I don’t read to my babies.

When Bub was born, I immediately started reading him books of all sorts. I read aloud from my own books while he was nursing. I read board books, novels, and picture books. I’ve read to him almost every day of his life. In his first year, he heard Dr. Seuss, Tolkien, Beatrix Potter, E.B. White, John Klassen, and maybe even a little Jane Austen. One day I pulled out every children’s book we owned and tried reading through them one by one. I read because I loved books. I read because I knew the importance of reading to language development. I read because I knew it was a powerful bonding experience for parent and child. I would spend as much time as possible reading with my baby, and surely would with all my babies!

It’s never too early for The Lord of the Rings.

Fast-forward to baby number two, and I wasn’t. I was still reading to two-year-old Bub lots every day, but reading to Jaybird took a backseat. I had two kids to care for, which made it harder to sit down with a baby and read, what with a toddler running around tackling cats. Being a baby and all, he never brought me books himself like his older brother did, so I often didn’t even think of it. He was a very active, antsy baby. When I did sit down determined to read to him, it never went well. He’d squirm away or grab the book and throw it, or some other gesture of total disinterest.

I felt horrid. I love books. I love reading to my children. I believe in the amazing power of reading aloud to all ages. Here I was, dutifully reading to one child, while another’s reading life was woefully neglected. I worried he’d never love reading like his brother, because I wasn’t making it happen. I worried I was delaying his language development and neglecting and important bonding experience. I worried I was not being a good mom.

Jaybird not cooperating.

Then one day, around fourteen months, he started bringing me books. And then he kept bringing me books. He asked for one book after another, he asked for his favorites again and again. We went through a huge pile of books every day. I might have been annoyed at how much time it was taking if I weren’t so ecstatic that I hadn’t ruined his reading life after all. When Grama would visit, he would monopolize her whole visit with reading. When friends would visit, he would crawl into their laps with a book – even if he’d never met them before. When Dad was getting ready to go in the morning, he would insist one more book. He was a man obsessed, and he still is.

Make a home where books are part of life

A book can’t solve every problem, but it can make anything just a little better. Jaybird picked up on this without any baby reading regimen. He did not need me to force him to sit through books when what he wanted to do was move and explore. He didn’t need me to teach him to love books or feel driven to learn. He needed a home where books were part of life. He needed an environment where books were available whenever he was ready, on shelves he could reach himself. He needed an atmosphere where reading was a delight, not a chore or an item on a developmental checklist. And, of course, he needed parents who were available, so whenever he was ready, he knew he could toddler over with a book and be welcomed with open arms. Babies are always paying attention: environment, atmosphere, and availability go a long way.

Babies love to do what the family does, so when reading is something the family does, babies will join in – when they’re ready. Though baby Jaybird wasn’t sitting down with a book often, books were woven into the fabric of his daily life. He was paying attention, and what he learned is that reading is joyful, loving, and ubiquitous. He saw Mom and Dad reading for their own pleasure, he visited the library, he saw books in every room of his home, he heard countless books as we read aloud to his older brother, he got books for gifts at birthdays, Easter, and Christmas. He got the message – reading is just another part of life, and a pretty good one at that. When he was ready, of course he wanted to join the party.

Changing his tune.

I’m not saying I won’t or don’t ever read to my babies. If your baby loves to read, by all means, READ! But if your baby, like Jaybird and Pantsa-Pantsa after him, squirms away or throws the book across the room, please don’t sweat it. If you aren’t finding time to read (or even remembering to try!) amid the errands, chores, and endless tasks of motherhood, give yourself a break. Give your baby the environment, atmosphere, and availability they need to grow into reading. Your baby is paying attention. When books are valued, your baby will learn to value them too.

Pantsa-Pantsa is just over one year old now. Sometimes she’ll bring me a book, but usually after a page or two she rips it out of my hands and goes about her business. It’s okay. She’s okay. Books are part of her daily life, and she is paying attention.

I love my pants.

Fall is a special time for our family. We’re ready for fall sometime around June and rejoice when the cool weather finally arrives. Of course, we have the everyday wonder of colorful leaves, sweater weather, hot soup, and, well, everything everyone loves about fall. On top of all that, we celebrate my birthday in October and our anniversary in November. Fall always brings back fond memories of birthdays, newlywed days, and anniversaries spent at a cabin in the woods.

Last year, fall gave us another reason to celebrate: the birth of our first girl. Pantsy Pants made her arrival on a beautiful Saturday in October. I had been through days and days of false labor. We had my mom stay at our house twice during the week, because we were SURE she’d be born in the night. Friday night, we knew. Because Jaybird was 20 minutes shy of being born on the highway, and we live far from our hospital, we drove out late that night to stay at a hotel near the hospital until it was time to go – probably in an hour or two. Then I fell asleep and woke up to no contractions at all. We spent the morning around town hoping with some walking and time, the contractions would return, but nope. Though it was frustrating at the time, Pantsy was giving us a gift. We enjoyed a lovely morning alone together talking and enjoying the beautiful fall day. It’s one of our most memorable dates.

We drove back, sent my mom home, and spent the day like a normal Saturday. We took the kids on a hike, made a nice dinner, and had a movie night. Near the thrilling conclusion of Giant Robber Crabs (now a family classic), my water broke. I started freaking out, because last time this is where I went immediately into I’m having a baby mode. My mom’s Grama senses must have been tingling, because she was already halfway to our house when we called.

We call Pantsy our easy one; that started with pregnancy, and continued in labor. After twelve hours of active labor with Bub, and a whirlwind, barely-made-it-to-the-hospital labor with Jaybird, I had no idea what to expect. She turned out to be our Goldilocks baby – not too fast, not too slow, but just right. She kindly waited until we got to the hospital before labor started in earnest. Things progressed steadily, without stalling or going terrifyingly fast. I ended up making a last-minute decision to have a water birth (a great choice). After about two and a half hours, Pantsy was born. For several minutes I just held her, no idea if I had a boy or girl in my arms, just so happy to have my baby (and to be not in labor anymore).

Photo Credit: Kara Jo Prestrud

This girl’s default is to smile. She loves to meet new people, keep up with her brothers, and explore the world. She loves to grab my hair with a death grip and laugh at my distress with the cutest baby giggle. After two boys with stick-straight hair like Dad, I was delighted to see her hair grow into perfect ringlets. Pantsy takes her time with everything she learns, but once she is ready, she is determined – it is impossible to hold her when she wants to practice her new skills.

Every time I meet a baby, I am struck by how unique they are – how much personality radiates even from a sleeping newborn, and how many new things there are to learn from them. Pantsy girl’s personality has charmed us from the start. She has a cheery disposition and can-do attitude; she delights in learning, trying, and making friends. And there is still so much to learn about this little lady. I can’t wait. Happy birthday, Pantsy Lou Who.