My Fledgling Reader
I awoke to light bird chatter, the warmth of sunlight on my arm, and the sweet silence of a husband and toddler both still asleep. Thrilled at the thought of having a few quiet minutes alone to start the day, I tiptoed down the creaky stairs of our 1940s one-and-a-half-story home. Careful not to step on this squeak here or that groan there, I wondered whether I should get the coffee pot started or hop in the shower first. Before I reached the last stair, I knew exactly what I wanted: twenty minutes with a steaming cup of Colombian coffee and The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.
Before I slipped into the kitchen, I stole a quick peek through my nearly two-year-old daughter’s doorway, expecting to find her eyelids closed and her breathing steady and slow. Instead, what I witnessed was my fledgling reader perched atop her bed with books spread out all around her. My slight disappointment in discovering I was not in fact the first one up quickly dissipated as interest and wonder took hold. I settled onto my perch just beyond the doorframe to observe and better understand my little bird’s newfound behavior.
Her unruly nest of black hair sprang out in every direction. Pushing a curly wisp from her eyes, Sophia turned the page. She was sitting barefoot, engrossed in the Spanish edition of Olivia by Ian Falconer, the same book we’d read together the night before. I honed in on her tubby toes and then her small hands. She was careful with her precious books, looking over the lively pictures and contemplating the words. Although she was not yet able to read, I knew she understood the magic books held.
I wondered how long my increasingly independent learner had been up. Sophia seemed perfectly content and secure to be sitting alone in her own room. What had brought on this change? When we’d first converted her crib into a big-girl bed, she’d wake up each morning and immediately cry out “Mami!” Once she discovered she could get herself out of bed, she took to climbing the stairs to rouse me in a more subtle manner. I would wait in bed, listening to the patter of chubby toddler feet across the hardwood floor. She would push open the door, come to my side of the bed, reach for my hand under the covers, and tug me up, exclaiming, “Mamá, vamos!” In either case, her morning ritual suggested that I was what she needed to start her day.
But that morning, I felt something sweeter than being needed. My little girl was taking wing and exploring her way through a world of images and words, independent of me. I smiled as my daughter paged through her Spanish book. When my husband and I traveled to Colombia to adopt Sophia, she was less than three months old. Ever since then, I’d been working tirelessly to make sure we honored her birth language and culture. Besides reading her every Spanish children’s book I could get my hands on, I learned Spanish nursery rhymes and sang them to her when I cleaned her face, when I cared for her hurts, and as we drove to daycare. While I spent the day teaching English as a second language to middle school students, Sophia continued learning Spanish with Raquel, the mother of one of my students.
My moment of contentment in seeing her choose a Spanish book was interrupted by the overanalyzing mother in me. Would she always embrace her identity as a transracial adoptee? I’d read the adoptive parenting books. I’d spoken with other adoptive parents whose children were older than Sophia. As her world got larger, and as we added more children to our family, maintaining this level of commitment to cultivating her Spanish language and connections to Colombian culture would get harder. In her adolescent years, I imagined, she would grapple more with what it meant to be a Latina in a white family. She would be judged differently by the color of her skin, and I wouldn’t be able to shelter her. Her peers would gain more influence. I was thankful for the other Colombian adoptive families who had become our friends. We would have to maintain these ties. I shook my head just a bit and inhaled slowly to bring myself back to the present.
Perhaps sensing my presence just then, Sophia ceased scanning the pages and glanced up. She found me poring over her the way she had been poring over her storybook companions. “Buenos dias, Princesa,” I greeted her.
“Mamá, read!” she said, and I gladly complied, pushing a few small boardbooks to the side and climbing in beside her. She reached for Over the Moon: An Adoption Tale by Karen Katz. I smiled. This book had become one of our favorites. Its beautiful story and illustrations seem to tell of the story of how our family came to be, from the flight the mother and father in the book take paralleling the journey my husband and I took to Colombia to the bunny waiting in the baby’s crib just as a white bunny from one of my students awaited Sophia in her crib.
That morning as we read about the teeny-tiny baby with bronze skin and curly black hair, I read with confidence. This nest we’ve built is strong and good.