I’m Nearing the End of Bedtime Reading with My Daughter and It’s Breaking My Heart

by Tom Burns

Photo credit: Phil Fisk, Cultura/ Getty Images

My daughter is ten.

In my mind, ten still feels like a kid. Sure, it’s double-digits — I get that’s a big deal for a kid — but it’s young enough that I’m hesitant to even use the word “preteen” yet.

I guess I thought I’d have more time.

I’m not saying my daughter is a fully mature, autonomous adult yet. She’s still afraid of bees and still looks like she’s going to cry every time I raise my voice, but I can feel it. I can feel time creeping up on us. And lately it’s been hitting me in an unexpected location.

Bedtime reading.

From the earliest days of my daughter’s life, I would read to her when it was time to go to sleep.

I might start with a lullaby — usually “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” or “Blue Shadows on the Trail” — but eventually it would end up with me just reading to her. I liked talking to her. I liked the idea that my voice might be soothing to her. So I’d grab books off her shelf and, even when she was a baby, I’d read to her about hungry caterpillars, chocolate factories, and terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad days.

It was our nightly tradition and we loved it. I was super permissive with the number of books we’d read each night, we’d crack each other up doing voices when we read. She liked the attention. I got smug parental satisfaction from how verbal my kid was at a young age. (“It must be all the reading!”)

It was a good system.

But we’re getting older. And our bedtime reading tradition is starting to show signs of that age, which, frankly, I hate.

Her books are getting more complex. In the old days, we’d knock out a few picture books or maybe a couple of Encyclopedia Brown stories before bed and we’d be golden. But her literary tastes have expanded so drastically now.

She and my wife spent MONTHS reading the Harry Potter series together at bedtime (which made me insanely jealous), and, once they were done, my daughter just had a thirst for more. She wanted bigger, longer, more meaningful books, which … is spectacular.

BUT they also test her patience. If we read one of her YA books together now, it can take weeks or months for us to get through them at bedtime. The immediate thrill of a quick bedtime yarn is gone, so we either fall back to an old picture book for laughs or we press on ahead, which has caused us to stop several promising books mid-read because, frankly, she was getting tired of it.

Also, her tastes have changed. My kid now proudly tells anyone “I’m really into dystopias.” She loves dark post-apocalyptic tales, but is still enough of a kid that she doesn’t like reading them at bedtime. (They give her nightmares.)

Plus, and this is unfair, but she’s getting bigger. In the old days, it was fine that my hulking frame took up 90% of her twin bed, but now she needs more room and we struggle to both fit onto the bed, which makes our long, dystopian bedtime reads even more awkward.

I’m not willing to give up on bedtime reading yet, and neither is my daughter. I once tried to bring up the subject of not reading anymore and she shot it down immediately. But, even as she protested, I could see it in her eyes. The fear that our reading tradition might be on its last legs.

Which, if I’m being honest, breaks my heart.

This isn’t to say that I’m willing to give it up without a fight, but I’m also not going to try to force something that doesn’t feel right.

My daughter is a reader. She’s a helluva reader. Did I mention that her team came in first in her school’s Battle of the Books tournament this year? If I haven’t, I’m surprised because I am INSANELY proud of that fact.

I don’t think I need to worry about my daughter not reading anymore. It’s part of her DNA. She loves books. Apparently, all of that late-night reading to a barely responsive infant paid off.

And, hopefully, I don’t have to worry about her aging out of our relationship either. Lately, she seems more inclined to skip reading and, instead, engage me in long, involved bedtime conversations. About her day and her opinions and her anxieties. And I love those talks. I love them as much as anything I’ve ever done with her.

But, still, it doesn’t mean that I can’t mourn the approaching end of our bedtime literary salon. Our private time to explore new worlds, marvel at amazing illustrations, and tell each other stories with hand motions and silly voices and every emotion we can muster.

Bedtime reading was how I became a father. It was one of the most vital ways that I first forged a relationship with my daughter and introduced her to the big weird scary world.

I know I have a finite number of times left where we curl up under her covers and I get to say, “Now where did we leave off…,” but, no matter what happens — if I have 5 more nights or 500 nights — I will cherish those fierce, fleeting moments for the rest of my life.

And I’ll let her read her dystopian paranormal romance by herself and I’ll read my ironic British sci-fi comedy by myself and I will force us to discuss them like CRAZY over breakfast the next morning.

Because she’s not getting off that easy. If I’m going to lose our oldest reading tradition thanks to the onslaught of time, by God, I will start another the very next day. Because some things are worth fighting for, and reading is one of them.