I always assumed my daughter would eventually be strange to me. I baffled my parents and have wondered since her birth how the familial alien would manifest in her. My best guess to date has been a sort of Family Ties-esque money-driven republican child, but even that I could intelligently debate. But no, my daughter has begun to show signs of something that truly troubles me, finding, as only family can, not the weaknesses you knew you had, but the sensitive core ones that are so much a part of you that you think of them not a personality traits, but as Truth.
My daughter does not like to read. At her age I was never without a book nearby and was capable of vanishing into ancient landscapes for entire days, coming back at bath time dazed and stiff. My daughter will listen while I read to her indefinitely but despite having been steeped in really good books since she was young, she would simply rather draw or knit or string necklaces than read. Hell, she’d rather stare off into space.
If she didn’t love music, or didn’t love theater or cooking or just about anything else I can think of, I’d be OK with it. These are interests some people have and some don’t and while I have enjoyed sharing my interests with her for nine years now, I didn’t really expect that to go on indefinitely. Reading, I’m discovering now, is different for me. It’s more than an interest, it’s a way of being and to reject reading is to reject something fundamental about who I am. This was a love I didn’t expect to even need to impart, I assumed that intellectual curiosity was a given for any intelligent person. Here’s the scary, ugly thinking: If my daughter does not like to read, does it mean she lacks curiosity? Is she maybe, just not that smart? If she is not curious, can I respect that? I will love her, of course, no matter what, but for her not to be full of interest and wonder is, for me, like a minister having a child uninterested in the holy. Alien. I just can’t relate.
So here it is. I guess I’m no different than my parents before me. I have a child and I just can’t relate. I can love, support and honor who she is, but can I bring myself to respect it? Can I respect someone who is not curious? And why does it have to be this, this thing I had not even identified as the one trait that all my friends and mentors have shared?
Because it is so sacred to me I’m not sure how to parent it. My daughter doesn’t like to read, but she doesn’t like to shower either and I do not hesitate to insist that she do so at least every other day. I don’t worry that requiring showers will destroy her capacity to love showering later. I don’t worry that forcing it will only set her resistance in her mind, but I do hesitate to mandate that she read.
Yes, she only recently learned to read, yes she may still be struggling with the mechanics of reading which may be interfering with the pleasure she may take in it. Maybe I just haven’t found the right book to inspire her, maybe she’ll grow out of. Maybe all those things a parent tells themselves. Maybe I’m a curiosity bigot and this is my challenge not hers, to accept my child for who she is, not for who I want her to be.