reading is fundamental

It seemed that in the past weeks there was a flurry of articles on kids and reading. How kids aren't reading enough. How kids aren't reading for pleasure. How kids who read for pleasure read more, but kids aren't reading for pleasure. And this article sparked an interesting conversation with some Facebook friends about the importance of reading and how we as parents and teachers can nurture a love of reading in our kids. (I always feel like the news is mostly bad, especially when it's about kids these days...)

I've been thinking a lot about writing here about Cal and reading. Many of my friends have been having school issues with their kids lately. Big ones. Considering changing schools. Considering leaving schools. Not us. I'm reminded regularly how grateful I am for Cal's school and the teachers he spends time with each day.  Day to day life can never be completely peaches and cream (or strawberries and cream, which I'd prefer, actually), but taking the long view, I have a lot of faith and good concrete evidence that the adults Cal is surrounded by each day really do truly want not only each day to be good for him but have his best interests at heart. The take the long view. I like that.

They take the long view about reading in the English Department, and I really like that. If I had to put a name to it, I'd say that Cal's being educated classically when it comes to English grammar and literature. Right now, he's reading Great Expectations, and earlier this year it was A Catcher in the Rye. Last year? A Separate Peace and To Kill a Mockingbird. And the 10th grade Wuthering Heights paper is a pretty big deal, apparently. Peers of his at other schools are reading different stuff, more contemporary, and Cal's reaction to that is bemusement.

An argument in favor of reading the more contemporary stuff is that maybe you meet kids where they are. But Cal is enjoying these classics. And as far as meeting kids where they are? That effort to let kids read what they want to encourage a love of reading? Well, enter Free Read Friday.

The entire English Department at Cal's school, through the middle and upper schools, participate in Free Read Friday. And what this means is that in class on Fridays you read. And you read what you want to read. Your pick. Sure, your choices need to be within reason (Tin Tin comics likely not allowed), but from crime novels to science fiction to biography, pretty much anything goes. Cal's reading choices have ranged from The Hot Zone to John Grisham this year alone.

Cal likes to read. He's a reader. I have pictures of him reading on the MARTA in Atlanta, and somehow I ended up carrying one of his novels all day long after he just had to finish it on the metro when we were in Paris. It's not hard to encourage him to read. But he's also 15 and has a heavy course load in school, and the way he relaxes is, let's face it, to the Simpsons or a game on his phone. Reading for fun just doesn't happen during the week. So I LOVE Free Read Friday. I love what he's reading and discussing in class during the week, and I love that his teachers see the value of digging in to some Grisham too. I'm pretty much down with all of that.

beach day {life}

We took a beach day last week. I had a migraine, but the humidity was mercifully low so I bundled Cal and a pal of his (and their boogie boards) into the car and we headed out. It was perfect beach weather. If we'd waited a day the red flags would be flying for rip currents, and as it was the temperatures were perfect and the waves just lovely for boogie boarding.

Apparently the cure for migraines is the sun and sand and salt coupled with a light breeze. Low humidity doesn't hurt. While the boys careened from board to ball to ball (paddle and soccer), I sunk my chair and toes in the sand and dug deep into a book I'd just popped onto my Kindle. Bittersweet was just the kind of beach-read that I was looking for. Set at a wealthy family's compound over a summer on Lake Champlain, I'm not even sure that it was all that well-written, but I did exactly what one reviewer did, which was read it every chance I got until it was finished.

It was a fascinating story, and I won't give anything away by saying that despite this family's wealth, the primitive nature of their sprawling summer compound makes it hard to sense if this novel takes place in 2014 or 1954. I kind of like that. Dogs abound. Floorboards creek. Afternoons are spent beachside, reading (well, attempting to) Paradise Lost on the rocks beside the lake.

I felt a yearning when I read it, I have to admit. It all sounded so ... nice. The beach. The sun-heated rocks. The quiet slap of water against the shore as the sun goes down each evening. Not for the wealth, necessarily, and certainly not the dark secrets. (There are always dark secrets, aren't there?) I know I don't need the All White Party that's this family's tradition every 5th of July (Good grief, people.). But I yearned for those traditions that make summer, or any season, really, special. And it got me thinking, what traditions do we have? We don't do All White Parties, but we do have our summer routines. Watering the plants each morning. A pack of Twizzlers in our beach bag. The long slow walk across hot sand. A walk to the river on muggy nights. Milkshakes or homemade ice cream for dessert.

And if I want more? A glass of wine in the evenings before dinner. Some chilled grapes or cheese after work. All that takes is some more attention. A flick of the wrist, really. A willingness to take the time. And new routines are born. All White Party? Pffft. Give me a few moments in the evening light of my living room, and give it to me every night so I know I can count on it. Let me come downstairs freshly showered after a day at the beach, feeling cool and comfortable after my skin has been pulled taut by sun and sand. Let me talk with Neel about his day and answer Cal's impatient question, "How long until dinner?" This is the stuff dreams are made of.