A Treasure to Impart
She and I laid on the floor, a pink, soft blanket lying underneath us, as I held up MaryAnn Cusimano's You Are My I Love You, reading the words gently as her newborn eyes gazed at the pictures and then at the wall and then at my warm body right next to hers.
I started reading to my children from the very beginning, before I was even able to feel her stir in my womb or feel the angles of her body jutting up against my body from the inside. I started reading to them when the only proof of their existence was a pulsing dot on a screen and a stomach full of upset for myself.
Why did I begin reading so early? Prior to becoming a mother, I taught developmental college English. This was English for students who didn't test high enough to take the traditional college writing courses. I learned early on that the one thing all of these students had in common was that they hated reading—every word!—and at all times. They had all failed to discover the magic behind the printed word.
This was not going to happen to my children, I decided. I was going to teach my children to love God, to love their neighbor, and to love books.
That was what seems like many years ago. I look back at the beginning from here—the couch on which I sit—with my four daughters crowded onto the it. The youngest often will still jump around a bit, but in general, these are the days I dreamed of complete with wintery weather outside and tea filling our cups.
What was it like? What was it like arriving at this cozy place, gathered together, reading? There have been countless iterations of our reading times between those first days with Baby laid on the blanket beside me until now, with older kids able to take over the reading if my voice should start to fail.
After our first glory days of reading started to fall away, as my oldest learned to first crawl and then to walk and finally to jump and then run all over the place, our story times frequently dissolved into chaos. At times, they would even end in tears. Mine. I was so tired and overwhelmed and I just wanted to enjoy a simple story. Instead of peace, the girls exuberantly wanted to hit me over the head with a book.
I’d try to read a chapter book to an older child, as a younger sibling tried to pull my hair or her sister’s hair. How about the time the little one had the potty accident right in the middle of the floor?
Hardly the idyll I’d imagined at the beginning, but I am pretty sure it will not end in children who abhor the written word either.
In fact, somewhere along the way, I stopped being afraid that our daughters wouldn’t love books. I no longer fear they’ll fail to capture the magic of the written word. Stacks of books make my daughters just about as happy as they make me! Now, I can see that I started reading so early not just because I feared they’d miss the treasure of words, but because I had a treasure to impart. I knew they needed words, stories, books, and novels as a kind of nourishment. Reading, since the in utero days, is part of the way I nurture my children; reading is part of my mothering. Reading-as-mothering means I look at what I have to give and what my child needs.
Developing our children into children who love books requires us to meet them at their level and read books that appeal to the delights of their current age and stage and whimsy. You probably know this. The challenge for me is the adaptability it requires. But choosing fitting and wonderful books is a forgiving process. I observe and notice. I try a book here and a book there, watching and taking note of what delights them.
Finding good books for our children helps us learn who our children are at their very core. It helps us first develop and then explore and finally cement our relationships with them. It can become part of their fabric and core of our lives. The stories we read become part of the story we tell about who we are.
Amanda Knapp is a wife, mother, writer, knitter, and reader of books. She earned her BA from Marquette University and her MA in English from Northern Illinois University. She credits reading and writing with helping her remember who she was after many years in the trenches with toddlers and infants. She currently spends almost all of her time homeschooling her four daughters and chronicling her thoughts on her website and Instagram page. Check her out--she would love to say "hi!".