Lit­tle baby book­worm

Maryland Independent - - Classified -

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.

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