I’ve always been a reader. The March sisters of Little Women were like childhood friends. Bridge to Terabithia enthralled me and broke my heart. Analyzing the themes and symbolism of Lord of the Flies instilled a growing confidence in my intelligence. I pulled an all-nighter with Dolores from Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone because I couldn’t start studying for my college finals until I finished reading her journey. As a high school English teacher, winning over some of my reluctant readers with The Perks of Being a Wallflower will always be one of my proudest achievements.
And so, when I became a mother, there was one thing I knew amidst the overwhelming amount of things I didn’t know: my children would be readers. And, as luck and love (and some perseverance on my part) would have it, they are. My greatest joy as a mother is reading and sharing stories with my kids.
It began with the perseverance. I read to my firstborn while he was still in the womb, poring over all the classic picture books I’d been given at my baby shower. But once he arrived, my wiggly son had other plans, like crawling and playing. His main interest in those beautiful board books was transforming them into teething toys. Not to be defeated, I changed course. And while my son delightedly ate his first finger foods tucked securely into his high chair at lunchtime, I read to him, my captive audience. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and Little Blue Truck and each and every Sandra Boynton book we could get our hands on became his mealtime serenades.
As he grew older, we graduated to the living room floor or the couch as our preferred reading spots. My son discovered his toddler favorites; our copies of Go, Dog, Go! and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie were put to good – no, great – use. We found Jane Yolen’s How Does a Dinosaur…. series and devoured it. My reading lap grew smaller and smaller as my belly, now pregnant with my daughter, grew larger and larger. Knowing my 2-year-old son would sit with me for an unprecedented 1 or 2 hours if we had enough new stories to explore, I took a dozen books out of the library a week. We developed a love for story anthologies, collections of Berenstain Bears stories or Disney stories. Inspired by his favorite shows, I found books about Thomas the Train, Curious George, and Bob the Builder. Spread out on a blanket in our yard, we passed that hot, pregnant summer with our favorite characters.
My daughter loved reading from day one. Really, she had no choice. Her brother, now 3, was an avid reader by this point. He’d snuggle up next to me with each bottle I fed her, and together we’d read and show his sister the pictures. She had her own favorites soon enough: Brown Bear, Brown Bear and Kevin Henkes’ Birds.
Now they’ve reached the ages of preschooler and toddler. There is bickering over Legos and train tracks and favorite toys. But the moments that reassure me that their siblinghood will blossom, that they really do love each other – those come to me when we’re reading. Sitting on the couch with my son on one side of me and my daughter on the other, my heart is full as we read our current favorites – anything Toy Story, High Five by Adam Rubin, The Cat in the Hat. But the best – THE BEST – parts of my days now are when, mid-dusting or tidying up, I stumble upon the two of them sitting snuggled together, my son “reading” to my daughter from the books he has memorized: the Elephant & Piggie series by Mo Willems, Steam Train, Dream Train by Sherri Duskey Rinker.
Each night, as I read bedtime stories to one of my children while overhearing my husband reading bedtime stories to the other in the next room, I appreciate the calm that reading brings upon our house at twilight. No matter what happened earlier that day, bedtime stories are a sacred time of peace and reassurance that, at the very least, we’re doing this one thing right. As my children rub their heavy eyes and yawn through these last books of the day, I look forward to where our reading adventures will take us in the coming years – to the worlds of Harry Potter or Percy Jackson. Maybe even a visit with the March sisters. Or an invitation to cross that bridge into Terabithia.