Under Pressure: Reading Harry Potter to My Kids
This past summer, when the final Harry Potter book came out, I decided to read the whole series to my kids. When I told them I was going to do this, my nine-year-old daughter shrugged her approval—my six-year-old son wanted nothing to do with it. He announced that he would not be joining us, that he “hated” Harry Potter, that the story was “stupid,” even admitting all the while that he had never experienced a word of it.
And so I started reading Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone to my daughter, with my son in the other room occasionally announcing to us that he was not listening; then asking every once in a while to remind him who a certain character was; then crawling up onto the bed with us; then protesting with his sister, loudly, when it was time to stop reading for the night. These kids were totally into the book!
By the time I read the final chapters of Sorcerer’s Stone, my kids were leaning forward on the bed, eyes like saucers, staring at me so closely, it was like they were trying to analyze whether I might one day get skin cancer. And something occurred to me:
Man, this is some serious pressure!
The entire outcome of the story, though it already has been written by J.K. Rowling, was now in my hands! What if I stumbled over Rowling’s difficult-to-read-aloud wordplay? What if I pronounced somebody’s name wrong just when the stuff was hitting the fan? What if—what if I started laughing?
That’s actually what I did. My kids looked so ridiculous, to be honest, staring at me like that; so cute! But they weren’t looking at me. My face was merely the movie screen on which the images in their mind played out; my voice was merely the voices of the characters. In short, I had never seen them look at me that way before. So I started laughing from all the crazy pressure.
“Why are you laughing?” they asked, confused. We were not in a funny part of the novel.
I gathered myself; I pulled down my cheeks to force them into a frown. Do not smile! Do not laugh! That will ruin everything!
Then, near the very end of the book, a character that is close to Harry does something for him that is very nice, something that really drives the point home that Harry is an orphan, that he’s alone in this world, but that he’s not alone because everyone looking out for him.
See, the problem was, I had read ahead in the series. I knew this sad, touching moment was coming. And looking at my kids’ faces, I knew how it would affect them. And so I had a new problem: call me a big sissy, but instead of laughing during the reading, I had to fight back tears.
Man, I thought, wiping at my eyes, this is some serious pressure!
When we finished, my daughter said to my son, “Did you see? Dad was crying.”
Fast forward to very recently: we were coming up on the ending of the second novel in the series, Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets.
I thought, “Hey, I need to relieve this mounting pressure I feel to read the climax just right. I’ll take the kids to the park, and we’ll be outside, which will distract me and help me perform a solid reading of the material.”
So we went to the park and settled on a sloping, grassy hill. The sky was blue. The whole thing was very serene—for a short time.
For some reason, when you are reading to your children on a hill in a park, this seems to be an invitation for people to come up to you and be annoying. Throughout the reading of the final chapters of the book, while my daughter occasionally tore grass out of the ground and tossed it, casually, onto my face, we had to deal with:
1) A family that decided to sit down nearby, including two bullying brothers who seemed to believe they could fight with each other more effectively if they were standing right next to us;
2) A father who decided to camp his family right behind us on the hill, pull out a grass-surfboard thing and yank his kids down the hill, one at a time, right by us, screaming the whole way;
3) A work-out dude who decided that, of all the places on the large hill, it would be a good idea to run sprints, uphill, right by us, so that we could be treated to his sweaty, scrunched-up face and his heavy breathing every two minutes or so;
4) Two mothers of small children who decided to sit down near us and talk VERY LOUDLY and laugh IN A VERY SHRILL WAY, so that I had to raise my voice for my own kids to hear me.
Didn’t everybody understand that we were trying to finish the second Harry Potter book? Didn’t they comprehend the importance of this?
Finally, I said to no one in particular, “What the hell is going on here?”
Was this some sort of funny hidden-camera show, where they take the nice, quiet Reading Family and throw all kinds of crazy obstacles at them?
I looked around. I stood. I tried to convince my kids that we should go someplace else.
“No! What? We have to finish the book!” they said.
“And you don’t mind doing it here?” I said, and my stress on the final word indicated that “here” was Crazy-Town.
“No, we like it here!”
They hadn’t noticed a thing about our surroundings. I sat down and began reading again.
Soon, the annoying people cleared out. We were left alone with the dramatic, plot-twisting, and very satisfying conclusion to Chamber of Secrets. And I was left with my kids staring at me, wide-eyed, hanging on every word.
Man, it was some serious pressure!