My wife and I have made sure that our daughters always have books around. They’re everywhere in our house. Rather than gadgets or games, we encourage the girls to take a book or two along when we’re in the car, and we even keep a few extras in the back seat pockets. The message we’ve always tried to convey is that reading is an activity to be savored, which isn’t hard for me to do since it’s still my preferred method of relaxation. We do the reading at bedtime thing, of course, and now my firstborn is getting old enough where we’re starting to let her read back to us. So far, the strategy seems to be working. There’s nothing cooler than having your kids wander down the stairs and ask if you can take them to the bookstore.
Yeah. Because, what I need is another excuse to do that.
Both girls have been aware for a while that I write, and that it’s “my job,” and we’ve talked a bit about it here and there. Then, one evening a couple of years ago, my oldest daughter, all of four at that time, ventured into the bedroom where I was sitting and applying a red pen in manic fashion to a hard copy of the story I was polishing. She crawled in beside me to see what was so important that it was keeping her father from that game of Memory Match cards he’d promised. After a few moments of what passes for patient near-silence in someone of that age, my daughter offered this simple statement:
“Daddy? I want to write stories like you do.”
BOOM! Epic Dad Win, right there. The only thing which might beat this is if she’d said she wanted to watch the football game with me.
I asked her if she wanted to try writing a story, and she naturally said yes. So, I handed her the notepad I had laying nearby for scratching out notes and whatnot for the work I was doing, and said, “Go for it.” With utmost concentration, she set to work. Ten minutes later, she announced that she had finished her story, offering me the notepad with a big toothy grin of triumph, and asked me to read it.
Now, remember I said she was four at the time, so it’s not like I was expecting to see any...you know...words or anything. What I got was three pages of indecipherable scribbling that looked like the output from an EKG machine shot-gunning Red Bull. Opting to keep the game going, I gave it back to her and asked her to “read” her story to me. Without batting an eye, she took the notepad and began spinning the mighty tale of a brave, dashing prince rescuing a beautiful princess from a fire-breathing dragon. And stormtroopers. And Klingons. And Tai Lung from Kung Fu Panda. The princess even got in on the beat-down action at one point, and I have to admit I was rather impressed with how the whole thing was hanging together as my daughter turned pages.
Of course, then I started considering other possible ramifications. For example: “Great. More competition.”
Despite my fear at being upstaged by someone barely two years out of diapers, I set aside my burgeoning jealousy and encouraged by eldest offspring to continue with her efforts. As time moved merrily along, I made sure she always had a journal or one of those composition notebooks if she wanted one, which she then proceeded to fill with page after page of what began as more of the same unreadable seismographic chaos. Soon enough, actual words began to show up, some misspelled or with the letters written backwards, and other tricks of the trade she’s picked up from me.
Recently, we were sitting together in the bleachers at her Taekwondo dojang, waiting for her class to start while watching her sister participate in an earlier class for younger students. As is my habit, I was carrying my trusty notebook with me—the one I use for scribbling story ideas, outline notes, and even rough drafts of scenes I write in longhand—and my daughter asked if she could write in it. By this point, she’d been learning to actually write in pre-school (and now Kindergarten), so when she presented me with a full page of “story,” this time I could read what she’d written. It was even recognizable as something resembling a Star Trek story, which isn’t unreasonable since she knows I’m working on a Star Trek novel. We’ve now got actual sentences—or reasonable facsimiles thereof—that almost more or less sort of tie together.
And now Daddy, the supposed writer in the family, is starting to sweat.
As has now become our little ritual, she reads her story to me, and I’m beginning to give serious consideration to hanging up my word processor and getting a job driving 18-wheelers, because she’ll have the writing thing handled. Nah, not really. What I’m actually starting to contemplate is a possible collaboration in years to come, and of course that thought makes me smile.
I wonder if she’s going to want top billing.