Books and babies

When I began to think about the phrase “books and babies,” it immediately reconfigured in my head to the tune of “love and marriage.” “Books and babies, books and babies…” It got stuck in my head, which was unfortunate, because the next line to come to mind was “go together like a bat and rabies.” I’m not sure Frank Sinatra would approve. At any rate, when the lovely and witty mama writer Katey of Kateywrites asked me to do a guest post for her series Raising Readers Monday, I knew exactly what I wanted to explore as my topic: books and babies.

Image of mother and her infant son sitting in a chair reading

Reading with my son when he was 2.5 months old

Below is a snippet from my post:

It is never too early to begin reading to babies. Even newborns. They benefit from the visual stimulation of the pictures before them, the rhythms of the words and narrative, the act of being held and cuddled, the sound of a parent or caretaker’s voice. As far as literacy goes, babies begin to learn about the orientation of a book, the way the pages turn, and that books have particular sound patterns that go along with them, long before they can even fully absorb a story.

Enjoy the cuddles, and don’t worry if your baby wants you to turn the pages quickly. Just because they are speeding through doesn’t mean they aren’t enjoying it, as well. It might mean exactly the opposite, in fact! My son loved the collages and rhythms of Dancing Feet! by Lindsey Craig and Marc Brown long before he had the patience to listen to every word. But that didn’t matter. Eventually he wanted to hear all the words, too, but in the meantime we skipped around or did a speed reading version, which made me laugh. It remains one of his favorite stories. Above all, have fun when you’re reading together with your baby. Have fun watching them read with others, too. Have fun watching them decide story time isn’t for them on a particular day and crawl or scoot or squawk at the library instead. Parenting a baby…it’s a precious time, an anxiety-ridden time, a time that I wanted to speed read on some days, and on other days to linger on each page, each word, each image.

Read the full article, which includes suggestions for making book selections for the youngest readers, interpreting your baby’s opinions on books, and ways to incorporate story into your child’s life. Take some time to explore Katey’s blog! I have already learned so much from her, and am honored to share a small corner of her online thought space.
Image of a toddler sitting on his mother on a couch while they read together

The second I lay down on the couch, my 18-month-old toddler, rocking some stylish bed head, runs over with one of his favorite books and climbs up.

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Parenthood

Photo of shadows of a family on sandAn old friend recently reached out on Facebook for perspective on having children. She wondered in particular how parents stay sane in the face of things like explosive diapers, extensive sleep deprivation, childhood illnesses, and the need to find and then pay babysitters to do anything without a child in tow. She explained that while lots of parents she knows say their kids are the best thing that ever happened to them, she could not see how she would overcome the aforementioned obstacles. Her questions and comments struck me for two reasons: one, their honesty — I think a lot of people have these questions and wonder why people assume having children is a good thing rather than just the next logical step at a certain stage — and two, I think she has picked up on something. Yes, plenty of parents do think and say that parenthood is the best thing to ever happen to them but not many expound on that. It is a lot easier to vocalize the frustrations of another sleepless night than the reason having a child is so wonderful. Plus, based on my very unscientific observations on the social media I inhabit, snark is a lot more “in” than sincerity. Complaints are or can be funny. Talking about love and joy, not so much (or at least those subjects take a lot more work). There is also the presumption, I think, that parents don’t need to explain to other parents. But for what it’s worth, here is the gist of the response I gave my friend.

I don’t judge anyone who doesn’t want kids. There are as many reasons to not be a parent as to be. (Furthermore, not having children does not make your life childless. Some of my child’s most ardent and adoring fans are dear friends who do not want their own children.) For me, though, having a child has been an exercise in falling in love, the greatest love of my life. There has been all the excitement, leveling of expectations, and attempts to be the best version of myself. More sleepless nights, yes, although it hasn’t felt so very different than college exhaustion-wise and from all accounts will probably last about as long per child. The reasons for the sleeplessness are different, and the responsibilities are greater, but exhaustion is exhaustion as far as I am concerned. However, no other person has the ability to make my heart explode with joy so many times a day. Or my throat tighten as quickly if I see them hurting. To make me feel like a superhero or like the most helpless creature on this planet. I have never had more fun or felt as humbled. The diapers, night wakings, illness, and babysitters, they’re all temporary. There’s probably a reason that those things coincide with the phase in which your kids love you so hard and so openly it can blow your mind. Thus far, parenthood is another type of education. High investment, high return, and the lingering hope that I don’t go utterly broke in the process.

Is my child the best thing that ever happened to me? Yes. “Best” is a misleading term, though. It sounds easy and obvious. Likewise, my “worst” days as a parent, the days when I feel most challenged, still contain more love, joy, and pride than any single day prior to becoming a parent.

“Mainely” at home now

There have been quite a few changes in my life over the last few months. Primarily, when a fabulous job opportunity arose for my husband, we moved to Bangor, Maine. That last sentence makes it sound as though it happened quickly, and I suppose in some ways it did. We found out it was a possibility in January, knew it was happening as of February, and made the move in May. But those months in between were filled with preparations, flights to and from Bangor, minor surgery followed by prolonged illness for our son (nothing serious, just one thing after another), selling and buying a house, and waiting. Juggling graduate school, jobs (four between the two of us), and taking care of our dear baby boy led to quite a bit of stress. And our son decided to stop sleeping through the night during these months, which certainly wasn’t helped by the aforementioned health issues and our anxiety levels. We were exhausted to say the least. I finished up at work as best I could and made tearful goodbyes to my co-workers. I worried over the precious friendships I’d made in Madison and how lonely I would be in Bangor.

Train at dusk in Bangor, Maine

Train at dusk in Bangor, Maine

But it was all worth it in the end. Brian drove cross country with our two cats and, after living in a hotel for a couple of days with the baby, I flew out with him, and we even met Garrison Keillor on our flight. He was utterly charming and gave my little boy his blessing, which I took as a good omen. Despite my worst fears about traveling alone with a baby, everyone was friendly and helpful, and I, in turn, felt rather like super mom. I had planned and packed perfectly for once, although that was probably the first and last time that will ever happen.

Life in Maine is just swell. We love Bangor, and I’ll write more in the future about the city and all its offerings, because there is a lot to say. Our new neighborhood is fabulous. Our new house already feels like home in all its varying states of done and undone. The summer did start out rather lonely. There was a period where I avoided thinking too much about friends and co-workers back in Wisconsin because I was liable to burst into tears. I felt like I should wear a sign around my neck whenever I stepped out to the park (which is really just steps away from our house, so lovely!) with something akin to a classified ad for a friend. Despite (and probably because of) my lack of such an absurdity, I have slowly made friends. Conversations and visits with friends back in Madison make up for the day-to-day distance between us, and we’re now closer to old friends and most of our family.

View of downtown Bangor

View of downtown Bangor

The biggest transition for me has definitely been ceasing to work outside our home. I miss my job and co-workers something fierce. On the other hand, I love having more time to spend with my little guy, who began sleeping through the night again the day he turned mobile via an adorable monkey-type crawl. It’s funny to think about that now, because now he is walking, running, climbing, falling, sliding, dancing, and starting to talk. But then, we have been here five months already!

And actually, work has even popped up already, much faster than I was expecting. For now, all I’ll say is that I have an exciting opportunity still related to children’s literature. It might turn into something bigger, but even if it doesn’t, it has been a great experience and provided me with intellectual stimulation during naptimes.

Things are a bit crazy here yet. Our weekends have been filled with travel and visitors, a product of having family and old friends closer by again. While always fun, these activities make for a very different type of weekend than our weekends in Madison. Sometimes it feels like we can’t quite catch our breath!  But books are finally making their way out of boxes and onto shelves (organized by color nonetheless!), and we’re finding our groove.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. I’ll have to change my site design to reflect the new locale soon. For now just know that I’ve been enjoying autumn in New England once again. And wondering how on earth it is that I have a toddler on my hands.