Dinner finished, dishes washed, pajamas on. Depending on the season, the snow may be falling softly in the trees behind our home, or the sun may be setting at Lake Michigan a few miles away. We find ourselves nearing bedtime, looking forward to what may be the most important and rewarding part of our day.
It’s time for Reading Party.
It started when my son was five, and just beginning to string sentences together out loud. He moved to chapter books with pictures, comics, and now series that are many hundreds of pages in length. At nine, it is not an exaggeration to state that he reads more books than me. He is one of the most voracious readers I know.
When we started this time together, we would squeeze in to the same chair with Aidan’s book, and spend all the time needed to finish working through it. He would stumble over unfamiliar words, look at me with questioning eyes when he didn’t understand something and display an obvious surge of pride when words came with fluidity. I called it Reading Party as a way to show my enthusiasm at his budding ability to read and discover the bliss that is written word.
Over time reading aloud gradually turned to silence, as he became more comfortable without my constant support. However, he still desired my presence, so I was able to delight in bringing my own current read to the party.
It didn’t occur to me at the time that we were creating a ritual. But after one particularly busy evening we went through the bedtime routine and I asked him to get into his bed, he turned to me, bewildered, “Uh, Mom? Did you forget about Reading Party?!”
It was then I realized our connection at the end of the day was a significant one. Sometimes we would do it up, with wood crackling in the fireplace and a bowl of shared popcorn between us. Other times, teeth were already brushed, we were both tired, and reading was just a nightcap to a full day.
My boy has outgrown our ability to share a chair, so now we prop up pillows and pile on blankets in his bed for our time. We’ve long graduated from the days of Aidan learning to read, and now use this space for questions, reading humorous passages aloud to each other and looking up the meaning of an unknown word together. And of course, reading our own books. It serves as an occasion for us to snuggle; it is a time he can count on his mother’s undivided attention.
As he’s gotten older, he’s flown through favored series – all of Rick Riordian’s books, the Inheritance Cycle, the Harry Potter series. He is sometimes skeptical of a standalone or collection he hasn’t heard of, so we’ve instituted the two-chapter try. I can pick out any book I think he might like at the library, and we have an agreement that he will read the first two chapters. At that point, he’s free to say it’s not for him, though he often finds himself absorbed in his new read.
It’s through this trial method that he’s found Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet and The Indian in the Cupboard.
There is no magic recipe for Reading Party. We’ve simply made it a priority to do it every single night. It is easy to neglect carving out time for this type of ritual, as our evenings can seemingly be swallowed up by meals to be made, eaten and cleaned up, soccer practice, laundry, homework, exercise, preparation for the next day and any other number of things that a family might find themselves doing at night.
Some nights we begin earlier than others, and afford ourselves the luxury of lingering in worlds not our own. Other nights we are more tightly bound to the clock, and can barely get twenty minutes in before it’s light’s out. But we will now sacrifice other things if we have to for this window of time.
As any parent knows, sometimes the days seem long, but the years are precious and short. I can hardly believe it’s been four years (nearly half of Aidan’s life) since we started this little thing called Reading Party. What we’ve built is a tradition my son will carry with him. There will come a time in the future when it will be natural for my son to move on, and live on his own. I take comfort and joy in knowing that his days will almost certainly end with peace, relaxation and intention. Even if I can no longer hear his soft breath, his sweet laughter and the sound of his book pages turning, I will know wherever he is, he has Reading Party.
Photo credit: Kendall Guillemette