I’ve read to my son since he was an infant. In his earliest days, my husband and I would take turns reading James and the Giant Peach to him while he nursed. Bookshelves that once held my Diana Gabaldon collection and volumes of poetry now groan under the weight of The Hungry Caterpillar, The Unruly Queen, and Captain Underpants. Books have accompanied us through a thousand bedtimes and taken us on adventures possible only in our imaginations.
In his early years, my son relied on me for his access to books. Eager as he was for new stories, he couldn’t yet read and didn’t have a library card or a wallet. Only I could check out books from the library or buy them at the store, and once we were back home he needed me to make the pages come to life.
Things began to change when he started school. My previously illiterate child can now read simple sentences. The school librarian encourages him to pick out his own reading material. He and his friends talk about characters they wish they could meet. Soon, he’ll be able to get lost in a book completely on his own.
It’s tempting to see this as liberation and turn my attention to the stack of half-finished novels on my nightstand. I won’t though, and here’s why — I’ve been here before.
When I first met my stepson, he was nine, and didn’t need anyone to read to him. I was new in his life and was looking for a way to connect. I thought books might be the answer. I asked my local bookstore for recommendations and bought a few. I offered them to him casually, one at a time, and waited to see what he chose. Then, even more casually, I’d read them too.
Sometimes, I’d steal a book from his room after he went to sleep and read until I caught up to wherever he had stopped for the day. I borrowed other books from the library or downloaded them on my tablet. I had only two goals — to know what book he was reading and to try not to fall behind. In the morning, I’d ask him about the chapter he’d just finished. We started wagering about what would happen next.
We read The Scatterbrained Magician’s Assistant series and then watched the movie together. We devoured the Percy Jackson adventures, and then moved on to a book of Greek myths. The Hunger Games books guided us through dystopia and discussions of the Roman Empire. We read fantasy and science fiction and mysteries. Then, miraculously, he started recommending books to me.
Reading with my oldest, rather than to him, was an incredible opportunity. It gave us a connection through his teens, when kids often start to pull away. It started conversations about history and relationships and literature that we may not have otherwise had. It gave me a window into what he was thinking and feeling. I also fell in love with books I would have otherwise ignored. I’m grateful.
It’s a tradition I plan to continue with my youngest. I’m eager to see what we read together and what I’ll learn about him — and from him. That stack on my nightstand will just have to wait.