My husband and I named our firstborn Bruria after the famous female Talmudic scholar, and we had high hopes for her. First priority was literacy, and since my nieces were reading when they were three, I assumed that if I got in early, our Bruria would also be in full literary swing by the time she reached nursery school.
So I dutifully started with the letters and sounds and tapes, labeling every item in the house, in constant education mode. Nothing happened. Bruria loved listening to stories, but when I paused before a word to see if she could work it out herself, there was just silence.
By the time Bruria was three and a half and there wasn't an inkling of literacy, I decided to take her to a nationally renowned reading expert. It was a whole operation to get her there, with both my husband and me, our nanny and new baby in tow. By the time we arrived, Bruria was hungry and restless and about to have a tantrum.
After the interview, the specialist told us gently that there really wasn't any need to start with testing when a child was three. But she did find that Bruria had phonemic awareness problems. I gasped, a diagnosis! She was retarded or at least learning disabled! Now there was a project for me to jump right into.
No, no, no the specialist assured us, there was nothing to do, just keep reading to her, and come back if there was still a problem when she was six.
"What on earth are you doing to the girl?" a friend asked me, after I described our trip to the expert. "She has such a wonderful ego and you're just destroying it because of some crazy notion that she has to be up to Tolstoy in kindergarten. Let her be a little!"
There are a very few milestones in life that really land you in a different universe. Perhaps walking, childbirth, death -- and reading your first novel.
Suddenly I came to my senses: self esteem was in fact my goal. I just so wanted her to have the time to get through the literature I had forfeited when I became obsessed with grades at school. But this dream of mine wasn't getting Bruria where I wanted her to go; she was just becoming nervous and unhappy around books. What a nightmare.
So we laid off for many years, and she didn't come to the preschool interview leafing through War and Peace. To my great shock, she was still admitted.
Last week, at age seven, Bruria finished her first novel, The Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl. I wanted to make a blessing of Thanksgiving -- birkat hoda'a. There are a very few milestones in life that really land you in a different universe. Perhaps walking, childbirth, death -- and reading your first novel. There is no experience like it, each time you enter a new imaginary world and the writer guides you through places and times you could never know -- and when you land back in reality, you're still on the living room couch. Reading links you with other peoples and eras, and puts you at the center of the vast human dialogue.
Well, this philosophy is all very nice, but now we're drowning in books. There are piles in the bathroom and on the kitchen table and under the table. Most of the time now I'm asking Bruria to return the old book to the shelf before getting out a new one. "But that is ridiculous!" she cries. "How can I be reading only one book at a time? There have to be at least three different adventures every place I'm sitting!"
We're not up to Talmud yet. But Bruria did read me (in a lovely sing-song tune) all Jacob's blessings to his children, and I too felt blessed.
I still read to Bruria. And I am rediscovering all the wonderful worlds of words I lost so long ago when I decided I had to turn my precious literature into something economically productive. Thankfully, my daughter has no notion that her joy in books has any purpose other than pure pleasure.
May it always be so.