"The Devil on My Dinner Plate"
College Writing 1, Dr. Richard Foss
“No arguing, Jenna,” my dad tells me.
“But I don’t want to eat them!” He just does not get it. I hate broccoli! The disgusting mini green trees haunt my dreams at night.
“Then no books tonight,” He challenges.
“That’s not fair!” How could he even say that? He knows how much I love story time before bed. I cannot even fathom the idea of no stories tonight. Reading with my dad each night began to make me understand language. I was able to learn all about words and sound through reading. I learned about different characters and their feelings or experiences they went through. I could communicate back to my family because of everything I was learning. I really do not want to eat the broccoli! What am I going to do? It is either: I eat the horrifying vegetable and get to happily sleep at night, or I do not and suffer through the long, cold, dark night having not been read to sleep. Oh man. I was really looking forward to The Very Hungry Caterpillar though. I do not want to miss out on the forestry green and red caterpillar who eats just about anything. By my dad threatening to take this away from me, I would be missing out on learning and connecting to these stories. Reading was my escape from my annoying siblings. I did not want to have to put up with them if I did not finish my dinner.
I put a pout on my face then glare at the creature before me who I am about to attack. I dare to pick up my sword, impaling the demon, and slaying it. I won that battle that night and ended up getting into my bed with my favorite book at the time, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and enjoyed being read to after the languishing and draining day I encountered wrestling with my mini green demon. That night I made sure to listen to every word my dad read, to savor the victory I achieved, beginning my literacy journey. These stories would expose me to another world of letters, characters and of course the beginning of my literacy knowledge. It would be these moments with my dad that are key elements to my literary career, especially for me just starting out. I will remember these small moments with my dad when I look back on the progress I have made since I was about 5 years old.
Slowly falling asleep each night to my soothing dad's voice made me look forward to what the next night would bring. I wonder if I will adore the next book we read as much as Green Eggs and Ham, The Big Book of the Berenstain Bears, or Clifford the Big Red Dog. Picking up a new book and starting it was an unworldly feeling. I was able to begin the process of learning all over again with different characters. Soon enough, it would become my turn to be the creator who brought stories to life from the words I read on the pages while my dad was told to listen. Reading was something I cherished. It was the thing I looked forward to most each day. I loved to learn, and in such a fun way. I was only beginning to start expressing myself through the books I chose to read at night. While playing with my look alike American Girl Doll with shoulder length dirty blonde hair andleafy green eyes who I named Christine -- my middle name -- I could not wait until I would be able to read with my dad. When outside racing down Red Maple Drive on my all hot pink bicycle, wind in my hair blowing out of my face but still leaving it a bit knotty, all I wanted to do next would be to go inside and start my books. Most of the time, I did just that.
The book I learned how to read was Dick and Jane. It had a bright yellow cover with two kids as well as their family on the front. I sat on a lumpy, stormy grey couch that was always somehow cold to the touch, maybe because it was our dining room couch that no one really sat on too often. My cat, Sebastian, sat directly in front of me to accompany me while my dad to my left supporting me through the beginning of my journey with letters and words. I sat in a room with terrifyingly bright yellow walls, some with stripes on them that could give you headaches if you looked at them for too long. I sat with my back slightly off the back of the couch, becoming consumed by the big yellow book. Dick and Jane opened my eyes to just the beginning of what I would learn about literacy. I learned through this story how to develop reading but also my language skills. Starting at the age of five, I would begin by very slowly, excruciatingly slowly, sounding out each word and trying to put the sentence together. Sounding out sentences such as, “Co-me an-d see,” “L-oo-k Jane,” and “I s-ee the li-ttle ba-by.” Looking up after finishing that page, I saw mom and dad smiling very weirdly at me, so I went back to reading more. As I am sounding out “See the big fath-er”, I hear a click. I did not really care at the time not knowing my mom was taking pictures of me to post to her Facebook page later that night. Now, I think it was a great keepsake of a memory that I could go back and look at to see the progress I have made since then. I was just so happy that I finally could read all on my own! I felt invincible because I could finally read! My parents were so proud of me with everything I was beginning to accomplish. Reading entire sentences all on my own made me feel like I could do anything, like I was growing up and soaring through life already. I just wanted to pick up another book as soon as I could.
I was enjoying reading so much that I was beginning to realize that I have read most of my books already. When I was a kid, I grew impatient very quickly when I did things for too long. I would love running outside and burning off some energy so my parents decided that they would put me into soccer for kids around six years old. I started PSA and loved it! I had so much fun, running around kicking a ball, sometimes making it in the goal. This became my new thing. I knew I wanted to be the best soccer player I could be, so when I would get home from school at 3:15 each day, I would run outside and play some soccer with my younger sister, Kaitlyn. She is just a couple years younger than me and we were constantly told that we look very alike with our blonde hair and green eyes. Her and I both played soccer, so we would kick our seafoam green soccer ball back and forth.
All this running around made me drowsy, so when it came time to get ready for bed and read a book, all I could stay awake for was brushing my teeth and putting on my pajamas. As weeks passed by quickly, reading began to fade to the back of my mind becoming not as important to me. I was reading a ton of books in such a short period of time that I was put into a reading slump. I lost the time and energy to read. At the time, I never really noticed the change. I was a kid always on the move who traveled onto bigger and better things.
When I made it out of Charles Reed Elementary, with all the boring books that I had to read and write about, I moved onto middle school life. This was crazy! I was still playing soccer which I still love while moving onto taking the bus to Aux Sable Middle School. I could not wait to make new friends and meet all my teachers, especially my English teacher, because she had to be different from Mrs. Tunno. She had very red, long hair, and made me read every day for 20 minutes! Can you believe that, everyday! I did not have the time for that, even though I only had soccer practice one day a week, but that is beside the point. I began to hate reading, not because I did not like to read, but because I was being forced to read books that did not hold my attention long enough to make it to page seven. I am someone who does things on my own for the most part, so when someone forces me to do something that I already like to do, somehow it makes me not want to do it. I get annoyed, and turn away from that very thing. To make matters worse, I would have to write about what I read about! Are you kidding me? I did not even like the book enough to understand any of it, or pay any kind of attention to it, but now I have to write about it. I was furious! Though, hopefully Mrs. Kimbrel would be different than Mrs. Tunno.
Turns out, she was the same, maybe even worse at times. We had to write even more, and not just about what we read in the story, but for everything. Lengthy textbooks assignments, uninteresting articles, essays that took forever to write about things I would never remember, you name it. To me, reading was something I enjoyed doing each night because I looked forward to spending some one on one time with my dad but also learning through him how to further my reading skills. Additionally, when I would read on my own, I was able to create different voices for each character that would bring them to life. It was something I had fun with, something I did for me to remember each character. Here in room 201, was the room where creativity dies. You walk into this room and you immediately want to leave to save your soul. Those four walls would become the place I would hate the most throughout middle school. It was weird walking into an English room with no decorations or color. It was walking into a jail and having a wooden, uncomfortable desk that was my very own jail cell. There was no life in room 201 and there was no way in or out from 1:15 to 2:15pm each day. I dreaded this class. I would rather do anything else; step on Legos, have second hand embarrassment from watching an awkward encounter, fall going up the stairs in front of a group of people, literally anything else than going to this class each day.
All this homework took up a lot of my time, as did soccer, so I found I had no time to read any of my assignments well enough that I could comprehend anything. At this point, I was just looking at the words on the page, not at all understanding the meaning behind them. Teachers would go over what we read in class, so I felt I did not have to apply myself as much when reading on my own. Plus, I would procrastinate it until I absolutely had to do it. I would usually get yelled at for waiting until the last minute to do my homework when it involved reading, but I just did not understand it and I flat out did not want to do it. My grades were still doing fine during this time, but my parents knew I was not trying my best.
As the years progressed, my literacy journey became even more challenging and I was also becoming very serious with soccer and improving on my skills, because I had switched to a travel team, Chicago Fire. More and more things were taking away my attention and time away from my readings, but I really did not care too much about it. The “No stories tonight,” argument was long gone in high school. I knew the next four years at Plainfield South were going to be worse. Teachers assigned as much homework and as often as they could, made us write papers about everything, like Shakespeare plays that I did not even pretend to understand, To Kill A Mockingbird that was too long for my liking and Frankenstein that was just boring. The papers also turned into presentations! Getting up in front of the entire class and talking about the books we “read.” I thought broccoli was my worst nightmare, but I was wrong. Broccoli could be eaten, it might take a while to force myself to do it, but I could. Getting up in front of a class to talk about something I had no interest in, was another story. I would have to walk into English class and talk about everything my group read in To Kill a Mockingbird, as if any of them even cared. Nothing, it seemed, was helping me understand what I was reading. Partly because I just was not interested in reading these books that were too challenging for me to stay focused. The books just did not speak to me in any way. I could not express myself through them like the ones I used to when my dad and I would read together.
In my freshman year, I decided I was done with soccer. I was getting bored of it and with everything else going on in school, I wanted to quit. So, I did and tried out Badminton and loved it. This soon consumed my time as well. Though in some inexplicable away, I was getting even better grades. I was finishing my work days ahead of time even after two hours of practice. For a sport that I had truly no intentions of trying out for, it made me a better student, athlete and person overall. My English grade skyrocketed during the season and in some undetermined way, I was able to focus and apply myself to the assignments I had to read and I finally began to take the time to understand everything I was reading. I realized it was not going away anytime soon. As well as, I had to have good grades to play.
During the end of July of 2021, my family and some of our friends were going on vacation to Destin, Florida. The week prior to leaving, I suddenly had this very strong urge to pick up a book and read. I think this was due to seeing people on social media posting about their favorite books they had just read. I became intrigued. I wanted to bring some books with me on our trip, to maybe read a book while in the airport waiting, on the plane, maybe on the beach while relaxing, nothing major. Nope. That did not happen. During our visit in the airport, we had to walk miles to get to our gate with screaming children running away from their parents already. I had to sit next to a woman and her husband who talked on speaker phone to their grandson, who did not care to answer the questions they were asking whatsoever, on maximum volume for 48 minutes while I tried to start a book that I brought. Not once did they take the call off speaker or move to a different place in the airport. Nope, they stayed there the entire time. I decided to pick up a thriller book in the airport my brother suggested, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, and a contemporary romance novel It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover. These books had me hooked and made me understand the author's message that they were trying to portray. I thought this book was insane. I started reading, The Girl on the Train, first and I could not put it down. The characters were so beautifully described that they came alive on the paper. I was understanding these words because I was actively reading long enough to make visuals of what the author was creating. We made it to Florida and while everyone else was on their phones watching movies and taking pictures, I was reading. I ended up reading this book in less than twenty-four hours. By 10am the next morning, I was done with the 395 paged book. It was mind blowing to me. I absolutely loved it.
As soon as I finished reading that book, I immediately needed to read more! I picked up my only other novel, It Ends With Us, and devoured it. This book was life changing. I find it very hard to describe without giving anything away, but this is important. Colleen Hoover wrote a book so enticing that as a reader, I was left speechless. This is what I was craving. A book to pull me out of my literacy slump that had readers hooked from the very beginning. It did just that considering I finished it in one sitting. The words were written so well, I felt that I was there in that world with Lily. This was the kind of book that I felt I could connect to because I could understand what was happening and she wrote it in the way that words were enough to imagine everything that was occurring in the book. I was on a vacation with my friends and family, and all I thought about was when I could read next.
I treasure those two books a lot, but I ran into a slight problem. I ran out of books to read. I could not believe it. What was only supposed to be a vacation where I might read here and there, turned into needing to get more books. One night at an Italian restaurant that was conveniently located directly next to a Barnes and Noble, I convinced my parents to let me go and grab a couple more books. To my surprise and to theirs I am sure, they agreed! I sprinted next door and picked up two more books and went to checkout. Two books that were each over 300 pages, I read on the rest of vacation. From not going to reading at all, in fact absolutely loathing reading, I read four books in a week on vacation. This was an eye-opening moment. I had realized how much I had missed embedding myself into books and learning about the authors through how they wrote their own stories. To see things from another's point of view. It is very interesting seeing how characters from a book may represent someone important to the author in real life.
Ever since then, I have not been able to put down a book. I also have been able to comprehend my school texts a lot more than before even though I have to do it. I know overall, it is making me a better student and reader. The difference was I wanted to pick up a book for fun this summer. I was very invested in each book and always left me needing more. School, to me, made me miss out on a hobby that I now value. I try not to overwork myself and stay calm, and make sure I am actively reading and comprehending what I am reading. I do that by annotating everything, writing notes, and tabbing so I can continuously be the best student I can.
Reading became my broccoli for a while, but then I ate it.