As you may have guessed, Lynn Cullen --- the award-winning author of numerous books, most recently the fan-favorite MRS. POE --- is all about books. Although she tends to write sweeping historical fiction, here she shares a story from more recent history about reading to her now-grown kids when they were children. She admits that after a long day, she was often exhausted and not entirely thrilled by the prospect of the bedtime story. It was never a choice, though; reading to her kids was as essential as feeding them dinner, and looking back on it now, she wouldn’t have it any other way. Happy Mother's Day!
I’m all about books. I read them every spare moment I have, which these days is generally only when I’m not writing them. I got my affliction from my dad, who so loved reading that he always kept a Reader’s Digest in the glove-box of the car, on the toilet and in his coat-pocket, so he would never be caught without a story to peruse. My favorite activity as a kid was to ride my bike a couple miles to the library and load a paper grocery sack --- the big size --- with fictionalized biographies of Abe Lincoln, Helen Keller and Daniel Boone, as well as every last book in the Little House on the Prairie series. I’m one of those people who cannot sleep without a nightcap of turning the pages of a novel before bed. Whenever I pass a bookstore, be it in an airport, shopping center or strip mall, I look longingly at all the lovely spines and wonder what I’m missing. I’ll willingly sacrifice gazing at the scenery for reading while riding in a car.
But as addicted as I am to consuming the written word, for a few short years there was time when reading was not quite a complete and utter pleasure. There was a time when I dreaded it almost as much as changing a tire: the years when my kids were small.
Granted, this brief anathema to reading came only at their bedtime. And it increased with the ratio of kids to mom, especially after throwing the birth of three kids in four years into the equation. But after doling out three home-cooked meals a day, plodding along under the weight of kids and their bags of gear to the park, a museum or the library, and then scrubbing three wiggling, chattering monkeys and pinning them down to brush their teeth, I was the one who was cooked.
Yet I never considered the possibility of NOT reading to them. It was almost as if I thought their vulnerable brains might melt without a dose of nutritious reading each day. I knew how important infusing their minds with story construction and ideas and laughter had to be for them. What I didn’t know was how good reading to them would be for me.
Now that my girls are grown, when I look back over their childhoods, what comes back to me most vividly is reading with them each night. I can still smell their damp hair, soap-scented skin, and young breath as they lie in the crook of my arm. I can still feel the delicate wings of their shoulders and the rise and fall of their narrow chests. I can hear their baby voices and the funny construction of phrases unique to each as we talked about the stories. More than the trips, the meals, the baths or anything else, I remember the bond with and the awe for each of these wondrous souls as we turned the pages together.
Now when I read to my grandchildren, I notice my daughters hovering nearby, relieved to give up their duty for a switch but also not quite comfortable with resigning from their usual place behind the book. I understand. These precious moments are finite in their number. But little do my children know that even as I am delighting in their babies, I am savoring, oh, I am savoring, the sweet memory of cradling them.