Whether we’re tired, it’s late, or someone has stomped up the stairs and slammed the door in a very bad mood, every night I read to each of my kids. Even when my daughter melts down because she can’t get the toothpaste on or my son gets a second wind and bounces on his bed like a super ball on a linoleum floor, it’s just our ritual.
Often it is the part of our busy day I look forward to most, one on one. For ten to twenty minutes, it’s just the two of us, curled up and lost in a story. Sometimes I read longer, wanting to see what happens next just as much as my child does.
This has always been our bedtime routine, and I plan to do it as long as they will let me. Many years ago I read that it’s important to read to your children long after they know how to read themselves. High school I think. It sounds crazy, but even at that age, hearing someone read with passion benefits them.
I’ve read to my kids since they were babies. My son read to his sister the day she came home from the hospital because I told him that was a big brother’s important role. Now he listens as she reads to him and helps her with words she can’t pronounce.
When my son was less than two years old, he made us read the same book to him like a CD stuck on repeat. I would beg him to pick another book. As soon as the last word was read, he’d say, “Again,” and I wanted to cry. But when he was able to speak well, he squeezed between the couch and end table and “read” those books to himself. He memorized every word of every book. I had no idea that’s what he was doing.
When my kids learned their letters and letter sounds, I taught them to read. Seeing my kids read their very first sentence was cooler than the first goal, the first pop fly, the first bike ride without training wheels. Reading is the foundation for their whole lifetime of learning, and there we sat, cheering at each word formed, shock that it had happened. No teacher could take that glory from us. It was our moment.
Many times the kids writhed in agony and yanked at their hair as words became harder, and I clenched my fists to keep myself from doing it. But we pulled through and they read to themselves often.
And now, every night, I am theirs and they are mine. We laughed till we cried when Greg’s dog licked itself, then slathered kisses on his dad’s face in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days. We ponder the mystery of the intruder in Nathaniel Fludd. I itch to tell my son whether Snape is friend or foe in the Harry Potter books. And we learn about life through the decades thanks to the American Girl series. Afterward, my kids talk to me about their day, spill their problems, or give me an extra-long hug.
I have taken our reading away as punishment in times of desperation, knowing they still have their father’s turn to look forward to, but the kids are so fond of this time together and it breaks my heart too. I’ve learned to find other consequences.
I know there will come a day when my kids will end their nights with phone calls, studying, or more important things. But I hope it will still include me, even if our stories don’t come from a book.
I’ve been reading The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma about a daughter and father who promised to read every night for 100 nights, then 1,000, and then kept going until she left for college. They began in fourth grade. If I read to my son every night until he leaves for college, by my count, we’ll have read more than 3,000 nights. My daughter, more than 4,000. We do skip when someone is sick or if the grandparents are in town. To me, it’s not about the contest; it’s the bond that matters. No matter what kind of day we’ve had, I’m still there. That’s the moral I hope my kids take away from our story.