My three-year-old, Lilah, promises me several times a day, “I’ll always be your baby.” I believe her. I’ve read Love You Forever; I know that when she’s 37 I’ll still be crawling across the floor to her at night.
My five-year-old, Benjamin, recently told me that, of course, I’d be able to take care of his kids when he grows up. After all, we’ll be living in the same house. I believe him, too; he will take pity on me in my dotage and bring me into his home. That kid walks with his heart first.
I’m reluctant to let them grow up and away from me, but I know it’ll happen and I appreciate their sweet reassurances. But it wasn’t until I read the opening chapters of The Reading Promise, by Alice Ozma, that I realized the most heartrending truth of all: someday, maybe someday soon, they will stop allowing me to read to them.
Here was the passage that made me go cold, right there on page 3: “My sister was in fourth grade when she said she no longer wanted my father to read to her. It seemed childish to her, especially since she was already reading novels on her own.”
I read this passage while sitting on seven-year-old Zachary’s bed. He was next to me, reading The 39 Clues, his latest series. He spends hours a day alone reading these books if he can, but every night after I’ve read to the other two kids, I read him a chapter from wherever he is in the book. Then I go get whichever book I’m reading and sit next to him on his bed, reading side-by-side.
We need this time together desperately. Zachary is a very cerebral child (in case you missed that). I am a very cerebral adult (in case you missed that, too). We’re not snuggly, cuddly folks. In fact, if I put my arm around him while I’m reading, he always moves away in a couple of minutes. But the reading together? That brings us together, connects us. I read to all three children, and they’re all very into books, but it’s core to my relationship with my eldest. Books are what we do.
So, when I read those sentences on page three, I almost stopped breathing. Then I interrupted his reading – a sin of the highest form. “You’ll always let me read to you, right?”
“Of course,” he said, not looking up from his book.
Over the next week, I read about Alice Ozma – named for two of her school-librarian father’s favorite characters – and her dad, who promised each other they’d read together every night until she went to college. I read about her dad’s discomfort with physical affection and how for years the only time they touched was during reading. I read about his commitment to her, and how he embarrassed her, and how dedicated he was. It’s a beautifully simple, elegantly crafted book, and it would be humiliating to me as a writer that Ozma can write like that at twenty-two if I didn’t admire her so much.
I finished the book tonight, sitting next to Zachary on his bed. As he read his 39 Clues, he tilted his head and brought it to rest on my shoulder, the first time he has ever done this. For tonight, and I hope for many more years to come, we have books to bring us together.