Still Reading to My Daughter…For Now

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC

My younger daughter, Miya, poked her head out of the bathroom before taking her evening shower. “Mom?”

I looked up from my laptop to her face which held an unusual mixture of eagerness, curiosity, and concern.

“Are you ever going to stop reading to me?”

******

Her question, like the look on her face, held so much meaning for me. Twelve years of books. Twelve years of connection. In sum, her childhood.

Of course, I’ve known for a long time that I wouldn’t read to this girl forever. But I’ve continued, often neglecting other things and letting her stay up past her bedtime.

She has given no signals to stop. I had thought by now, she would have. As she has grown from infant to tween, we’ve run the gamut from board books to picture books to middle grade books to younger YA books.

******

Her question came a week ago, the evening after her second day of middle school. Of course. That made sense! She had had half of her classes on the first day and the other half on the second day. She had caught a glimpse of her new life.

Her first two days of middle school went very well, bringing her (and me) relief and excitement. But being in a school with 600 other preteens and teens…well, she felt it: she’s no longer a little kid. And her school workload is increasing.

******

Are you ever going to stop reading to me? I wasn’t quite sure what to say. I let a couple seconds tick by.

“I hope not. I hope you’ll never get too busy with schoolwork that we won’t find the time.” I decided to leave out the part about hoping I’ll never get too busy, either (even though I feel I already am, but…).

“Yeah, that’d be sad. It suddenly occurred to me that you might have to stop one day.” And then her face brightened. “If I get too busy, we could just sit together and I could read my [school] book and you could read your book. And you’ll finally get to read adult books again.” (Ha! I do manage once in a blue moon to read adult books, but in the end, I’d still chose kids’ books.)

“Yeahhh,” I said with a sigh. “That would work.” I smiled.

She smiled back, satisfied with our long-range plan. And then she closed the bathroom door.

******

I was glad that she didn’t seem to think it uncool for her mom to still be reading to her. I was glad that she still wanted to spend her last moments of each day with me. I was glad that she loved stories so much.

I knew that this was not a signal to stop, but rather a signal to continue. Yay!

Yet I also felt a tinge of sadness, a little sense of loss. She was highlighting the inevitable next chapter; we would come to a point in our story when she’d read beside me instead of with me (which in and of itself, would still be a great deal).

******

Miya and me in Wilmington, NC, in June 2008 on a family vacation

I’ve been reading to Miya nearly every night since she was born, except for the nights when we’ve been out of town (but sometimes, even then). We’ve read in hotel rooms, on my bed, on her bed, on her floor, in her forts… I’ve read half-asleep, struggling not to stumble over words. As she’s gotten older, she’s read to me when I’ve been too tired or I’ve had a headache.

We’ve relished this shared experience. For so many reasons. Some feel beyond words.

If I were granted a do-over as a mom, I’d do some things differently. But not this one.

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I started reading to Miya for the joy of snuggling together with books and with the hope that she’d fall in love with them.

As a reading specialist, I was also aware that kids (including older kids) benefit when books beyond their independent reading level are read aloud. I have felt very lucky for the ways that she’s gained as a reader, writer, and student.

But somewhere along the way, the heart of why I continued to read aloud shifted. It became more about what she’s gained as a person. And what we’ve gained in our relationship.

Together we’ve grown with and learned from characters. We’ve laughed a lot. And shed some tears. Many of the characters – and the stories themselves — have ended up feeling like our mutual friends.

And isn’t it comforting to know that even when we don’t see our friends, they’re still there?

******

A few weeks ago, the white supremacists came to my adopted town, Charlottesville, VA, for a “Unite the Right” riot. Like most of the world, I watched in horror.

How do you explain this display of hate and racism to a child? Happening in her hometown, the only place she’s ever called home? A place where she’s been privileged to feel relatively safe?

As an Asian American girl, she’s encountered microaggressions. She lives in a household where we talk about issues of race and racism (and other -isms). But this was a whole new level of discussion.

After James Alex Fields Jr. crashed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others, I sat down with Miya at the kitchen table. When I mentioned the KKK, a look of recognition crossed her face. And she did what she sometimes does during life events and situations, happy or sad: she brought up a book that we had shared.

“I first heard about the KKK in Gone Crazy in Alabama.” This is the third book in Rita Williams-Garcia’s heartwarming trilogy filled with African American history. We had read it two years prior.

I exhaled. I felt grateful that she had given me a path to discuss the horrendous events occurring just miles down the road. And I felt grateful to Rita Williams-Garcia for having given my daughter a historical context to work from and characters to care about.

I felt as if the story were holding our hands.

During that difficult discussion, I felt a keen sense of gratitude to all children’s book authors who send out stories that allow kids to learn about people and places beyond their own little corner of the world. As Kate DiCamillo, one of Miya and my favorite authors, says, “Stories Connect Us.” And these stories nurture empathy.

******

So when will I stop reading to her? I don’t know.

I do know that as long as she wants it and makes the time, I’ll make the time. Even if it becomes one or two pages a night instead of one or two (or three) chapters a night. Last night, I realized that I hadn’t made this part of the plan crystal clear, so I did. Just in case. She said that she already knew.

And then I joked, “Oh, I’ll be that crazy mom FaceTiming you when you’re in college. ‘Hi, Miya! I’m here to read you a bedtime story.’”

She laughed, knowing that I was kidding, that even her book-loving mom has limits (I think I do, anyway).

Then something in her face told me that she realized what I’d assumed she already knew: I’ve gained as much as she has from our time together.

Whenever Miya decides…for whatever reason…to move on…I’ll feel very lucky to have had this privilege: two people holding onto one book and each other while navigating this beautiful, messy thing called Life.

Miya and me on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, VA, in June 2017 after her last day of elementary school

Until we meet again,

Amy

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