I’m a mom. I love being a mom! My daughters are adults now (28 and 23), so it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to hold them in my lap, but that’s one of my sweetest memories: holding my daughters in a rocking chair, especially as I read to them at night.
There was a peacefulness in that pocket of time when they were all bathed and warm and snuggly. This is particularly true with my oldest daughter, because those peaceful pockets of time were often what got me through the rest of my day.
When my oldest was only six weeks old, we learned that my husband had cancer. He was 26. I was still 25. It was a serious cancer, and it had spread. The next six months were full of surgeries and chemo, then there was the recovery time. I lived with the fear that it would come back, that I’d lose him.
He couldn’t take on much of the baby care in those days. His immune system was shot because of the chemo, and we had to be very careful not to expose him to harmful germs. That and the fatigue from treatments kept him from taking on many of the care responsibilities that we’d so looked forward to.
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It was in those days that I depended on reading for respite. I read romance novels to myself and Disney baby books to my daughter. I’d work all day, come home to do the mommy stuff, then I’d sit in the rocking chair with my beautiful little girl and open the brightly colored pages of whichever book that was to become our island that night. I don’t know if she actually got anything out of the books as she was barely able to sit up on her own, but it meant everything to me. And early exposure to books is never a bad thing, even though she was more interested in chewing the corners than finding out what Baby Mickey was having for breakfast. These are precious memories for me.
Time passed, and she got older, and my husband recovered and began reading to her as well. Reading time became less about needing that pocket of escape and more about creating memories for our tiny family. Our daughter developed her favorites (of course), and we’d read them over and over. Phrases from the books became part of our family language—and, all these years later, still are.
Just last weekend, my husband and I were in the van, coming home from a library event. He stopped for gas and went inside to get us a snack.
“Muffins and milk,” I said.
“Mmmmm,” we said together.
Lines from a little book, woven into our family experience.
When our younger daughter came along, we were presented with a different kind of challenge. She’s deaf, and we struggled with how to teach her to read in an educational environment based on phonics.
My husband and I would hold her on our lap and sign each word as we pointed to the words on the page. Later, we “made” books for her to read herself. We’d type out the words on a page and cut and paste (the old-fashioned way, with scissors and glue sticks) a picture of the ASL sign for each word. In that way, she got to enjoy the same books her sister had.
She quickly caught on to reading and caught up with her hearing peers. In the second grade, she wanted to win her grade’s AR (Accelerated Reader) competition. She brought home a paper with the list of books. My husband carried that piece of paper in his pocket for months, until it was nearly falling apart. He took her to libraries and bookstores, hunting the books on that list so she could read them for the points.
By the end of the year, she’d not only won the competition for her grade but the whole school. My husband and I cried like babies when she got that award. Just another lovely book memory that’s become part of the history of us.
Reading to children is one of the most important things a parent can do. It stimulates language development, creativity, the ability to see worlds of imagination. It puts kids ahead of the learning curve for the rest of their schooling—knowing how to read is critical in absorbing nearly everything else education can provide.
But there’s a more fundamental, emotional benefit to reading to your children. It enables you to bond, to build that tiny little relationship into something profound and lasting. It gives your child the spark that becomes independent thought. It gives them the world.
Both of my daughters are avid readers. The oldest reads in Japanese, which I could never do in a million years, and I’m so proud of her that I could bust (I guess you figured that out). What they like to read is very different, and sometimes I don’t understand it all, but hearing them speak about the things that bring them joy brings me joy.
It’s one of the mommy things I did really, really right.
Featured Image: Matt McCarty