For the last three weeks, Justin and I have been immersed in the magical world of Harry Potter. For months I avoided the books, sure there was something wrong with them if half the world was reading them. But finally, I succumbed and bought the first book for Justin as a Chanukah present. It sat on his shelf for a couple of months, but finally, we finished the chapter book we were reading, and on a lark, I said, "Let's try Harry Potter and see what all the fuss is about."
Immediately, we were captivated. Our imaginations have been captured by Quidditch matches, flying broomsticks, ghosts that live in toilets, cars that fly, and Muggles who don't understand the world of magic. Now whenever I look at Justin, his hazel eyes glisten at mine, and I know we're both thinking the same thing: "When can we read Harry Potter?"
For the last three weeks, Justin, who is difficult to rouse, has been awakened every morning by me climbing in his bed and starting a new chapter. We read until it's the last minute to possibly get up. Then I read as we eat our Cream of Wheat. Sometimes I read in the car for a few more precious paragraphs while the engine warms up. And when we get home from school, he begs, "Can we read some Harry, Mama?"
When we get to the scary parts, Justin makes me read ahead and tell him exactly what's going to happen before he lets me read it to him. Even then, when I do, he's so nervous he can't sit still, so he paces, jumps, rolls across the rug or sandwiches himself between two giant bolsters, which he continually flips up in the air with his feet. When I ask him to sit still, he lands next to me for a moment, then pops right up. "The tension makes me do it, Mama," he says. Then he's off for another lap around the room.
"Do you want me to stop, Justin? Maybe this is too scary for you."
"Noooo!" is the immediate reply. "Read!"
I shut up and read.
It's delightful for me to have a magical fantasy world I can wholeheartedly enter with my children. I'm not too comfortable with a lot of what passes for "kid culture" these days, but Harry Potter, with its depth, rich characters, and sense of whimsy, is something I can truly embrace.
A few days ago, we finished the second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, reading the final paragraphs just moments before it was time to sit down for a special dinner with friends. Justin, who doesn't usually contribute much to mealtime conversation (except farting and burping noises) started speed-rapping about Harry Potter. "Oh my God! Wasn't that basilisk scary? Did you know that Tom Riddle's name could also spell Lord Voldemort? That was amazing. And then there was this other really amazing part when Harry's down in the Chamber with Tom and the basilisk comes out of the Slytherin statue and starts slithering across the floor toward Harry..."
Our friend Denny, who loves Justin and is wise about children (and who was also hoping for a bit of adult conversation) said, "Justin, do you have any friends who've read Harry Potter?"
Justin smiled. "Yeah, Eric."
"Maybe you should call him and you two could discuss the book." Justin lit up and ran off to get the portable phone. The rest of us beamed at Denny, grateful at having reclaimed the meal from endless talk of Hogwarts and Defense Against the Dark Arts lessons. I told Justin the phone number and he punched it in. A moment later, he asked for Eric, and then suddenly he started talking a mile a minute, pacing maniacally around the living room. "I was so worried about Ginny when she was just lying there on the floor like that in the Chamber. I thought she was dead. And wasn't it awesome when Harry stabbed the diary?"
Justin kept talking, faster and with more animation than I'd ever heard him talk before. It sounded like Eric could barely get a word in edgewise. There'd be a slight break in the conversation, then Justin would launch into another long monologue. "Oh yeah, and what about when Fawkes flew in and attacked the basilisk? Wasn't that rad? And then at the very end when Harry was worried about being the descendent of Salazar Slytherin and Dumbledore showed him that the sword had the name Godric Gryffindor on it! Remember in the first book when Quirrell turned around and he had two faces and one was Voldemort! That was rad! And what about Dobby? I think Dobby is just so funny. And Myrtle, the ghost in the bathroom, she..."
We, grown-ups, enjoying our meal at the table, were cracking up. Justin, who'd never talked on the phone for more than thirty seconds in his life, had turned into a walking, talking machine, his voice quivering with excitement, his sentences punctuated with intense facial expressions and erratic gestures with his free hand.
We continued to eat, and Justin continued to talk. A half-hour later, he was still talking and pacing in circles. It was clear this topic wasn't going to be exhausted any time soon. We grown-ups were leaning back in our chairs, sated, when Justin finally came into the dining room, threw the phone down on the table and said, "I think the batteries died. Can I have something to eat now?"
Laura Davis is a nationally syndicated columnist and the co-author, with Janis Keyser, of Becoming the Parent You Want to Be: A Sourcebook of Strategies for the First Five Years (Broadway Books, 1997). Laura and Janis are currently writing a book for the parents of elementary school children. Laura is the mother of seven-year-old Justin, three-year-old Emily and stepmom to twenty-two year-old Daniel. Out of respect for the privacy of her family members, they are being identified by pseudonyms in this story.