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On Reading to Kids Who Don't Need It Anymore

alec vanderboom

My husband reads to all five of our kids before bed every night. We have a little Cape Cod house. Once you climb up the stairs to the second floor there is one big bedroom for the 3 little girls, and one tiny bedroom for the pre-teens, a small bathroom, and an even smaller central hallway nook. My husband parks a folding chair in the central hallway and reads to the kids in both bedrooms.

The process is a little chaotic. For some reason, the 7 year old and 4 year old fall asleep easily. Yet the 10 year old and 2 year old fight off sleep valiantly. My husband figured out that he has to get a book that is good, but not too good, because then the story line will encourage everyone to stay fully awake until the end of the chapter. "Origami Yoda," while a great favorite, was deemed 'too funny' for bedtime. Curiously, "The Hobbit" was not.

The bedtime reading, along with bedtime tooth brushing, and bed time rosary, is completely my husband's domain. I'm so tired from pregnancy, I don't usually even climb the stairs at bedtime. Sometimes, on the really bad days, my bedtime is 7:30 PM. On those nights, my kids reverse the process. Many of them will come in and chat, and kiss me goodnight inside my own first floor bedroom.

Lately, it's really gotten to me that every single book my 11 year old daughter and 7 year old daughter love is a Sci-Fi book. That is my husband's genre. It's great that there are some really cool female heroines in Hunger Games and Divergent. I've accepted the 'ship has sailed' in terms of ever getting my girls to love my favorite Children's Book, "Little Women". Yet I want them to discover that there are great books out there beyond the Sci-Fi category.

Last night, I asked my husband if we could start reading John Greene's "The Fault in Our Stars." This was my favorite read this past summer. I choose it primarily for my 11 year old, who started weeping (happily) next to me while we watched the movie "If I Stay" on Tuesday. "The Fault in Our Stars" is about the romance between two teenagers with cancer. The book is really, really funny. The writing is great. There is something lovely about an adult author who still 'gets' how teenagers think, feel, joke and love which so rare in the world.

I started reading the book to my kids last night. I said another gratitude prayer to my husband. Although I've subbed for him while reading, I didn't really get how frustrating it is to read a book that I love and want to share with my kids while they are so distracted and talkative at night. Somehow the hook of the story line finally got to my older kids. My 11 year old loved it instantly. I was surprised how much my 10 year old loved it too--I had kind of classified it as a 'girl book' in my own head.

My older kids kept interrupting my reading to talk about the characters of the book. They are getting ready to enter into adolescence themselves. I was surprised at how well they had thought out future issues like driving, and dating, and finding a true best friend.

I keep forgetting about the amazing power of reading. Art is beautiful for its own sake. Art also provokes conversation. It's an amazing feeling to read a book together, or listen to a song together, or watch a movie together, with a kid who is getting ready to be a teenager. There is a different element of intimacy that comes about when both of you are looking at a distant object at the same time.

I'm really grateful for a chance to read books to my kids who don't need me to read books to them at night anymore. I was a reader who read alone in her room at bedroom at night, as soon as she passed the 2nd grade. I feel like I'm blessed to have a parcel of kids in my home to remind me that reading doesn't have to be a solitary activity anymore. Reading forms a community. How beautiful is it to have a community of art lovers within my own home?