You are whispering them under your breath again – careful you, wary of letting loose the words before they are perfect, before you have conquered them, while you still have to try. You’re a few yards away from me in the corner, and you have determined that I must be too distracted to notice you working, to catch the sound of your still-baby voice tripping over syllables, slowly giving life, in your whispered breath, to a world.
You are five, and you are reading, and a universe is opening before you.
If you are like me, you will learn the words, collect, and keep them, and they will carry you. You will line your pockets and backpacks and shelves with books, have one with you always, have one open most of the time. You will find out that passionate story consumption is an extreme sport in its own right when you skin your knees tripping over curbs and cracks in the sidewalk, or fall off the porch swing distracted, or wake to a bruise on your nose where you dropped a novel nodding off to sleep. You will decline parties in favor of the journeys you will find within pages. You will walk into libraries and feel your heart skip at the blissful overwhelming number of choices to make, of novels to rest in, of escapes to be had. You will write your own story, your own person, by trying on the voices of your favorite characters, your soul an amalgam of the heroines you know so well you can’t help but become them.
You are five, and you are reading, and you are only beginning.
If you are like me, you will walk now into a world with new definitions. You will race your own mind memorizing spellings and origins, you will learn to twist the words and bend them, you will craft them into a super power, a cloak of invisibility, a battle axe and a shield. You will swoon when someday, someone sends you words in a way that you didn’t predict them. You will fill journals with teenage tears and early wisdom. You will be able to trace the timeline of your childhood by the way, year by year, new collections of words transition from mysterious to known. You will spend long summers lost in pages, lost in becoming, lost in the words. There will be no limit to the places and heartbeats and battles and worlds you will visit. There will be no limit to the distance you can travel in so very little time.
But today, you are five, and the door is only opening.
Today, you are keeping your eyes on the windows, watching the letters you’ve been reciting suddenly start telling their secrets. Until now, they’ve been loved individuals, but here they are teaming up to tell you stories, choreographing themselves into dances entirely new. All at once you are holding within you the ability to interpret and tame them, turn them into answers, turn them in to something known. All at once, your language has a new dimension – suddenly, you can know without hearing, you can learn without having to ask. All at once, I am no longer your only conduit and key to information – suddenly, you are becoming curator of your own museum of facts and fictions and truths and names. If you are like me, you will never stop seeking them. For years, you will read every road sign and sidewalk chalk scribble, every bus stop schedule, every menu posted on a restaurant door, collecting the words and making them your own.
You are five, and you are reading, though you aren’t yet ready to tell me. You are five, and you are reading, and for a moment, it is only yours.
“Oh, Chili’s,” you whisper in the car as we pass it. “Oh, Woolen Ln. Oh, exxxxxit. Oh, road work ahead.”
I keep my eyes forward while my heart leaps. I keep my praise to myself so as not to let you know I know, not until you are ready, not until you invite me in. I keep my excitement from tumbling out in long streams of proud mama words that might interrupt the silent magic being born in the car seat behind me.
I keep my words quiet, so as not to interrupt the wonder of your words becoming yours.