One of my great joys is sharing books with my son. Sounds
like a small thing, I know, but for us it truly has been life-changing. You
see, J. has multiple special needs. The most obvious is
verbal apraxia. He understands language but is unable to effectively use speech
His first diagnosis, nearly thirty-three years ago, was frighteningly
bleak. I remember sitting in a tiny room at Sick Kid's Hospital in Toronto, a
nervous new foster parent trying to process the unfathomable: that the tiny
person I'd already come to think of as 'my' child would probably not survive
his first year; that if he did survive he would never walk, never talk, never
feed himself. Brutal truths from a well-meaning doctor and social worker,
determined to give us a way out. You do not have to do this. Think about your
family. How will your other kids cope with a dying baby? As it turned out,
our other kids had the answer. It will be
hard, and it will be sad, but we can love him while he's with us and we can
make him happy.
It was hard
sometimes, but we did love him, and feisty J.
proved all the dire predictions wrong. For me, one of the best days of his
young life was meeting that same, well-meaning doctor again two years later.
Little J. held tight to my hand and as we walked together
into the examination room he grinned up at the white-coated man and said, loud
and clear, "Car outside."
Many have called his life a miracle and it's hard not to see
it that way. Helped along by surgical intervention and a lot of hard work and
determination, J. has certainly been a gift to our family
We long ago abandoned thinking in terms of what J. might never do, instead allowing him opportunities to try,
and the support to succeed or fail on his own terms. The child they said would
never walk has grown into a man who loves bowling, fishing, and curling. He
even tried downhill skiing one winter, but that's a story for another time.
One thing J. longs to do but hasn't
yet been able to master is reading. He's
a pro at recognizing single words, but stringing them together into sentences
is something he can't manage, not on the page and not in speech. It seems his
brain just isn't wired that way. But still, books fascinate him.
Years ago, when the first Harry Potter book was newly published and absolutely everyone was
talking about it, I bought a copy thinking J. and I would read it
together. We were both eager to begin and after getting comfortable on the sofa,
admiring the cover, and checking out the back cover blurb, we settled in to
enjoy the story. "Chapter One: The
Boy Who Lived … "
We woke up about an hour later.
Our attempts to share Harry
Potter and the Philosopher's Stone became a running joke in the family. One
of us would pick up the book and someone would shout, "Quiet, you guys,
Mom and J. are taking another nap!"
To be perfectly clear, it wasn't Ms. Rowling's wonderful
story that put us both to sleep with unfailing regularity. No. It was yours
truly, the less-than-sparkling narrator. This was particularly frustrating for
me, a life-long avid reader who could sit for hours engrossed in a good book,
delaying sleep for just one more chapter.
But there was something about reading
aloud that made me… zzzzzzzzzzzz….
That's when we discovered audiobooks. Specifically, Jim Dale's incredible voicing of
the Harry Potter stories, and
suddenly the world of books and reading opened up for J. We
listened to the entire Potter series and moved on to Lilian Jackson Braun's The Cat Who mysteries, 27 stories
wonderfully narrated by George Guidall. Some of those favourites have been
listened to over and over, to the point where I'm sure we both know them
Nowadays we're listening to a broader range of books, but
our favourites are mysteries. On rare occasions I wonder if J. is losing interest or if the current story might be beyond
him. But then he'll repeat a new word or
phrase, or laugh out loud at a subtle joke, and I understand just how much
these books mean to him and how massively his vocabulary and understanding have
improved thanks to listening: a shared pleasure and a personal triumph for my
own Boy Who Lived. The boy (now man) who just wanted to read.
Labels: audiobooks, books, family story, reading