As soon as he was aware we began sitting together and reading through stories together.
His favorite for the first few years of his life was Time For Bed, by Mem Fox:
“It’s time for bed little mouse, little mouse. Darkness is falling all through the house.”
We all knew it by heart after reading it three or four or seventeen times each night.
Then came Putt-Putt and The Bean Boy as he grew a little older. And then the Little House books, The Chronicles of Narnia, the Animorphs series, Harry Potter and then Percy Jackson and the Olympians.
There were many things in Zeb’s early life that I would rush through and forget to relish, but reading was never one of them.
Perhaps it was because of the memories I have with my mom, cuddling in bed together, her melodic voice telling the story as my eyes followed along the page or dreamily imagined the scenes she described or finally became too heavy to stay open.
She’d probably say my memory is pretty forgiving, but it didn’t seem to matter how busy she was or tired she was; there seemed to always be time for reading together, even if it was only a chapter.
And so whenever Zeb asked for a story or seven, I knew just how important it was to curl up next to him, to create those memories, to say yes as many times as I could.
And then one more time, for good measure.
Now, at 12, he’s spent many months not being interested in cuddling up together and being read to. And as much as I enjoy seeing him grow and change, a part of me was still a little sad at what I thought was the closing of a tradition.
I mean, I knew it would happen. I knew there would be a day when he moved onto other things in his life. But it still felt bittersweet, ya know?
So a few weeks ago, after a hilarious night of Uno playing, when he asked if I wanted to start reading Percy Jackson again my heart smiled as it melted.
One, two, five chapters…we still read until the eyelids get heavy (mine now, instead of his). We read until I begin to see words that aren’t even on the page. We read as we travel down the road, and we take breaks from our individual tasks to read together during the day.
And it’s only now that I see the real value of it.
You see, when he was a baby I read to him in hopes of creating a love of reading. I read to him because it was educational. I read to him because it seemed like the thing a mom should do.
But looking back over the last 12 years I’ve found that reading together had less to do with learning to read, or learning to love reading. It had little to do with teaching him how to read on his own.
In fact, it had very little to do with books at all.
Looking back over the last 12 years I can see that the books were just a tool to the real benefit of reading together: the time we spent with our heads on the same pillow, the discussions we had as the plot twisted or turned, surprised us or irritated us, the sense of connection that comes from simply being next to one another, sharing a common thought.
We create those bigger and more important lessons and experiences with more than just books. We do it with games, or movies or video games, too.
We, as parents, do it every time we prioritize our kids and what they ask us to do with them over our long day or our big tasks.
Maybe he’ll “outgrow” our tradition again some time. Maybe he never really will.
But since I’m never sure when “just one more chapter” will be our last together, I’ll keep my head rested upon his as he rests his upon my shoulder. I’ll keep brushing down his curly hair so that I can see the page.
And I’ll keep relishing in these simple moments, that are always so much bigger than I sometimes remember they are.