One Mother's Day a few years ago was unremarkable until I climbed into bed. On my pillow lay letters from each of my three teenagers. One contained vignettes of childhood memories; another, simple statements of appreciation for my parenting; and the third, gratitude for qualities expressed in our home.
It was the best gift ever! I read and reread each, and as I did, I was impressed that all three children took time to say how important our family reading-aloud time had been to them.
My husband and I both loved books, and all of my education courses in college emphasized the importance of reading aloud to children. But it was more than that. It was a family passion.
We came by our love of books naturally. Both of us had parents who were avid readers. I can remember my mother reading aloud to my older brother and me long after we were able to read for ourselves. I think "Winnie the Pooh" was our favorite.
I was delighted to introduce the children to the treasures of our neighborhood library as soon as they were able to walk. Each week we would come home with our red wagon full of riches - stacks of children's books and records. It was a joy, but I longed for reading time of my own. On one of our visits to the library, I could not resist checking out a novel for myself: "Ivanhoe" by Sir Walter Scott. I had never read it, and I convinced myself that surely there would be a way to fit some reading time into my days.
That evening when the children were in bed, I stood in front of mounds of clean laundry and ironing, while "Ivanhoe" rested tantalizingly on my pillow. My husband had spent a full and demanding day at work, and he was ready to relax. When he spotted the book, his face lit up.
"Hey, this is great," he said, grinning. "I haven't read this in years." Then he settled down to enjoy it. I was crestfallen, and apparently my stunned silence was enough to draw him out of the book. When he realized the cause of my frustration, he offered to read aloud.
We laughed until tears ran down our faces as the rotund friar shared his meager store of hard, dried peas with the disguised King Richard.
Later, we stayed up late to get past the scariest sections of Ludlum and Follet intrigues. And once we regaled each other with the exploits of Kim as we took turns driving a rental van full of all our earthly belongings 3,000 miles to our new home.
The children were well aware of the pleasure my husband and I took in reading aloud to each other each evening after they went to bed. When he was about 5, our oldest son climbed out of bed and stalked down the hall to inform us indignantly, "I can hardly wait until I'm big. Then I can stay up late and read and laugh."
Family read-aloud sessions grew in scope as the children got bigger. We always read aloud before bedtime, but sometimes the books were so involving we had to set aside additional blocks of time. This family activity did more than simply communicate a love of books. It provided us with shared adventures and memories, and a set of common experiences.
Now that the kids are in college, books continue to provide them with windows to worlds outside their own. And when we come together, somehow we always find a little time to share some reading aloud.
Marci Elyse Williams, mother of three, lives and reads in Kirkland, Wash.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society