It’s Friday afternoon and my daughter Lily and I are checking out books at the library. We spent over an hour here, flipping through pages, playing with trains, and playing on the computer, and now it’s time to pack up our pile and be on our way. She stands beside me at the checkout counter while the librarian scans book by book. We say thank you, and, as we do, Lily scoops up a flyer for the library’s monthly events and another about a summer reading program for teens.
She’s constantly shuffling papers, my daughter. She makes piles of them so they’re always on hand — old receipts, full sheets of printer paper, scraps left on the kitchen counter. Whatever she can find, she will take. Then she digs out a pen or pencil and makes her notes.
Of course, I don’t know what the notes mean. Lily is three years old. She does little more than scribble on these papers, yet she always has them nearby, at the ready, just in case.
I’m dumbfounded. My preliterate preschooler is turning into a little journalist, and I have no idea why. When she sees me with scraps of paper, it is more often to make a grocery list than anything else, which she’s at least mildly aware of since I always start my list by asking, “Lily, what should we get from the grocery store?” To which she replies something like, “Cereal, strawberries, and chocolate.”
I’d like to think that it’s the writer in me that has somehow projected the importance of literacy to my child and she’s absorbing my love of the written word, but I don’t think that’s it. She sees me reading on a daily basis, alone and aloud to her, but she rarely sees me write. When I’m writing, I’m sitting in front of the computer and she, usually, is at preschool or asleep in her room. She knows no more about my writing than she does that my childhood obsession was also collecting papers. I drew picture upon picture, wrote story upon story. She doesn’t know that’s how I spent the better part of my childhood, yet here we are again, on the cusp of repeating the past. I couldn’t be more pleased.
But this is different than the pleasure I get, say, from seeing her mimic my photography, a daily habit I’ve cultivated since before her birth. My husband found an old Kodak point-and-shoot film camera and gave it to Lily so she can pretend to take photos like Mommy. She sees me with a camera in my hand constantly — snapping my photo for the day with my 35mm camera, pulling out the old Polaroid Land Camera to take a photo of the neighbor’s lilac bush, opening Instagram to shoot the kitchen window (again).
I love when she carries her camera around or asks me to take her picture for the millionth time, but it’s not the same as watching her with her scraps of paper. Photography is both immediate and social. Even when I use my film cameras, the moment is captured within the camera waiting to be developed. When we return to a photograph later (or instantly on a digital camera), there’s a communal experience, a “Hey, remember that?” moment.
The written word is a bit more subtle. It tends to be more personal, which is why it’s easier to place a camera in my daughter’s hands and make her into a photographer than a pencil and paper to make her into a writer. I can teach her the alphabet song, how to recognize letters and their sounds, and what it means to put those letters together in a meaningful way, but that won’t necessarily give her a love for words. She has to find that herself, and it’s too early in her life to know if she will.
All I know now is that she loves paper and pencils. She loves blank sheets of paper almost as much as the ones she takes from the library counter or my purse. For right now, this is what makes her happiest and, as I am her mother, it’s my responsibility to encourage her to keep scribbling and collecting, to buy her notebooks and pens. That’s what my parents did — with an old typewriter and an endless supply of sketchbooks and art supplies. I learned to love these things at a young age and they’ve turned into my adult passions. Perhaps they will for Lily, too.
Lindsay Crandall works as a freelance writer and editor, but her passion is for photography, particularly 35mm film and Polaroid. She lives in upstate New York with her husband, their three-year-old daughter, and a baby of unknown gender due in July. Lindsay frequently posts her photographs on Flickr.