My third grader began reading the Harry Potter series a few weeks ago. Unlike those who read it on the first go-around, she isn’t waiting a year between books, but flying through at a feverish pace, finishing up the last page of the previous tome even as she’s reaching for the next one.
Her teachers think she’s reading above her level, and have contacted me about having her read more appropriate books. I told my daughter she is to read what the teachers tell her at school—but she is free to read anything she likes on her own time.
That is, until The Boy Who Lived got in the way of our Passover celebration.
Apparently, my daughter interpreted my blanket permission to read any book that strikes her fancy as carte blanche to read it at the exclusion of everything else.
“Please come help me clean the house for Passover.”
“Can I just finish this chapter?”
“Please help me with cooking for the seder.”
“Can I just finish this page?”
“Please help me set the table.”
“Can I just finish this paragraph?”
Interestingly enough, whether it was a chapter, a page, or a paragraph, all seemed to take her the same amount of time, i.e. way too long. On every occasion, I was forced to remind her several times, then got a sulky, half-assed job in return.
“Please come to the seder table.”
“Oh, Mommy, do I have to?”
OK, let’s back up here. It’s true that I am not a Harry Potter fan. I read the first book, thought it was a perfectly adequate entry in the genre of English fantasy that goes back to King Arthur, the Narnia Chronicles, the Lord of the Rings series, etc… and didn’t quite get what all the fuss was about. I didn’t begrudge Harry Potter its success, but I didn’t participate in the mania, either.
On the other hand, I was a binge-reader myself when I was my daughter’s age: Little House, Ramona, All-of-a-Kind-Family, Betsy-Tacy, Encyclopedia Brown… Plus I spent most of my adult life working in soap operas. I get how strong the compulsion to find out what happens next is.
I am also not militant about Passover observance. I let everyone in my house, child or adult, make their own decisions about what they will or won’t eat. Saturday night, after hosting our seder, my husband and I went to a fundraiser for my daughter’s gymnastics program. I didn’t eat the food on offer, but left it up to my husband whether he would or not. Friday night, we’re all going to another fundraiser, this time for my middle child’s school. Once again, everyone can eat whatever they feel comfortable eating. I am not the Passover police. (I also will ignore my oldest son’s suggestion that, every time someone passes around a tray of hors-d’oeuvre, I yell, “Micro-aggression!”)
Finally, because I write about education, I am swamped with press releases about how kids’ reading must be encouraged at all costs; nothing must be done that could risk dimming their reportedly fragile enthusiasm. On a near-identical note, I know many who would argue that a child must come to religious observance joyfully and voluntarily; forcing them to participate in rituals against their will can only lead to backlash and an ultimate rejection of the faith.
Yet, when my daughter refused to come to the seder table, preferring to continue reading the final Harry Potter book, I… forced her.
I didn’t cajole, I didn’t negotiate, I didn’t promise her a reward for appropriate behavior.
Because, at my house, you don’t get a reward for appropriate behavior. You simply behave appropriately. Because it’s the appropriate thing to do.
She rolled her eyes. She pouted. She trudged to the table.
I sent her back to her room and told her to come out exhibiting better manners.
She rolled her eyes. She pouted. She trudged to her room.
She ultimately did as she was told.
It is now several days later. As far as I can tell, her enthusiasm for reading has not been diminished (doesn’t forbidding something make it even more appealing, after all?). As for her enthusiasm towards Judaism… who can tell? There is a Russian saying, “It’s not evening yet.” When it comes to raising kids, I don’t even think I’ve hit noon. I send my daughter to a Jewish Day School. We light Shabbat candles on Friday night, she sings in the temple choir, and we celebrate the holidays to the best of our ability (yes, even her non-Jewish dad). But what effect this will have on the kind of Jew she will ultimately become, I have no idea.
I doubt one grudging Passover seder when she was 9 years old is going to make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. But, if it does, I hope that, when she bitterly remembers it, and how I cruelly separated her from her book, she also remembers that the evening was spent with family and friends (and her grandparents on Skype). And that her cruel, unreasonable mother thought the ritual was more important than her SAT Reading Comprehension score, or finding out what trouble Harry, Hermoine, and Ron had gotten themselves into this time.
Just call me Mom Who Must Not Be Named.