Raising Readers

My children are pod people. Do I date myself when I use that reference? Body Snatchers was a really bad movie released in 1993. It’s the third remake based on a book called The Body Snatchers, written in 1955. Basically, it’s about an alien race that aims to take over our planet by creating exact replicas of us, except the replicas have no emotion. It is a reference I use all the time when referring to the fact that my children can completely change their personalities from one day to the next. I am told this is normal child development, but I am reserving judgment. It is still possible I am raising aliens.

Have you heard of the term “grok”? It is from a 1961 book by Robert Heinlein called Stranger in a Strange Land. It means to understand something, but on a deeper level. The alien did it by putting things in his mouth. I use it to indicate some kind of symbiosis with an idea or a person. My closest friends and I “grok” each other. We do not always communicate with words; we just know what the other would do or say. I will admit, I have been known to be a bit snobbish and use someone’s knowledge of the term to decide whether we can be friends. If you get my random (often, but not always) science fiction references, we’re good. I use references to literature so often, I usually don’t even notice until someone looks at me funny.

Like most pregnant women, I had dreams and hopes and fears for my unborn children as my belly grew. Would they be artists or engineers? (Turns out, both.) Would they be easygoing or strong-willed? Would thy be picky eaters? After all the angst and wondering, I finally boiled my belly wishes down to a couple important things: (1) Please be kind; and (2) please be readers. I could work with anything else—just please, PLEASE give me those two things. I did not care whether they were short or tall, fat or skinny, gay or straight, intelligent or average, had an extra toe or purple polka-dotted skin. I would love my kids no matter what. But if they weren’t readers, it was going to be very hard. I don’t know how to relate to people who don’t read.

I am an only child. Books were my world during my childhood. In talking to other only children, it seems I was not alone in that. Books were my escape when life was hard. I was also overweight, socially awkward, and a bit weird. Books were my safe place until I could find other weirdos like me. They were my dreams of a future reality. They continue to comfort, shield, and allow me to escape reality to this day. Even as an adult, when I have a rough day, a good book will soothe my soul more than anything (yes, even chocolate or wine). Knowing how much being an avid reader has made me who I am, I wanted my kids to have that same opportunity. Plus, I think readers are more interesting than non-readers. 

Of course, once my little bundles of joy arrived, we got caught up in the day-to-day chaos that is twin babies. There was no quiet bedtime reading of beloved stories; no snuggles and looking at picture books. There were a lot of books around, for sure. But, those mostly got chewed on, bent, and otherwise played with. Indestructible books (word-free picture books made of a untearable fabric) and board books with bright pictures were our best friends. I worried that I wasn’t reading to them enough when they were little, but it’s very hard to read to a creature who is far more interested in chewing on the pages than looking at the pictures. They didn’t appear to care about all the amazing worlds I was trying to open up to them. Far more interesting were the giant boxes that their diapers came in. 

Then, finally, something clicked. Somewhere around the time the kids started talking, we were able to get some breathing room. Our bedtime routine got more stable: bath, books, and some music to fall asleep to. We have a short couch in their bedroom, and evening snuggles on the couch became regular. Enter classics like Goodnight Moon and new loves like Usbourne’s Lift and Look books. Eventually, the kids started to pick books by the covers they liked. We discovered Pinkalicious and Pete the Cat. They still left most selection to Mom and Dad. We found The Paper Bag Princess and Dragons Love Tacos based on friends’ recommendations.

My children started to bargain with me nightly: “Could we read ten books tonight?” Haha! No. But it was a good strategy on my daughter’s part. We usually settle somewhere around five. And one of them usually weasels another one (or two) books out of me. They take books to bed. 

When my son was four, I watched him turn the pages of his train book and talk to himself about all the parts of the trains and where in the world they go. He went carefully page by page, front to back, then back to front. Then he closed the book decisively, set it down next to his bed, and settled in to sleep. A week later, I videotaped my daughter “reading” The B Book to me in the bathroom one morning while I got ready for work. I immediately sent it to my parents so they could see her read the very same book I first learned to read. 

The kids have fantastic pre-K teachers who have introduced letters and beginner words, and now we have honest-to-goodness readers. I can’t have a conversation with my daughter while wearing a shirt with any words on it. I find myself saying, “My eyes are up here!” more than I have since my early twenties. My son fills every minute in the car with a running commentary on the signs and billboards we are passing. And this spring, we got with Girl Scout Troop #300 to host a Little Free Library in our neighborhood. My kids happily went through their books to donate some, and they check the Library every day when we get home to see which books have gone and which new books have been added. We have to limit bedtime reading, or the bedtime routine would run for an hour.

These are the things that bring tears to my eyes. When my kids decided they wanted library cards, I had a hard time not dancing of joy. You can take your soccer stars and dance divas. My kids are readers, and I am so relieved I can hardly breathe.

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