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.

Happy Belated Bubsday

At the end of December my Bub turned five. It is hard to believe it’s been five years since I became a mother. So hard to believe, in fact, that I put four candles on his birthday cake and even almost bought a number four candle. As you can see on the picture, I corrected the problem, but only because my husband noticed as I was lighting candles. (Also, Bub insisted on having a triangle cake. In the immortal words of Leonard Cohen, “I did my best, it wasn’t much.”)

To be honest, I’ve been afraid of writing this post all year. Age four has been tough. It’s not an easy age for parent or child, even if you don’t add a baby, a very emotional two-year-old, and a mom with PPD to the mix. I was afraid to write this because my relationships with my baby and toddler are so simple, those posts so easy to write. What does it say about me if it’s not as easy to write about Bub?

Benefits of being five? First library card!

But he’s growing up. As he grows, our relationship will grow, too. It will become more complex than it was at one or two. It will go through rough patches, and periods of adjustment. This is okay. It was a tough year, but we got through it. (pro-tip: Motherhood is easier when you’re not depressed. If you think you may have post-partum depression, get help – for you and for your kids.) Reflecting on this not-so-easy year, I’m seeing everything with a fresh perspective and learning some amazing things about my child.

Bub is so thirsty for knowledge. He is curious and inquisitive and wants to know the reason for everything. Or reasons, plural. (Actual conversation – Me: “You can’t go into the street, ever.” Bub: “Why?” Me: “Because a car could hit you and kill you.” Bub: “What’s the other reason?”). I couldn’t ask him to do or stop doing something without hearing, “Why?” This got very frustrating at times, but, I have no doubt that kid is going to learn a lot in his life and he’s going to love the process.

Bub is highly sensitive to his emotional environment. He is so perceptive and keyed in to those around him. Practically, this means if I’m feeling off, he’s feeling off. Of course this is challenging for me, but much more so for him. He’s too young right now to know what to do with all the emotional input he picks up on. It must feel uncomfortable to know intuitively when your mom isn’t at her best – especially when it lasts for a long time. With emotional maturity, this trait will develop kindness and empathy in him, and that is worth some temporary challenges.

Bub never does something just because everyone else is doing it. I can’t tell you how many social situations where I thought, “This would be so much easier if you would just do what the other kids are doing!” He needs to know the why, and “because everyone else is doing it” does not suffice. This may make some awkward parenting moments for me, but I’m proud. I’m making a point of giving a real answer to why, and he responds so well to getting a real, respectful answer – often one I’ve never considered before. It’s amazing how much we just do without ever questioning why. This certainly won’t be a problem for Bub, my little individual who insists on a good reason for everything.

Happy belated blog birthday to my Bub.

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.

Great and Powerful Oz, Make Me a Good Mother

I’ve been listening to L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with Bub. (This free Librivox recording is excellent.) It is much less scary and more four-year-old appropriate than the movie, I promise. The characters are so convinced of their failings that they cannot see they already have what they seek. The Scarecrow, so sure he has no brain, cannot see how his cleverness, logic, and ideas get him and his friends out of scrapes. The Tin Man, though he is in love with a munchkin girl and shows compassion to all he meets, believes he has no heart. The Lion, scared of every noise and shadow, fails to see how he faces these fears to help his friends without so much as a thought for his safety. They constantly demonstrate the very things they believe themselves lacking.

It struck me as I listened that we all do this; we often believe ourselves sorely lacking the characteristics and abilities we value most. I struggle with this particularly when it comes to motherhood, and I rarely meet a mother who isn’t similarly self-critical, at least some of the time. A mom will declare herself a “terrible mother” for all sorts of reasons, from losing her temper to taking time for a shower. But she cares about being a good mother, as the Scarecrow cares about brains. She would go to the Emerald City at all costs if it meant she could really be a good mother. I often fixate on this idea of a good mother, and the thing is, it just becomes whatever I am not. Sometimes I can think of nothing but my mistakes and shortcomings as a mom – even when I do something right, I lament that it isn’t enough. When we believe we do not possess the characteristic of being a good mother, we are blind to all but our failings.

“You people with hearts,” the Tin Man says, “have something to guide you, and need never do wrong; but I have no heart, and so I must be very careful.” With this reasoning, he walks through the woods with careful attention so as to avoid crushing any living creature; when he does step on an ant, he cries until his tears rust his jaw so that he cannot even ask for help.

How often does mom guilt take us there? How often do we think, “You people who are good mothers have something to guide you! But I am a terrible mother, and so I must be very careful!” In the mom life, we will fail; we will step on ants. It is impossible to be a parent without making mistakes. But, like the Tin Man, we try our hardest and recognize when we fail. So, I’m trying to take a lesson from the Tin Man – beating myself up will only paralyze me. A friend of mine often says, “Bad moments don’t make bad mothers.” A good mother isn’t a perfect mother, but one who cares enough to try.

We all know the ending of this story. Dorothy discovers she always had the power to get home. The ruby slippers (or silver in the book) she has worn the whole time transport her back to Kansas. Do you worry that you are not a good mother? Stop worrying. You are wearing the ruby slippers already.