Little baby bookworm
Iwant to raise a reader, but I thought I was raising an eater. Before this week, my son’s interest in books was limited to seeking the tastiest corner to bite. He would not focus, he did not seem interested — except to slobber on the edges. Though frustrated, I knew Oliver was just in a mouthy phase. It would pass.
As a lifelong bookworm who believes in the importance of reading to children, I have been persistent. According to KidsHealth. org, reading to babies teaches them about communication; helps build listening, memory and vocabulary skills; introduces concepts like letters, colors, shapes and numbers; and gives them information about the world.
“Believe it or not, by the time babies reach their first birthday, they will have learned all the sounds needed to speak their native language,” writes KidsHealth. org. “The more stories you read aloud, the more words your child will be exposed to and the better he or she will be able to talk.”
Plus? It’s fun — and fosters closeness and connection. When my son was in the NICU, I took great pleasure in reading to him: one of the few “normal” activities we could do. His nurses encouraged my husband and me to read aloud and talk with him, as Oliver already knew the sound of our voices. It was comforting.
I selected his first story with care: Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” a childhood favorite with beautiful illustrations. After settling by one of the few sunny windows in the NICU, I spoke each word carefully. I read the story several times until Oliver, swaddled and surrounded with cords, fell asleep in my arms.
I’ve shared many books with my son since then — and always with the same excitement. My parents are both enthusiastic readers, and my sister and I developed a love of everything from Laura Ingalls Wilder to R.L. Stine. Some of my favorite memories are of wandering Crown Books with my dad and sister, then spending whole summer days with “Julie of the Wolves” and “Walk Two Moons.”
Because books matter so much to me, I started quietly building a children’s library years ago. I collected beloved books I worried would be out-of-print before I could share them with a future kid, storing them all in a corner of my bookcase.
That child would be Oliver, and Ollie likes to bite.
We have grappled. We have wrestled. I have had to trap my son with one arm while fighting to extend a book in front of us, trying — and failing — to keep his attention with Dr. Seuss. He squirms and squirms.
Wanting to start a tradition, Spencer and I tried reading him a nightly story — but he is often too fussy in the evenings to focus. Oliver will look at board books, but now that he’s rolling himself around? There’s too much else to distract him. The world is his toy box.
But a funny thing happened on Tuesday. After months of Ollie swatting books away and chomping on their spines, I think we’re starting a new chapter (pun intended).
We were clearing dinner with Oliver on the floor nearby, the generous spoils of his birthday party scattered around. Despite my good intentions, we haven’t cleaned up from last weekend’s party. Drooping streamers and deflated balloons mix with toys, stuffed animals and books in the living room.
As I was preparing to do dishes, I noticed my son scooting forward with arms outstretched. He was concentrating so hard, fixated and intent, that I assumed he was reaching for his dancing robot — or something hazardous and breakable, of course. (He’s fond of kicking his feet against the glass doors of the television stand, so.)
Ollie finally got where he wanted to go — and that’s when I saw it: the flash of a pastel cover. The thick, splayed pages of a book.
“Oh, he’s going to bite it,” I thought, a dirty plate suspended in mid-air.
But he didn’t. Sitting with a touch-and-feel farm story, Ollie examined the cover. He opened it, gingerly touching a patch of sheepdog “fur.” He was holding a book — because he wanted to.
My son was “reading,” just as I’d showed him.
As parents, I guess we never stop wondering if we’re getting through — if anything we’re doing and saying makes an impression.
But every now and then, the clouds of uncertainty part long enough for sunlight to leak through. Watching my son clumsily but persistently turn each page, I thought I heard a chorus of literary angels singing.
And then I ran to take the book from his mouth, narrowly saving it from becoming an evening snack. Again.
Ah, well — progress is progress. Libraries aren’t built in a day.