Like you, I’m a busy person. I have five children. They play musical instruments. They take classes. They have friends. They go to school. They need clothing, and it unfortunately needs to be clean. I have an extended family that needs love and attention. I’m actively involved in the community and in my church. My husband has a job that requires my help, and it also requires a lot of traveling for him. I’m trying to make a career for myself as a writer of children’s books, which means I have to write at least a little bit every day. It also means I get to occasionally edit books for other writers who need help like I do.
Today, around two o’clock, my four-year-old crawled into my lap. I was simultaneously reading a friend’s work and trying to work on my own novel. At two forty-five, I would have to leave to begin picking kids up from school. The house was messy. We have house guests at the moment, and dinner needed preparing. Laundry needed to be moved over (and I needed to figure out which baskets I’d already washed), and on and on and on.
“Is it time to read books yet?” my four-year-old said, putting my face between her hands. Seven years ago, when my oldest was four, my answer to that question would have been, unequivocally, yes. Back then, I probably read to my oldest children, two, even three hours a day. This was easy for me because I love to read aloud, and I love children’s books.
It’s not easy any more. I have so much to do all the time. But Flannery’s my youngest, and I only have so much time left with her at home, so I agreed and pulled some shorties and a few longies off the shelf. We read the short books first, so she felt like she’d read “a lot” of books. Then we hit the longer ones.
We started with this,
Heckedy Peg, by Audrey Wood.
Flannery’s eyes grew wide as the witch came to the children’s door. She shook her head and looked at me, meaning, “No way, Mom. No way should those children answer that door. She snuggled close when the children were turned into food—telling me that she would like to turn into cookie dough pudding. We made faces, we laughed, we snuggled, and the bond between us grew. I don’t have a lot of time for this kind of one on one bonding, not as much as I did when I just had one or two children, none of whom were in school and involved in a million activities. When life was simpler.
Reading packs a bonding punch. Reading with your child is quality time on steroids. It builds brains cells, both theirs and yours. It generates creative thoughts, both theirs and yours. It teaches everyone oral language skills and reading skills and writing skills and and a plain old love of learning. It allows for essential physical contact in the form of a snuggle. You get to know your child when you read books to them. You understand what kinds of stories they love, what questions they have about the world, what makes them laugh, what makes them sad. What bores them. You can help them find their passions, their interests, their desires, especially if you continue to read to them even after they can read to themselves.
The other day I was driving home from somewhere, and the thought occurred to me that I could die tomorrow. I do not mean this lightly. My father died when I was young, so the possibility of death is very real to me. I asked myself what I would do today if I knew I would die tomorrow. It didn’t take long for peace to flood over me. I knew what I would do. I would go home and snuggle my children in groups of ones and twos and threes. I would hug them and tell them I loved them, and we would read our favorite stories together. We would talk about them, and while talking about these stories we would talk about our lives. They would know what was important to me, and I would know what was important to them, and we would know we were important to each other.
And that is why we should read to our children every day: so that we all know how important we are to one another.