This summer, I’ve been working with the Institute of Reading Development, and it’s been a lot of fun and also the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve worked double shifts as a server and bartender. I’ve worked with impossible ghostwriting clients. I’ve worked at the job from hell. But nothing compares to the exhaustion I have felt after teaching 4 reading classes on a Sunday.
When I’m done, my brain is tired and almost incapable of thought. My body hurts from standing for about 8 hours straight, but also from squatting down to talk to each and ever one of my students. I’m drenched in sweat, because even when the air conditioner is on, I can’t stop sweating because I’m all over that classroom.
And while all of this is going on, I’m teaching some of my favorite books of all time.
The high school class centers around learning to properly read and take notes in textbooks, as well as reading Book I of The Fellowship of the Ring. This is absolutely perfect for me, because in high school, The Lord of the Rings trilogy was very important to me. The first time I ever skipped class in high school was to go buy tickets for The Return of the King. I can attribute elements of my own moral compass to that book series since I read it at a time when I was figuring out what was wrong and right to me. If you ever have four hours to watch a person cry hysterically about friendship, or about our ability to rise to a higher nature, then buy me a beer and let me talk about Tolkien.
If you don’t have that kind of time, then satisfy yourself with this picture of me dressed as Frodo back in high school.
What can I say? I have a very particular milkshake that literally brings zero boys to the yard.
Both of the high school classes I have taught this summer have been very successful. And I attribute most of that to the fact that no one is allowed to dislike Tolkien on my watch.
But I get to teach other favorites too. The last class session with my kindergarteners finds me reading The Cat in the Hat out loud. It’s a straightforward, silly story. There’s no room for emotional breakdowns there.
OR IS THERE?!There's no room for emotional breakdowns there. OR IS THERE?! Click To Tweet
Spoilers: There is.
I think my first memories of being read to involve The Cat in the Hat. In fact, one of my first conscious memories involves that story. My brother and I are in the bathtub playing with this metal toy pot that went with our kitchen play set. (This was back in the day when kids’ toys were made of metal and other non-safe materials.) My mom is there giving us the bath, but midway my dad walks in. He’s still in his button-down shirt and tie. (Also, his mustache and hair are still dark black and not gray like they are now.) He grabs the pot and pours some water on our heads. My brother and I laugh hysterically.
Then, we’re dried off and put to bed. My brother’s bed is on one side of the room, and mine on the other. Mom sits in a rocking chair between us and reads The Cat in the Hat. Dad sits on the edge of my bed. Then we’re asleep.
This could very well be a conglomeration of memories of bath and bedtime routines from my childhood. But I don’t think that matters. What matters is that I have this memory of my family all in one room together, thinking about the same thing all at the same time. That wasn’t something that happened a lot. While my mom stayed home with us, my dad worked really long hours as a restaurant manager when we were little. I remember we pretty much only saw him for those few minutes before bed. And because my brother has autism-like symptoms, we don’t really share a lot between us. We were never close, but we shared that story.
So, while I read this story to my kindergarteners now, it’s hard not to think about how significant those moments were, even though they happened probably 28 or 29 years ago. It’s kind of crazy to think how unbelievably important a silly story about an anthropomorphic cat who makes a big mess can be.
Do I get a little choked up in class? Yeah.
But I think that’s par for the course with teaching kindergarteners. The class requires that the parents sit in class with their children. And it’s really sweet to watch the kids bond with their parents while they work on reading.
If I’m being honest, teaching kindergarteners has been the first time that I’ve thought to myself that I want to have a kid. And I want to have a kid because I want to teach a kid to read.
Naturally, this desire to have a kid was completely erased when I walked into my middle school classroom. There is truly no birth control like sharing a room with ten 13-year-olds who all think they tell the best jokes.
Spoilers: No 13-year-old tells good jokes.