9, 2001 - Thursday
It took Harry an awfully long time to say "mama" back when he was learning his first words, but with all her efforts getting him to be interested in books, it's probably all the sweeter that "mommy" is the first word he has obviously read out loud. I'm declaring that for today: Harry can read!
Over the last couple of days, I've been walking Harry around this little beach community showing him and reading to him the various traffic signs. Mostly, there are STOP signs, but a few Speed Limit 15 signs and, of course, plenty of small road signs. And, Harry's been surprisingly interested in them, almost always asking to see "more" signs. On the second day I did this, I pointed to a stop sign we had been reading the day before and ask Harry what it said. He said "stop" and it was obvious he was making progress, though not at all certain that he was reading the word rather than remembering the sign. That's the first part.
Then, last night, after Harry's meltdown and recovery, he and I sat on the couch with crayons and he began to draw. In dissuading him from grabbing all the crayons at once, I happened to write some words on the paper and the distraction worked like a charm. First, I wrote HARRY and said each letter separately, then the word. Then I wrote STOP, like we say on the signs. With that, it seemed I had caught Harry's interest. He said "more." So, I wrote GO and talked about his game of STOP and GO. In all I wrote seven words before we were interrupted by something I don't recall.
I don't remember all the details of last night because it didn't seem all that noteworthy at the time. Sure, it was wonderful that Harry was showing an interest in the words, but at the time, it felt more like Harry was showing an interest in anything having happily recovered from the meltdown. Then, today in a random moment and with his mother standing by, I happen to pick up the same piece of paper with the crayon scribbles and words and pointed to the word STOP, asking Harry what it said. Naturally, he ignored the question as if either playing all his knowledge close to the proverbial vest or thinking the question were too easy and beneath him. After all, I had asked him several times over the last two days what that collection of letters said as we looked at signs and he had given me an answer once already ("Come on, dad!"). But, while ignoring my question, Harry studied the paper and, after a moment of concentration, pointed directly at the word MOMMY, putting his figure within a centimeter of the paper, and read the word.
As soon as Harry said "mommy," there came the inevitable outpouring of praise from his two parents, if not a dampening in the eyes. Yet, even before that reaction, and as if he realized what he had just done and the hoopla it was about to create from his parents, Harry quickly adjusted his index finger to point specifically at the letter "O" in MOMMY and said, in a louder voice than before, "O." It would have been an impressive display under other circumstances and one, and somehow it seems Harry knew this instinctively, that would not have brought the embarrassing huzzahs from his uncontrollable parents. But unfortunately for our self-conscious boy, he'd let slip. He had read the word MOMMY on a page aloud and it was too late to take back.
Sure, one could say he wasn't really reading and that he was remembering from the night before how I wrote and said the word at that place on that page. Maybe that's true, although we spent so little time on MOMMY or any of the other words on the page that such an explanation seems rather far fetched. Yet, regardless of what he was thinking, what is clear is that Harry recognized that these letters written together on the page referred to something. And, whether his understanding of MOMMY was by rote or logic, understanding that letters on a page mean something is what reading essentially is. The rest is just degree of proficiency and practice.