The book was so thick, I couldn't hold it in one hand without my wrist hurting. The print was tiny. So tiny the words mashed together on the page and made my head hurt. But it was on the summer reading list, and I was starting a new school, and I had to read it. I'd been putting it off the whole summer.
I didn't want to read it. I really, really didn't want to read it.
It hadn't been all that great a summer. Actually, it had been a lousy year all together. Sixth grade could easily have been the worst school year of my life - I'd been bullied, lost most of my friends, all of my confidence (which wasn't exactly in abundance to begin with), and I'd spent that summer alone in my room, or on a blanket in the back yard reading and re-reading Archie comics. And when I wasn't reading, I watched reruns of The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch on TV. I did not speak to members of my family unless it was completely necessary. I was starting a new school in less than a week, and in order to go to that new school, I'd had to take math - MATH - in summer school, and now they expected me to read a book that made my wrist hurt. My brain was tired, and, let's just say, I was feeling more than a little bitter.
The book was Great Expectations, and it astounds me that the school I was about to go to had that book on their required reading list. Later, I think we learned that it was optional, but what I remember that summer was that the book hung over my head like the sword of Damocles. I think that book hung over my mom as well - it had been such a tough year - so much was riding on this new school, a new life, she wanted me to be successful, to make friends, make good impressions on the teachers there, more than anything, she didn't want me to walk into the new place, already behind. Every day, she asked, have you started that book yet? Every day, I said I had, but she knew I was lying.
One night, after dinner, my mom had had enough. Earlier in the day, she'd found the book outside gathering dew in the yard. When my sisters retired to the TV den, my mother caught my arm, dragged me to the living room, away from everyone else, sat me down in the big uncomfortable wing chair and said, look, just read one chapter. I don't care if you can't read more, she said. But don't walk into school without a little of it being read.
So I cracked the cover, and I fell in love with Pip, and Miss Haversham and the beautiful Estella, and Wemmick and Herbert and all the scoundrels and heroes of Dickens. I read more than the first chapter that night. And in three days I'd finished it. And it was the best book I'd ever read.
I have thanked my mother for this before, but I cannot thank her enough. My mother gave me so many books - Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Black Beauty, Misty of Chicoteague, A Wrinkle in Time, Rebecca, Gone With the Wind, A Secret Garden, The Little Princess - I don't remember all the books she introduced me to. Some she read to me, some I read on my own. But that moment, that moment when she asked me just to start the big-fat- tiny-printed book - has stayed with me. She had confidence in me. She knew I could do it. I went to that new school with a tiny bit of confidence restored. I had read a huge book - a daunting book - and I'd LOVED it - I'd understood it. It was the first time in my life, where I thought I might actually be smart. I might actually be able to handle a new school with it's private school people and it's math.
I love my mom. She and my dad are my best champions. They have all sorts of confidence in me and their confidence gives me confidence as a writer as a reader and teacher.
Happy Mother's Day, Mom. I love you.