“What are you doing?!?!” my eleven-year-old nephew asked with a laugh as he sauntered into our living room where I was reading to my nine-year-old son, his cousin.
“Reading,” I shrugged, tucking my finger into the book to hold our place on the page.
“But…why?” he asked, still smirking.
“Why not?” shot back my son, raising his head from where it had been resting on my shoulder. He wasn’t feeling well. To keep him from spending the entire day turning his brains to Jell-o in front of the TV while he burned off his fever, I’d suggested that I read to him. He’d readily agreed.
“Because you can do it yourself,” my nephew pointed out to his cousin.
He was right, of course.
My son is a voracious reader. It’s become a family joke that tucking him into bed at night is partly a treasure hunt as we poke around among his nest of pillows and blankets to locate all the books he’s stashed in there.
Three. Four. Sometimes up to six titles at a time he’ll rotate between. The only thing that parallels it is the collection of headlamps hidden to ensure he can continue to see the pages long after lights out. (We’ll skip any descriptions of how his late-night reading hangover makes him scowl mercilessly at his Cheerios in the morning.)
As I thought about it later, my nephew’s offhand question still hung in the air unanswered: why was I still reading to a perfectly capable reader?
And of course, I know the answer: Because it’s what we’ve always done.
Reading out loud to my kids is a habit we’ve never bothered to stop. For my nine-year-old, we started with weekly trips to the library back when he was three. Each time we went, he insisted — without fail — that we check out an oversized copy of Lois Ehlert’s Color Zoo, a cruel and unusual punishment for a diversity-loving book hound like myself. What I craved in variety, he clung to in familiarity.
Color Zoo soon gave way to the rhythm of Dr. Seuss and the lovable mishaps of Curious George. Before long, we were on to Pippi Longstocking and Black Beauty.
There was no planning. There were no strategies or goals. There wasn’t even a checklist or a timer.
Just a simple habit worn into the grooves of our life between the everydayness of spilled milk and dirty socks.
When I welcomed my firstborn into my heart nearly 13 years ago, I was immediately overwhelmed by the avalanche of parenting advice. The sheer volume of information coupled with all the contradicting voices made motherhood seem so… complicated. Rest assured, some parts are indeed tricky and always will be.
But for me, reading aloud with my kids quickly became the simple, straightforward piece of parenting I needed to help me through the not-so-simple parts. Its benefits are uncontested and, better yet, it’s completely foolproof. Just simply opening a book together means you’re excelling.
So I made it a habit to read to my kids, and I don’t intend to quit any time soon. That should provide my nephew with plenty more opportunities to ask “Why?”
And while I didn’t think so at the time, perhaps my son had the best answer after all: Why not?