It’s 10:00 p.m., and I’m heading up to bed. The dishes have been washed, and the kids’ school devices are charging. I turn off the lights, give the dog one last pat, and head upstairs. As I get to the second level, I look over at the door of the bedroom my boys share. I see the light shining from under the door, and I know what it means: I have an independent reader.
He’s my oldest and in third grade now, moving solidly into big kid territory. Gone are the days when I carried a sleepy, sweaty toddler up the stairs at nap time. His chubby baby cheeks are long gone, and he likes watching reality competition shows more than Puffin Rock. But that transition to independent reader has been one of the biggest and most dramatic. And can I be honest? Sometimes, it makes me a little sad.
For his entire life so far, reading was our thing. It was something we did together that bonded us and gave us a shared language. It started with The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Very Wooly Bedtime Prayers. Later, it was Little Blue Truck and Pete the Cat. Then, Charlotte’s Web and Ramona. Anytime the noise and chaos of our house were too much, or any time I felt the need to connect with my kids, reading was my go-to choice. I loved nothing more than snuggling up close together on the couch and slowly but surely working our way through an enormous stack of picture books.
But these days? That happens less and less.
I’ll never forget the first time I realized he had become a truly independent reader. As he climbed into bed one night, he spouted off some facts about viruses.
“Where’d you hear that?” I asked.
“I didn’t hear it,” he replied. “I read it.” He proceeded to open up the kid’s encyclopedia his cousins had given him for Christmas and read aloud an entire long paragraph about viruses.
“Buddy!” I exclaimed. “I had no idea you could read something like that. That’s amazing!”
He shrugged his shoulders and turned the page as if this was no big deal. As if he’d been doing it his entire life. As if he was not just yesterday a toddler in my lap with a stack of board books. As if he had not just catapulted into an entirely different stage of childhood. As if he had not just become a reader.
Suddenly, he is off, on his own, into a world of stories. He flies through I Survived… and Magic Treehouse books. He read the entire Little House on the Prairie series. I am constantly flipping through all the middle-grade books on my shelves and filling entire grocery bags with library books. Once upon a time, I imagined he and I would read through these books together, but honestly, I can no longer keep up with his pace.
And so, here is where I let go. I have to trust his curiosity to lead the way. I have to put my money where my mouth is, trusting that stories pave the path toward empathy, compassion, and understanding. I say a prayer of thanks to the God who filled my boy with an insatiable curiosity and for the authors who fill our bookshelves.
As a special needs mom, I am grateful for every single developmental milestone. I will never take for granted a new skill learned or an easy transition. I never wish my kids would “stop growing” or stay the same.
Even still, so much of motherhood is bittersweet. With every celebration of a new milestone, I mourn the baby boy who seems to have disappeared. Every single day is a mix of holding close and letting go. I am left with whiplash from mothering these children who still need me for so much but are also learning–chapter by chapter–to do without me.
He’s only 9. We have a long way to go still before he’ll leave our home for good, walking off into independent adulthood. But every time I catch him absorbed in a chapter book and every time he surprises me by correctly reading a word I thought was beyond him, it feels like an exercise in letting go.
My son is an independent reader now. I carry my sadness and my joy together as I watch him grow.