by Frank Pauc
This first appeared in Frank’s blog on February 15, 2019 as “Telling Stories.” It is republished here with the author’s permission.
Nisrin wanted me to read a book about “Frog and Toad”. Nizar was good with that too. So was Yasmin. I sat in my usual chair in the upstairs living room, and the three kids gathered around me. Nizar decided that he wanted to read, instead of having me do it all. So, he started on the first page of the story. He struggled with some of the words.
Nizar looked at the page intently. He said,
“Frog and Tide…”
Nisrin interrupted her brother, “That’s ‘Toad’, not ‘Tide’ .”
Nizar corrected himself, “Toad.”
He read a little farther and mispronounced the word “along”. Somehow he thought it said “around.”
His sister quickly pointed out his mistake.
I told Nisrin, “Let him read. Just let him work it out on his own.”
She was remained quiet for a few moments.
Nizar successfully navigated the rest of the page. Then Nisrin said, “Now I read!”
She read the page flawlessly, much to Nizar’s irritation. After that, Yasmin read a page. Then it was Nizar’s turn again. He once again struggled with a few of the words. From that point, the three siblings took turns reading as we went through a series of “Frog and Toad” tales. They didn’t get bored. This went on for an hour.
I often read to these kids. They are all from Syria, and Arabic is their mother tongue. However, they speak English well, and their reading comprehension improves with every week. The children are smart. More importantly, they want to learn. They are really interested in learning.
That visit to the Syrian family made me remember things from years ago. When my own children were young, I would read stories to them. Hans always found reading to be very difficult. He is dyslexic, or something like that. I would read to him for hours, just so that he would be able to appreciate books. I read to him the entirety of The Lord of the Rings. We would lie in bed, and I would read a chapter or two to him every night. Hans would listen to me and gaze into the distance as he did so. Nizar and Ibrahim do the same thing when I read to them. They hear my voice and they imagine the story in their heads.
I read books to Stefan too. He heard me read the story of Middle Earth, just as his older brother did. I read Of Mice and Men to him once. Somehow reading a book out loud has a deep emotional effect on me. I felt like crying when I read about the death of Lennie at the end of the novel. I asked Stefan what he thought. He said to me, with a wise sort of innocence,
“Sometimes bad things happen to people.”
Indeed they do.
I came home after my visit with the Syrians. I didn’t want to watch anything on a screen, so I dug out my copy of The Lord of the Rings and started paging through it. I know the tale by heart, but it still appeals to me. I was reading the description of the great battle on the plain in front of Minas Tirith when Stefan walked into the room.
He stood before me and said, “I just want to thank you and Mom for all the support you’ve given me. I don’t think that I would have progressed so far with out your help.”
I thought for a moment and told him, “You’re welcome.”
He went on, “I want to pay you all back some day.”
I put down the book, and looked at him more closely. Then I said, “You don’t need to pay us back.”
“Well, I want do something for you.”
I replied, “Do this: when you have kids of your own, do for them what we do for you.”
He paused and said, “Yeah, when I have my kids I’ll do that. I just wanted to give something back.”
“It’s okay. You will.”
Maybe Stefan will read to his children.