I’ve got a read-aloud problem. It infringes on my time and restricts me to the library, the bookstore, and of course, the couch.
I’m gaining weight. I don’t frolic enough in the park with my dog. And my read-aloud problem makes it nearly impossible to cook healthy meals that actually follow recipes. It’s grab and go for me.
My read-aloud problem is my 6-year-old son, Michael. He begins his campaign when he wakes, saying he won’t go to school until I read him a book. If it’s a weekend, he insists on beginning the day with a visit to the bookstore or library so I can read aloud to him.
After we read in bed on school mornings, he loads about three dozen Scooby-Doo books into a bag and lugs them to school.
“The kids want to see my books on the playground,” he says. “When you pick me up, can you read ‘Scooby-Doo and The Case of the Angry Alligator’ on the jungle gym to me and my friends?”
My read-aloud problem is a big fan of multi-tasking. That means he wants me to multi-task. I can’t simply walk the dog. Instead, the dog chases me around the kitchen while I'm reading aloud about Sludge’s adventures in ‘Nate the Great.’
Dinner? I heat up some mac-and-cheese with one hand while the other hand presses “Henry and Mudge” against my face. If I’m not reading aloud—while working, cooking and exercising the dog—I’m negotiating about reading.
“If you take me to the bookstore and get two books, I’ll eat six grapes,” says Michael. Or, “If we can take five books out of the library today, I’ll clean up the living room while you read me ‘The Berenstain Bears and the the Bad Habit.’”
I worry that Michael doesn’t spend enough time riding bicycles and playing soccer, like the other kids his age. I’m concerned that kids will call him a nerd. And I worry that he lives in a fantasy world dominated by a Great Dane and a stoner who dress up like French chefs and mermaids.
But the truth is, my read-aloud problem has its upside.
First of all, Michael and I have lots to talk about. After we read a book comes Michael’s review. He loves to provide analysis and context. “Did you ever notice that Nate’s mom is in every Nate the Great book because Nate writes her letters, but we never meet her?” he asks.
What’s more, in the process of talking about books, Michael invariably makes friends. At a bookstore, for example, he often strikes up conversations with random fathers about the books he’s reading. “Did you know that Shaggy gets trapped in ‘Scooby-Doo and The Case of the Fishy Phantom?’ he might ask. “That’s pretty unusual.” From there, Michael and the dad will discuss who is the true leader of the Scooby-Doo gang and play Scooby-Doo trivia. His friend-making continues on the way out the door.
“I give ‘Walter the Farting Dog’ 25 stars,” he says, climbing up onto the counter and pressing the book into the check-out person’s face.
In truth, the biggest benefit to reading aloud is for me: Reading aloud allows me to escape the digital world. I confess, every day I spend too much time checking my iPhone for emails, texts and calls, a habit that often leaves me feeling like I chopped up my day, my focus, and my happiness into a million pieces of useless information.
But every day, for more than a few precious moments, I embrace the luxury of snuggling on the couch, in the library or on the playground with Michael, and immersing myself in the slow, time-stopping beauty of reading. Whether we’re reading about Henry and Mudge jumping in puddles, Scooby and Shaggy posing as mermaids, or Nate the Great digging up clues, I ignore my iPhone, connect with my son and enjoy more than a few laughs.
As for getting exercise, Michael has developed a plan. “How about we run a few times around the block while you read to me?” he says.