I started reading to my son almost as soon as he was born. He had his ritual of bedtime stories, his favourite little books that accompanied us to every doctor’s visit, every boring waiting room, every administrative Spanish office where you might as well pitch a tent while you wait for something to happen. As he got older it became more about the sound the letters make than the actual story, and the first time he stayed up all night reading my heart just swelled with pride. Now that, I thought to myself with a smile, is my son. He keeps telling me I should write down all those stories that I used to make up for him, especially the ones with Cake Ghost and Sausage Ghost.
He’s a little old for bedtime stories now, but when it comes to Danish books (he’s bilingual in English and Danish) he still likes to revert to our old ritual of taking it in turns to read a chapter aloud. He’s struggling a little when it comes to finding Danish books he really enjoys. The one we read tonight is a translation of The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett and Jory John, one I picked up by chance during my last visit to the library. I didn’t exactly go during working hours, I had a meeting close by which finished early and well … it was the library! How could I not go in? My mother said, ‘What were you doing in that part of town?’ That’s what I get for showing her how Find My Friends works.
Sometimes bedtime goes a little out the window, like tonight. Instead of going back to whatever Percy Jackson story he is currently immersed he, he kept asking to read just one more chapter. And then just one more. I’ve never been good at saying no to that. Tonight the book was so hilarious and there were just so many interesting facts about cows (no seriously, read it) to learn.
As our children grow up we start to cling a little more to the little people they once were. When my son takes my hand on the street because it’s cold or he’s not feeling well, I wonder if it’s the last time he’ll do that. When we sit and read together, I wonder if it’s our last book. Because of course he will grow up, read his own books, not want to be the weirdo kid still holding hands with his mum. But when he goes out into the world, reading his own books, writing his own stories, I hope he’ll remember all those times we sat together, reading a chapter each aloud. I hope one day he’ll sit like that with his own children and say, ‘This was one I read with my mother when I was your age.’
Opening up the world of books to our children is one of the greatest gifts we can give them. But I think we should also listen to them talk about what they’ve read and help them understand it. That’s how we can guide them, teach them to be empathetic and understanding, teach them about emotions, reactions and how people behave. For better or worse. Right now in school they’re reading The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. I can’t bear to read it because I know how it ends. But if he can do it, I can, too. And next time he gets upset about what he reads, like last week when I heard a cry of, ‘No no no!’ coming from his bedroom because he worked out that they were in Auschwitz, he’ll have someone to talk to about it.
And when we need some light relief after that, we’ll find more books about cows. Or write a story of our own.