The Real Queen of Books – A Mother’s Day Tribute

For Mother’s Day I thought I would share a piece I wrote in early high school for my mom. From the time I was young, she has always been my biggest advocate, pushing me to do my best and pushing others to do the best for me. Many people have asked me how and why I started blogging. While I was inspired by the art, activism, and scholarship of other adoptees, it was my mother who first inspired me to pick up a pen (or type on the computer) and hone my writing skills. She was the first person to teach me the power of written words, and that is a lesson I relearn again and again as I share my voice and others share theirs with me. Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there!

                                                                                                                              

The number three has always carried a great significance in my life. Three was the number of people in my family. Three was the number of cats I had. Three was how old I was when I was adopted, and three was the number of pieces of candy I could eat daily. Three was the number of card games my parents and I played at night. Three was also the day of my birthday. But most important to my literary development, three was the number of books my mom would read to me before bed.

When bedtime was approaching, I would slip on my flannel pajamas and carefully brush my teeth so I wouldn’t get foaming toothpaste on my nightgown. I raced to my room with disheveled hair and plopped on the ground to pick out three of my favorite stories. Clutching these precious books to my chest, I remember taking babysteps down the long, dark hallway to my mother’s room. After reaching my destination, I would set the cherished books on the foot of the bed, so that I could attempt to reach the top without too much struggle. After overcoming this great obstacle, I would wriggle under the covers, give the books to my mom, and find just enough room for me somewhere between her and my beloved stuffed pony, Starry.

Ready for a story, my mom would begin reading, “A is for ABBIE, a marmalade cat. B is for BARNEY, who sat on a mat.” The books she read me taught me about the alphabet and love. Through these stories, we visited far away places that my mother and I had never heard of and let my imagination run loose. Reading these books together in her giant bed, we saw pictures together, saw words together, and we would laugh together. But we would also cry. “Because you were a precious and beautiful child, your birth family wished with all their hearts that they could keep you with them, care for you, and get to know you. They were heartbroken that they couldn’t, and wept at having to say good-bye.” The books When You Were Born In China, Mommy Far, Mommy Near, I Love You Like Crazycakes, and Kids Like Me in China were influential in helping me understand my adoption. These were different than Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. These told me that I have two Mommys, that I was born in China, and most importantly, that I wasn’t alone. These made me ask questions and made my mom cry.

I always looked forward to reading in bed. My mother’s loud voice became soft and cozy, and the warm bed wrapped me up and hugged me tightly. The books took me on great adventures and introduced me to dazzling, fictional friends. My mom’s love of reading could be felt in every sentence that escaped her mouth. These wonderful words would carry me away and fill me with almost the same level of excitement she had for books. It was not until Kindergarten that I learned reading wasn’t just a Mommy thing; it was something I could do too. At school, I somehow found out that one of my friends could read. The fact that he could do something that I couldn’t made me quite jealous. After much frustration, the words finally came to me. I became a fluent reader of children’s chapter books. I could now read to myself and read to my mom.

When I was in first grade, there was a reading competition, called King/Queen of Books. For every ten books read, I got a small prize. For every hundred books read, I got a big prize and was named Queen of Books. My teacher told me that the record was 500 books, and I became determined to break that. Over the next month, I went into a reading frenzy, reading to someone whenever possible. I remember reading to family friends, my grandparents, and of course my mother. Some nights I would read up to fifteen books, in hopes of reaching my goal. By my birthday, I was at 200. I was so proud of my accomplishment, I kept my Queen of Books crown on for that year’s school pictures. I ended the competition exceeding my goal by 27 books. Toothless me had read 527 books, becoming my school’s ultimate Queen of Books.

***

The extent of my elementary school writing was very limited. I remember writing three things. I wrote about a Tyrannosaurus Rex, I wrote about Ruby Bridges, and I wrote about a white hare.

***

With the help of my 7th grade English teacher I learned how to write – not to just throw a bunch of words on a page. My English teacher had a daunting task ahead of her, catching me up on seven years of writing that I missed. Yet she succeeded. Her dedication to the students and constant encouragement kept us motivated to continue our writing journeys. She gave us gentle, but honest feedback that made her an easy person to ask for help. Her kind words were never-ending, and she made sure to personalize her relationship with every student. She also kept us updated on writing events in the community. The one-on-one time she was willing to give me, as well as a reassuring smile helped my frustration cease and my growth as a writer blossom. My confidence in 7th grade increased as my writing improved. It was then that I first felt comfortable not having my mom sit right next to me as I wrote.

The beginning of my 8th grade year was lacking in attention to writing. My mother stepped in again, filling gaps and encouraging my efforts. She was my number one literacy advocate, having me write essays on snowdays and fighting for me to get into an online course. One of my snowday essays won first prize at the county wide writing contest, and my struggle to find literary enrichment was resolved when I enrolled in a Center for Academically Talented Youth. Surrounded by avid writers, I learned an enormous amount of information in that nine week course, and it prepared me to take the Honors English Entry Essay as well as the class.

On the first day of 9th grade, I walked into my third hour class, slightly terrified. I looked around at the people in nearby desks and questioned why I was in this class. But then I remembered my mother, my 7th grade English teacher, and how far I had come in the last two years. In that simple moment, everything made sense, and I knew that 3rd hour Honors English was where I belonged. Honors English stimulated me to think critically and read the material with an analytical eye. This course also challenged me to formulate my thoughts into coherent written statements without the benefit of unlimited time. Honors English helped me grow so much as a writer, a reader, and a thinker, which are all qualities that define who I am today.

Over the years, I have had some wonderful teachers, all of whom were standing in my corner and trying to make me a literate, knowledgeable person. Of these amazing people, three stand out vividly in my mind. The first is my 7th grade English teacher. She guided me and helped me more than I could have imagined anyone doing. The second is my Honors English teacher. She gave names to so many writing concepts that I had missed and created an atmosphere vital to the growth of my critical thinking. The third is the woman who started me on my literacy journey – the woman who read to me every night and spent countless hours being read to by my trembling little voice – the woman who sat with me as I wrote draft after draft after draft and encouraged me to write one more. She is the woman who has supported me throughout my entire literacy struggle, and the one who has most shaped the young woman I am becoming. She gave me the world. Thanks Mom.

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