“Read to Your Child”

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Summer of 2007

As a teacher, I have my summers off.
To be more specific, my last day of work was June 15th and my next day will be August 15th (not including one college class I taught Tuesdays and Thursday evenings for six weeks). I will have had eight and a half weeks off. What a gift! What a blessing for my family!
This summer I have been incredibly blessed to have had plenty of time to spend lazy afternoons with my baby daughter, Julia. This – and only this – has allowed me to get to know her moods, her body language, her hunger signs, hints of fatigue, etc. I have changed many diapers, and for the past three weeks I have been in charge of the late morning and early afternoon feedings. I have shared many laughs with my daughter and endured many temper tantrums. Only time could have purchased this understanding of my daughter. I have had the time.
My grandfather – and to a lesser extent, my father – would never have spent so much time being essentially an assistant mommy. I am quite sure, in fact, my grandfather never changed a diaper in his life. (He had four children.) “This,” my father informs me, “was the way it was: the sex roles were very clearly defined.” (My grandfather was born in 1898.) I was born in the days when fathers were banned from the delivery room when their children came into the world, and my father would not want it any differently: no way he is going to watch a baby crown and see all the blood and hear the screaming. “I am happy waiting in the cellar of the hospital for the end result,” my father says. On the other hand, I would be highly offended and aggrieved to be ejected from the delivery room: I would sue if kept away from witnessing and participating in the birth of my daughter. As I was present at her conception, I want to be there as she births. Watching my daughter emerge from the womb was one of the best moments of my life so far. It was pure magic: like watching the sun come up.
So sex roles can change from generation to generation.
But I also think that, if you really want your child to obey and listen to you, there has to be that intense familiarity. I have seen some children whose very busy and very affluent parents saw them relatively seldom, and they were basically raised by a Guatemalan nanny or some other paid surrogate. This is dangerous tactic, for later in life I have seen such children reject their parents. Their parents are almost like strangers. “Who are you to tell me what I can and can’t do? Where were you when I was seven? On another business trip – that’s where!” The kid has a point. Maybe the health of the family required fewer business trips and less annual income and more time and attention invested between parents and children.
So when Julia questions where I am coming from as a parent, she will know it was myself and her mother who changed her dirty diapers, took her to soccer practice, taught her to ride a bike, wiped her mouth after rice pudding feedings, attended back to school night, held her at night after bad dreams, and read to her from earliest infancy. Julia is our daughter; it is our job. Others will help and we will gladly accept their help, but it is our responsibility. It is our daughter. No passing the buck.
Yes, Julia will learn how to read first from her parents, and only secondarily from her teachers.
But here I have encountered a difficulty. Iit is strange to read out loud to a four month old child, and I have discovered I am not good at it. I take in hand the children’s classic “Goodnight Moon” and read it in two minutes flat. Our baby paid not one iota of attention to me or the book. My wife showed me how you have to stop at each page and point things out to the baby and engage her attentions that way. Even though an English teacher, I am no good at reading in that fashion. So I have let me wife read to little Julia, and I await the time when she can actually understand English. It seems silly to read otherwise. Luckily, my wife is an elementary school teacher and she excels in the hyper-enthusiastic baby voice, the point and direct mode of picture books and babies. “Look at the red fire truck over here!” It just feels silly. (I can pick up the slack when Julia gets older.)
But they claim that just hearing the parent’s voice and sensing the rhythm and cadence of the written word is beneficial for infants. By being “bathed” in the human language, they learn as if by osmosis. This makes sense. And Julia’s ability to appreciate language and skillfully manage it ranks up there with as one of the highest priorities in our parenting. I began to re-think my attitude about not reading to Julia. Rhythm and cadence are huge in human language, and I would want Julia imbibing it in large doses along with mother’s milk, if I could at all help it.
So I have a new policy. Maria can continue to read “Goodbye Moon” and “Where Is Baby’s Belly Button?” with Julia, and I will read John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” Line after line of iambic pentameter will do just the trick for cadence and rhythm. What fun! “Paradise Lost” is about the closest we get in melodic English to chanting Homer’s “Iliad” in the original Greek around a camp fire in the third century BC.
So between my wife and I we should cover all the bases, the yin and yang of family reading that should result in balance, happiness, and success.
How blessed we are in having the time, money, and desire to raise our daughter (hopefully) well. How lucky we are to have a healthy and happy baby – hardly a day passes when my wife and I don’t tell each other this, and mean it!

“What in me is dark
Illumin, what is low raise and support;
That to the highth of this great Argument
I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justifie the wayes of God to men.”

One Comment

  • Kandi

    Julia is going to know all the traditional literature when she enters kindergarten. pretty soon she will be telling you how much she loves Jefferson too. But no worries, your an excellent father. No doubts about that!