 comments for “The Most Important Lesson

  1. Das
    May 2, 2016 at 9:55 am

    Precious memories, how they linger!

  2. May 18, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    Yes, I did read a lot to all you kids. I enjoyed all of us in the bed snugglin. My grandmother Mary Etta would read to me also, and most always it was all the wonderful bible stories like Joseph and His Coat of Many Colors.
    My father would always call me the Prodical Son when I would com home from college or the military or after being married to Virginia, “The Sweetest Gal I Ever Knew “.

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