When I was pregnant, I had one fear (correction: I had many and still do but that’s parenthood, yaaay!): that my baby would not grow up loving books like I do. I know now how naive I was, how innocent and unsuspecting. But at the time, I did as any sane bibliophile would do: propped headphones to my belly to play him audiobooks. Once the little owl was born, I started strong with the book culture. I built him a bookshelf for his room, set aside space for him in the main “library” area of our home, diligently read every night (and day), and so forth. Now that he’s nearly 18 months old, the kid has proven without a doubt that he’s a bona fide bookworm. But such a blessing is not without its perils. Dear reader, be forewarned: if you dare to instill a passion for the written word in your little ones, prepare thyself for the consequences!
Insurmountable Messes Every Single Day
I’m living my own version of Groundhog’s Day: I clean up the impossible mess my son has made after he has gone to sleep, only to have him ransack every single room within moments of waking the next morning. His enchantment with books has only exacerbated this process now. I’ve never made my bookshelves off-limits to him because I want him to know that knowledge and stories will always be accessible to him, he just has to keep growing for them to continue to be within reach. But the books that are within his grasp—his books and my own—can always be found strewn across the ground like petals torn from a flower.
As risky a decision as it may be to give him free rein (since his brutal treatment of my books has been well-documented), I can’t help but find this whole bit adorable. Imagine your toddler dragging over a cushion or drawing up his tiny chair while he flips through some Sandra Boynton, Eric Carle, Innosanto Nagara, or Salina Yoon? One by one picking and choosing the next great read, discarding the less fortunate to the floor. He’s also learned by now that some books are simply more captivating than others, namely those with pictures or colorful covers (as opposed to those boring pictureless novels his mom dares to enjoy). So, he mostly keeps his hands off of the majority of my other books. Though, he has demonstrated a penchant for middle grade novels like Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan. He has tossed that poor thing around so many times. I think he’s drawn to the vibrant orange cover.
Reading Time is All the Time
My parents used to laugh at my staunch adherence to reading to my son every night before sleeping, once he was a few months old. But honestly, how am I supposed to get through all the magnificent books there are in the world if we don’t start early? So it did not take long for him to start turning those board book pages himself. Fast forward a year later, and he cannot seem to turn off the ability to grab and flip through books. Ever.
To be fair, I would love to be able to stop, drop, and read at any moment of the day or night—it definitely sounds more appealing than squeezing in time before going to sleep. But, the kiddo doesn’t just love to read; he wants to read with me. I know, cue the “awwws” because what could be sweeter than that? If ever you’re in need of a healing salve for your soul, have a tiny tot sit in your lap before bedtime with his stuffed animal buddy for the evening, ready for you to read the books he has chosen. I love him more every single night because he’s relentless in his routine, and he wants me to be a part of it.
But then, he also does it first thing in the morning. Babies are the one alarm clock that you Just. Cannot. Snooze. Instead, he toddles out of bed, grabs a book or two or five, and plops them in my lap with a smile that could melt the Grinch’s heart. Who cares if it’s 6:30 am, it’s obviously the perfect time to read. As is when I’m in the shower, brushing my teeth, or cooking. He will slip in between me and the kitchen counter, start shoving me away from it, and raise a book high up with a whine. Let there be no confusion, he wills into my brain, you WILL read to me now, mama. Never mind that I’m trying to get his dinner ready. He has learned far too well that books nourish what even the best Pakistani food cannot—his insatiable curiosity.
Speaking of Mealtimes
Mealtimes are their own perilous pursuits these days. The addition of reading raises the level of this already grubby experience by a few notches. However, the child will not be denied his books, and it is times like these that I am so grateful he gravitates to his board books. They are so much easier to wipe clean.
Of course I cannot blame the tyke for his interest in reading while eating, and I won’t besmirch him this trait either. First of all, if it keeps him calmer and a bit more focused, than I’m all for it. So what if he needs to rub his greasy hands through Mustache Baby again and again? As long as he’s happy enough to keep feeding himself or accept bites from me, he can smear all the gobbledygook he likes. Secondly, I’m certain this trait came directly from me rather than something he even needed to learn. I’ve been toting books around to the dinner table, restaurants, parties, appointments, everywhere you can think of, since I was a child. I’ve probably been the cause of an unholy number of sullied books myself. The apple does not fall far from the tree; he’s checking out behaviors straight from my library. I’ll just have to own up to this messy consequence.
The Danger of Too Much Cuteness
The messes, the inopportune reading times, even the greasy grimy books that need constant disinfecting, they can add to the clock tower of stress ticking away without recompense. But most of the time I have to hold myself back from laughing at the way he scooches back onto a seat to read, or chooses a different stuffed animal every night to be his reading buddy. So much laughter, so many smiles, it’s starting to hurt my jaw. And in his own way, my son has found new and improved methods to enchant and hypnotize me. I’m a busy woman, I have ambitions, goals, hopes, and dreams, but I won’t get anything done if I only want to stop and watch how he marvels with every turn of the page. Or join him in the twenty-third reading session of the day at 2 pm.
I can’t help it if it’s so much fun to hear him sound out words, recognize pictures, and display obvious preferences for stories. I’ll just have to stay on this perilous journey with the reading toddler, and hope he continues to take long naps in the day. That’s my only hope.