Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Between the Pages

Last night, I was shopping at Target for a few things. You know how it is: you go in looking for toothpaste and emerge with picture frames, dog food, and a garden hose, only to return home and remember that you forgot the toothpaste. Anyway, this trip was actually focused, but before I headed to the checkout line, I happened to notice some children's books on an end display, and that got me thinking back to a time just a few years ago when I might have added one of those books to my shopping cart. I have two grown daughters, and it doesn't seem that long ago that I read to them at bedtime.

Reading to kids at bedtime is something that has been part of our culture for generations. Those of you who are parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, or just have contact with children know that they truly look forward to bedtime stories. That "read me a story" entreaty is a very real thing, and it benefits everyone: I remember many otherwise rough days that were made immeasurably better by the time I spent reading to Sarah and Hannah. Some nights, I remember being so tired, leading me to pick a shorter, more familiar book. Other nights, we would explore something more complicated, on the order of Rudyard Kipling's "Just So Stories." Often, the girls would have questions about what we had read together, and that could spur some great late night discussions, not to mention moments of hilarity. Nothing could top the lessons they learned from "Henry's Awful Mistake," where Henry the Duck insisted on battling a pesky ant and in the process, flooded his house. Even when you're a duck, that's a mess.

We had our favorites, and the kids knew the stories so well that they adopted and modified some of the lines, which eventually became part of our family vernacular. "Can you help hammer? Yes, sure can!" was Sarah's abbreviated version of a longer phrase, and before too long, my wife Karen and I found ourselves saying it to each other when we needed help doing chores around the house.

There was really no way to tell which books would be a hit -- certain titles just rose to the top. The copy of "Pat the Bunny" that we had for Sarah became worn to such an extent that the bunny was literally falling apart, but fortunately, we received a replacement as a gift before Hannah was born. Henry the Duck tried to squash the ant, then later took a trip out West in another book, and we followed him every inch of the way. Anatole the Mouse rode his bicycle through the streets of Paris and sneaked into a cheese factory, where he critiqued all the cheeses by placing tags on each. Farmer Wood found that if his farm got too far out of hand, his animals would take over and make all the needed repairs.

Last night at Target, all this came back to me while perusing those shelves of children's books. Every generation, parenting experts recommend new ways to raise children, but I hope that reading at bedtime is one of those practices that never goes out of fashion, because the benefits extend far beyond those formative years. Our girls are both avid readers whose language skills are called into practice almost every day of their lives, and I'm happy that Karen and I were part of developing that. But perhaps just as important is the immense satisfaction that comes from reading to children, the leveling effect it has on one's own day, and the lasting memories of good times spent together.

As a matter of fact, it's been quite a while since I've read the Henry the Duck stories. I think I might need a little refresher tonight when I hit the hay.