Uncategorized | October 23, 2015

My young readers, some time ago

By Christina Bramon

A few weeks ago, I blogged about my reading life. I left you, dear reader, when I was young and single in New York City, a halcyon period in my life. In 1998, I married and moved to London. In 2001, I had my first baby.

When it came time to deliver my first child, I packed a novel in my suitcase to take with me to the hospital. It was an Agatha Christie novel—some light reading. I’ll spare you the gory details, but after 44 hours of labor, an emergency c-section, and a baby in intensive care, I discovered I had no interest in reading.

The good news is that my son was absolutely fine and the size of a Christmas turkey. I too was eventually fine although I felt the aftershocks of the event for a long, long time. He’s 14 now and considerably bigger than a turkey. My ten-year-old daughter came into the world in a much gentler fashion than her brother, and I remember resuming reading almost from the very first days, as we shared the silence of late-night feedings on the couch.

But reading as I had known it, a solitary pleasure that I took for granted, became something else entirely with motherhood. Oh sure, I read a lot. I read a lot of baby manuals. I also read to the baby—both babies—from the start. It’s funny how vividly I recall that Goodnight Moon used to sit on the radiator next to the rocking chair in my son’s room. And some of the greatest hits, such as Pat the Bunny, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt can provoke a nostalgic sigh from me and from both kids even today.

We had baskets of books. We had cloth books, books for the bath, books that hooked on the stroller. We had compendia of Curious George, Beatrix Potter, and the blasted Reverend W. Awdry, the prolific author of the Thomas the Tank Engine books, later voiced for British television by Ringo Starr. By the time he was about 18 months old, my son’s favorite game was to stand on the sofa and drop puzzle pieces down the back, solemnly declaiming, “the train plunged down the ravine.”

Of course, babies grow into bigger versions of themselves every day. Suddenly they are learning to read for themselves. That’s a different process for every child, I guess. My son seemed to spend months practicing reading single words with me in the car: “exit,” “stop,” “tiger.” My daughter, in her usual fashion, seemed to study quietly to herself until one day she could just read.

But I always read aloud to them. For a long time, I read to the little one for half an hour before her bedtime and then to the bigger one for half an hour before his bedtime, not to mention at various points throughout the day. Then there was a golden period when they could enjoy, or at least tolerate, the same books before bed. Ramona Quimby was a favorite character, as was Junie B. Jones. Sitting on the porch swing as long as the weather permitted, I read, they listened. In the car, we spent a lot of time with the Smothers Brothers, particularly Aesop’s Fables. (The Smothers Brothers have given us jokes that have stayed with us to this day. It’s not unusual for my daughter to shout in her best Tommy Smothers voice: “MOM ALWAYS LIKED YOU BEST.”)

I don’t recall exactly when each child took over his or her own reading. Probably with the Harry Potter series for my son around the age of eight, and that’s probably about right for my daughter too. And as the children grew older and more autonomous, I got to reclaim some of my own reading life. This was (and still is) usually limited to an hour or so after everyone is in bed. Sometimes I luck out and get an entire airplane trip to myself to read, or a quiet Saturday afternoon.

This summer marked a milestone. While on vacation, my son and I swapped books. I had just finished Station Eleven, which is our local library’s One Read pick, and I handed it over to him to read. He had just finished an Aleksander Hemon novel and he handed that to me. And my daughter and I listened to the audio version of To Kill a Mockingbird together. My children have always been my reading partners in one way or another, and I’ve liked each and every epoch so far. I can’t wait for the next chapter.

Christina Bramon is the Web Editor of The Missouri Review.