“Mommy, what’s HPV?”
Such were the words that came out of my 6-year-old’s mouth the other day. We were in the waiting room at the pediatrician — the third time we’d been there in two weeks. (It’s winter, right?)
My daughter — who was warm with a fever and a little quieter than usual — had been leaning her head on my shoulder when, suddenly, she sat straight up and asked me that question.
Immediately, I panicked. Were her friends already talking about HPV in FIRST GRADE? Was it something someone said on the bus, because everything is said on the bus? Startled by her question, I fumbled for an answer. I had absolutely no idea why this was on her mind.
Then she pointed to a poster on the other side of the waiting room. “See?” she said. “It says something about a shot. I don’t understand why the girl in the picture is smiling if she’s going to get a shot.”
It surprised me that she could read so many of the words on the poster — though it was clear she didn’t understand what she was reading.
I couldn’t wait for this day to arrive.
Almost as much as I wanted (or needed) my daughter to learn how to sleep through the night or make number two on the potty, I wanted her to learn how to read independently. That wasn’t just so she could survive in a world filled with words — I wanted her to learn to love reading.
I was looking forward to catching her sneaking books under the covers, and reading with a flashlight way past her bedtime. I wanted her to finish a chapter book and feel that sense of disappointment when it was over. I wanted her to be able to learn about people, and places, and anything that made her curious, all on her own. But maybe not HPV, at least not yet.
My 6-year-old definitely didn’t need to know about HPV at this point, but I wanted to be honest with her. So I told her it was a kind of virus, like chicken pox, and I reminded her how she got a vaccine to prevent her from getting it. Then I told her that kids typically don’t get that shot until they are almost teenagers. She was satisfied with that answer, and relieved she didn’t need the shot.
Children grow and learn at their own pace, so I’m never quite prepared for when my two girls hit their milestones. My 6-year-old, my eldest, was one of the last in her class to start losing her baby teeth but one of the first to outgrow the option of Velcro sneakers.
And, now, she’s really reading, at a whole new level. And I find myself worrying about whether I’m ready. As I’m learning through my trial-and-error parenting, there are often a few negatives mixed in with the positives.
Here’s what I’m not ready for:
Saying goodbye to shortcuts.
When bedtime stories are a little too long or I’m a little too tired, I confess to skipping some words or even pages. But now she’s reading with me, following along and keeping me honest.
Like, “What does that say?” as she tries to sound out a four-letter word scribbled on a bench at a bus stop.
Giving up my privacy.
Um, she reads my texts and emails over my shoulder. She looks through mail that I leave out on the counter.
Monitoring technology more closely.
Up until now, I have deprived my kids of using apps on my phone and have given them very limited access to my computer at home. But I know the time is coming when I need to give them more opportunities to develop their computer literacy skills. And I am dreading it.
On the brighter side, here’s what I’m loving at the moment:
The occasional break.
The other night, she tucked her little sister into bed and read her a story. After I enjoyed listening to this incredibly yummy moment from the other room, a gift in and of itself, I realized she gave me a second gift — a moment of calm during the madness of our family’s bedtime routine.
Smiling (a lot).
I love listening to her sound out new words and use all her resources to figure it out. When she gets it right, I smile out of pride. When she doesn’t quite get it right, her creative pronunciations make me smile, too.
Looking at the world differently.
She notices almost anything that has words on it. Things I may or may not see. Like a funny slogan on a dry cleaner’s truck that offers to pick up your dirty underwear, or a sign in the park with a lengthy description of a missing puppy. She challenges me not only to notice more, but really see what’s there.
My daughter is starting to read directions for board games, art projects, and homework. She loves reading maps and anything written on the back of a cereal box. I hear her reading library books — out loud — to herself. She wants to do these things on her own, but still looks to me to explain what she’s reading or confirm that she’s correct. It’s a strange new place for me to be…waiting in the wings.
Sharing books I loved as a kid.
My daughter now loves reading books that I treasured as a kid, like Miss Nelson Is Missing and anything staring Amelia Bedelia. It gives us something special to talk about. She’s extremely motivated to read them, and as an added bonus I get to enjoy them a second time around.
As excited as I am that she can read, I’m secretly a little sad that she isn’t so little anymore. They say reading is an adventure, and this is a new adventure — for both of us.