This is the price that I gladly pay for raising literate children.

So. Mugsy here insists that her children read. Before these babies could properly sit up, they had shelves of books to look at, chew on, drag around and drop. She also insists upon reading to her children (currently only the younger four, between the ages of 8 and 14). She reads books upon books, chapter after chapter, novel after novel. From the time the children were hardly more than delicious little morsels with chub-chub thighs and wrist-less sausage-like arms over which she could marvel and upon which she could nibble during their 2 a.m. parties (turns out that some babies are really quite crap at sleeping – who knew?) and afternoon cuddles alike, she would read to them. She reads them stories from L’Engle, Dahl, Pilkey, Shannon and Blume. She reads them poems from Silverstein and Mother Goose, and tales from Parks, White and Rowling. She reads them Llama Llama and Dr. Seuss until they can all recite them from memory. She thought she was responsibly and rightly encouraging literacy. Being an only child herself, she had no idea that she was also promoting something else entirely.

One day a year or so ago while she roamed around Costco bemoaning to herself about the price of baby carrots (she doesn’t get out of the house often), she came across an absolutely irresistible boxset of books and before she could stop herself (as if she really tried 😏), she purchased it and once home reverently removed the cellophane wrap. Mugsy and her children were about to enter the weird and wacky worlds and words carefully crafted by David Walliams.

Isn’t it beautiful? 😍

Beginning with first book in the box, The Boy In The Dress, and whipping through one novel after another, in the prescribed order, Mugsy and her children shared in the joy and pleasure of each new chapter. They laughed at the crazy characters and waited to hear the next ‘special deal’ the kind-hearted newsagent, Raj, would offer his next ‘favourite’ patron. Finally finding a story without Raj shocked them all, and not believing that it could be true, they waited for him to appear. When he did not (won’t spoil for you which novel he’s absent from), they all felt, well, a little betrayed. Alas and ahoy however they pressed on, for they were “readers” and not “quitters.” (Whatever that is supposed to mean).

That brings us up to present day. The motley quintet are reading the last book in the boxset, Grandpa’s Great Escape, relieved to find that the world has been righted and Raj is back. Giggles and guffaws from Mugsy’s eager listeners come in short order when Raj tells young Jack “I have an excellent deal going on yoghurt. Well, I say yoghurt, it’s last month’s milk and…” But just a few pages prior to that classic Raj moment, on page 110, is the place where things take a bit of a turn and what inspired this blog post. The passage is on page 110:

Usually, learning new terms and words is something I celebrate, but sometimes, it leaves a little something to be desired.

Fast-forward a week or two later, after still more reading of three-to-five chapters of GGE while the children eat dinner (most weeknight evenings). Everyone is happy and invested in the story, although they do not discuss the book outside of their dinner hour. That is, until one early morning (and all mornings are such early mornings during the week), when Mugsy asks her youngest son if he would like a second egg on a second English muffin for breakfast (his usual school morning breakfast fare). Without looking up from his plate, without batting an eye he says “Oh, yes, please Char Lady.”
“I’m sorry?”
“Yes, please Char Lady” Said now, with an elfish, cheeky smile starting to spread across his face as he lifts his eyes to meet Mugsy’s shocked expression.
“Char Lady!?! Are you kidding me? You cheeky booger nugget!”

The explosion of giggles that follows, from both the boy and Mugsy are the sort that can only happen in spaces were there exists absolute trust, love, and the safety for spontaneous outbursts of silliness.

So now, when I ask any of my younger sons to do anything, they’re apt to reply with either “yes Char Wallah” or “yes Char Lady” and immediately start to laugh. At times when I am giving them a list of things to do, I will end the with “and thank you, Char Wallah” just to make them smile as they set on their way to scrub their toilet or make their beds.

It is in these exchanges, these small moments in time, around forgettable and mundane tasks that we are able to create the happiest memories, the times they will (I hope) one day look back on and smile about, remember yet another ‘inside joke’ that only the four of them will share long after I am gone.

So, since Mugsy here is to be called Char Lady or Char Wallah by a small army of my own making, I can’t think of a more lovely memory to have (and to share) of the moment when I realized that all time spent reading to and with my people has been so much more than ‘just reading.’ The time spent has encouraged them to become readers themselves, helped them discover the magic of being lost inside the pages of a book, and has (gently) forced them to become literate (despite the occasional ‘more better’ that may slip out when one of them is tired or distracted).

Our time spent reading has done all of that, yes, but even more than that, we have been stitching together moments like this “Char Wallah” moment which ultimately help to create the fabric of their shared experience of childhood, of parent-child interactions, of their relationships with one another and with me. Realizing this, it is my dearest hope that one day, when one of them needs it the most and expects it the least, that another one of them will let loose an eye roll and a “yes, Char Wallah” on him and that their memories of this time together and the feelings of safety, of family and love, of happiness and home may encircle each of them like a warm hug and make their hearts happy again. If only for that single moment in time.

Right then. Enough of the soppy stuff. This Mugsy / Char Wallah/Lady must go and prepare the evening meal. The children are hungry and we are all looking forward to reading chapters 47-52 of G.G.E. For now that Mrs. Trifle has finally found a loo, had her tinkle and “shaken it off” (no loo roll left, of course) and she, Grandpa and Jack have resumed their escape attempt from Twilight Towers and it’s matron, the high-voltage cattle-prod-wielding diabolical Miss Swine. We are all on the edge of our seats waiting to find out where the story will take us.

And finally, please believe me that no matter how tired, busy or fed up I am, hearing any of my children ask if I will read to them, do ‘the Word of the Day’ calendar with them or plead for ‘just one more chapter, please!’ makes my heart so incredibly happy (well, happy that is until I stop reading and they kick off one argument or another, for the fifty-billionth time, but that’s a different post for a different day), and I suspect that it always will. 📖❤️
~A.

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xx