by Melanie Heuiser Hill
Our first-born turned eighteen this week. This prompted many trips down memory lane about his childhood, as he is now an “adult.” I was rather tickled to realize that so many of our family memories have to do with books—all the cool books we’ve read, the cool places we read them in, and the times we’ve read when the other parenting protocols didn’t quite seem to fit. (When in doubt, read together, I say. It will surely never make things worse, and almost always improves the situation in some way.)
Gone are the days when I read a book aloud to him. I know there are families who do this through the high school years and even beyond. I admire this very much, but we haven’t. Formally, at least. I can’t remember exactly when we stopped—reading aloud time was probably extended for him because he has a much younger sibling. Even now he sometimes “listens in” as we read to her. But I struggle to pinpoint when we stopped curling up on the couch together before bedtime to read. Probably when the homework took over his life.
What has changed is the preposition. We no longer read to the man-child, but rather with him. This happens in a couple of different ways. He tends to read many of the same news articles, profiles, and human-interest stories that I do. This is, as I see it, one of the best things to come from technology in our mother-son relationship—we both have easy access to the New York Times, The Atlantic, The New Yorker etc. In another time, these might not have been lying around in the living room for serendipitous reading. He also zones in on the same science and technology news, as well as the same fantasy or detective novels, as his Dad.
Each person might read these shared interest reading materials at different times, but when two or more have read the same thing, there is often conversation at supper, discussion as stalling/procrastination technique (he hasn’t outgrown all the little-boy behaviors), or sharing ideas in the car.
We’ve also started sharing books more frequently. We gave him Quiet: The Power of Introverts In a World That Just Can’t Stop Talking for Christmas. He inhaled it and pressed it into my hands with a “You have to read this!” The audiobook came in for me at the library and I am now listening to it as I commute. “Mom, have you gotten to the part about…..?” he asks again and again.
He looks on the living room bookshelf and notices a battered copy of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. “Hey, we’re reading that next in English,” he says. And so I re-read the book I haven’t read since I was his age, in freshman English class. When he read The Great Gatsby, I said, “And now you must read The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian.”
We read and discuss banned books together, share booklists and articles, and read and attend Shakespeare plays together. We often find that our bookshelves are not as personal as they once were—they’re more familial. If I can’t find a certain book in my office, I head to his room and see if it is on his shelves, or to his sister’s shelves and see if it is there. They share quite a lot now, too, so a book search can sometimes take a while.
He’s a reader, which I feel a little proud about and a lot relieved. All of those hours and hours and hours of reading to him have led to very enjoyable teen years of reading with him. I hope this will continue as he grows into adulthood. I had no idea when we started that reading was the gift that would keep on giving. I know the two don’t always correlate, but I’m awfully glad they have in our house.