This is a guest post from Steph Auteri. Steph is a freelance writer and editor who has overshared in Brain, Child, Mamalode, Virginia Quarterly Review, Ploughshares, and other bastions of fine writing. She is also the Senior Writer / Editor for the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT), and blogs about motherhood for mom.me. You can learn more at stephauteri.com. Follow her on Twitter @stephauteri.
When my one-year-old daughter and I hang out on her play mat together, I am gratified to see that she reaches for her books just as often as she reaches for her pink VTech Touch and Swipe Baby Phone. She flips carefully through the books in her small pile, turning pages back and forth, stabbing a pointer finger at this picture or that and, finally, she holds a book out to me, her face upturned, her eyes huge and beautiful and pleading.
“Thank you,” I say as I slide Chicka Chicka Boom Boom from her grasp and pat my lap. She crawls over, plants her tiny hands on one thigh, and begins to climb me. I pull her into the space between my crossed legs, pull her back against my chest, feel our breaths sync up, and turn to the first page.
“Chicka Chicka Boom Boom!” I whisper into her ear, and she smiles, recognizing the words from her favorite book.
Then we go through the entire alphabet, the whole saga, the coconut tree, the stubbed toes, and the loose teeth. I bounce her with every “boom boom” and, when the alphabet falls out of the tree, I fling us both backward, our legs bicycling frantically in the air as she laughs.
At this point, I have the whole thing memorized.
I’ve had it memorized for months.
Later, after my husband and I have given her a bath, pulled on her pajamas, combed her hair, brushed her teeth, and placed her in her crib—after we have turned on her Sleep Sheep and sprinted away—I crawl into my own bed with a book.
Something with more than one sentence per page. Something without those thick, glossy, colorful pages and rhyming couplets. Something like Jon Krakauer’s Missoula or Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction or Megan Abbott’s The Fever or Courtney Maum’s I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You.
I read Lorrie Moore’s Bark because it takes me back to my college days, when I was doing personal essay and short story workshops at Emerson and reading snippets of Self-Help. I read Melissa Febos’s Whip Smart because I want to study its structure as I work on my own, somewhat similar book manuscript. I read Rebecca Barry’s Recipes for a Beautiful Life because I think her sentences are gorgeous and her voice inspires me and all of it, all of these books, make me want to write.
I tell my husband I don’t want to watch TV. I tell him he can watch all of our usual shows without me. There are so many books to be read and, these days, with a one-year-old, there is so little time.
While he binge watches Mad Men in the back room, his legs stretched out on our L-shaped couch and one hand stuffed into a party-sized bag of Cheetos, I am upstairs, back propped up against a pile of pillows, nose in a book while my three cats eyeball me.
I read until my eyes burn and then I reluctantly (very reluctantly) place a bookmark between the pages, set the book on the nightstand, turn off my bedside lamp, and close my eyes.
I also read in the bathroom. I read when I wake up to pee in the middle of the night. I read every single one of the five billion times I have to pee during the day because I am a coffee addict with a tiny bladder. I read when I am drying my hair, because I would rather get a few more pages in than have the perfect bob. I even have what I refer to as “bathroom books.” One in the upstairs bathroom and one in the main floor bathroom. They are tucked into magazine racks alongside literary magazines and Athleta catalogs.
I also read while on line. At the post office. At the supermarket. At the mall. I read in the five minutes I have on my yoga mat before class begins, and I know that yoga is supposed to teach me that it is okay to be in the moment, that I shouldn’t need distractions from the moment, that I should just be still and breathe, but I want my moment—each moment—to be filled with beautifully spun together words that I can mouth silently as I read in order to feel them on my tongue.
It is amazing how much reading one can get done in the smallest, stapled-together moments throughout the day. (I once finished a re-read of Stephen King’s The Stand in just a few months, while peeing and brushing my teeth and swishing ACT around my mouth.)
And then, throughout the day, when my daughter is awake, we read Baby Faces Peekaboo! and How Do I Love You? Before her bedtime, we read Snuggle Puppy and The Little Blue Truck and The Paper Bag Princess.
We read and I am so happy every time she asks me to read something again. To read something else.
Because as simple as these books are, I know that she is learning to love words as much as I do.