Recently, a few days before my daughter’s ninth birthday, we finished reading the final book in the “Harry Potter” series.
We had started when she was 6.
For three years, I read aloud, and she listened. All 4,100 pages. All 1,084,170 words. I did the voices (my Snape is stronger than my McGonagall), and she asked the questions. “What does ‘remorse’ mean, Mama?” “Why doesn’t he just jinx him now?!” “Which Bertie Bott jelly bean do you think is the grossest?”
It was slow going at times — my daughter kindly pointed out that she had friends who read the entire series on their own in a summer — but I believe the long road made reaching the destination even sweeter. Because we kept at it. We cried together, laughed together, gasped fearfully together, and even squealed together at a certain kiss in book 5. And we pushed through some awfully boring stretches in book 7. (I’m sorry, J.K., but you know it’s true.)
And in the process, we learned a lot. More than just about thestrals and hippogriffs. I’m talking about the kind of stuff one learns when they embark upon an epic project over days, months, or even years. Think a large-scale LEGO creation, a 2,000 piece puzzle, or a fitness chart tracking one-mile runs with an end goal of 100.
Here’s what my daughter and I learned by taking on an epic project together:
1. Be open to a new experience.
When we started reading the “Harry Potter” series, the longest book my daughter had listened to was “Charlotte’s Web.” (Some of those bulky “Harry Potter” books could eat “Charlotte’s Web” for breakfast.) But she was up for the challenge. And I, never one for fantasy books, was up for taking the adventure with her. Hippogriffs and all.
2. Slow down.
In this age of fast-paced stimuli and immediate results, taking on an epic project can feel unnatural, maybe even uncomfortable. Maybe some days you’ll only read three pages before your eyelids are too heavy. Maybe your half-finished game of chess will sit untouched for a week while you contemplate your next move. That’s OK. It’s the journey that matters here.
3. Be patient.
Similar to above, but while you’re learning to slow down, you’re also learning to be patient with your partner on this project. My daughter was patient with me when, on many nights, I was solo parenting three children and had to nix our reading session. I was patient with her when I read a particularly exciting passage and looked over to find her sleeping. And we both exercised patience when my husband, not wanting to miss out on all the fun, would butt in at bedtime to read her some “Narnia” here and there.
4. Stick with it.
The important thing is that even if you’ve abandoned the LEGO castle because you realize you misplaced a brick on the third page of the instructions, you go back to it. You find a workaround; you’re as flexible as you are determined. Together, you’ll build it. Read it. Run it. Finish it.
In the years that I’ve been reading “Harry Potter” to my daughter, she has learned to swim and ride a bike. She has lost eight baby teeth. Her bedtime has been pushed later. Her sense of humor has matured (so she gets all the Weasley twins’ jokes.) She has started to care about the romance between Harry and Ginny, as well as the cultural hierarchy of wizards, humans, and goblins. (And let’s not forget those house elves.)
And she has transformed from an early reader to a highly capable one. And yet, still, she let me go on, enduring my deep-ish brogue of Hagrid’s, my not-quite-British-but-trying falsetto of Hermione’s, my whiny snivel of Draco Malloy. She never once read ahead or asked to take over. Maybe she, too, knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us. That series. Those years of her life, and of ours.
All those nights sharing her bed, heads close together on the pillows.