For me, learning to read was initiation. It meant finally fitting in and becoming a true piece of the puzzle that is my family. Being the youngest of two brothers is tough, especially when they are both annoyingly perfect in every way. Since they get straight A’s, play three sports, and impress my parents in their kindness and community service, I felt like a loser in my early years, for I could not contribute in these ways yet. My oldest brother is 4 years older than me and is definitely the more serious and kind of the two. Although the middle child, Tommy, influenced me in many ways, Jimmy was easily the one that encouraged me to read.
When I was very young, I never had much interest in reading. I would see books everywhere at school, but would never be intrigued enough to pick one up. I would have much rather played with Candy Apple, the class’ stuffed animal bunny, than sit down and read words off a page. I would see my mom and dad reading, but only saw it as a “boring grown-up thing”. I was happy as can be playing and yelling, and I had no interest in being silent and still. Even when my mom would bring me to reading group at our public library every week, I would not even listen to the book; I would only go to do arts and crafts after.
However, that all changed when I saw my brother reading. Basically from the moment he learned how, Jimmy constantly read books to me. Whether he was trying to show off his new skill or actually try to be a nice big brother, I will never know. What I do know is that his influence lit a flame in my brain. Every vacation was an opportunity for my mom to have a designated outdoor reading hour. When I could not read, Jimmy would read to me. If you have older siblings, you know how embarrassing this must have been. I was the weak link when it came to family reading, I could not do it. This is what got my brain spinning with thoughts of reading book by myself.
As a little girl, I never saw Jimmy as anything less than perfect. He was a genius, a phenomenal athlete, and a caring older brother. Everything he said, I took as one of the Ten Commandments. With a perfect older brother, I would often think to myself that I had to step up. I could not let him win. I had to be better than my brother and live up to my family's expectations. There was no way I could continue being the child in the family that could not amount to anything; I had to show my worth. Now, I definitely did not think of this maturely at the time. Back then, I would cry about how he would beat me in everything, but that is a different story.
When I was in first grade, I buckled down. Every night I would stay up late, which at the time was about 9 o'clock, and study the words on the pages. I knew the alphabet, but I could not put the letters and sounds together in my head to form the words I saw. Each night I would get frustrated and think about how Jimmy could do it so easily. Again, this “thinking” consisted solely of tears. So, finally, I put my pride aside and asked him for help. He would sit with me and go through the sounds, the letters, and the combinations until I could finally learn a word or two. I advanced to sentences, then paragraphs, which finally led to picture books. He helped so much that in just a few days I could read with ease. I guess this is why he is studying to become a teacher now. I remember the exact moment when it all clicked. I was on my big green couch in my living room in my blue leotard. I had the Cat in the Hat in my hand, a book I had memorized, front to back cover. I sat there and, for the first time, I actually saw the words on the page, instead of just hearing them.
When I learned to read, I finally felt like I had proven myself to my brothers. In my mind, I had shown them that I could do whatever they could do, maybe even better sometimes. To them, I was probably still the same annoying little sister I had been the day before, but that didn't matter to me. I had bragging rights too. I could read. I was finally an able participant in mandatory reading hour.