They Underestimate the Chaos of Parenting…
Rachel, a Youth Services librarian and mother to now 10 month old Louis, shares the experience of learning to practice what she preaches.
These are all pieces of advice that I’ve frequently given to the parents of new babies:
“Sign your preschooler up for 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten!”
“The AAP recommends that parents start reading with their children at birth.”
“Reading out loud with babies introduces important early literacy skills that will help them be ready to learn to read later on.”
But last spring I had to put my words into practice…
I was expecting my first child. Images of snuggling on a blanket in my yard, a splay of colorful board books surrounding us while I read to a happily cooing baby filled my daydreams. I had plans to sing nursery rhymes to a baby gently sliding into a peaceful slumber. We’d have our own storytime, just my son and me, and he’d grow up loving the fingerplays and bounces that are so popular in our Baby Steps programs.
All you experienced parents can stop laughing now.
Obviously, these daydreams were just that – dreams. The reality of first-time motherhood was much different: the crying, the diapers, the feedings, the lack of sleep (sigh, remember sleep?), the navigation of new responsibilities with my spouse – all of this left little time for the serene, literacy-growing interactions that had starred in my earlier plans. Not to mention the fact that my little nugget was, well, just a very loud, very insistent blob who showed no indication that he was interested in books.
I had failed. After all, I’m a librarian – reading and literacy is what I live and breathe! If I couldn’t practice what I preached, how could I keep preaching? Things were looking pretty bleak. Little Nugget would never learn how to read. He’d think books were boring. I’d have to shutter him away so no one would ever know that the librarian’s child was illiterate. My husband would have to pretend to be a teenager to take his driver’s license test for him. It would be a little tricky, but we could make this work.
Thankfully, it did get better.
A few weeks in, when the dust began to settle, suddenly there were moments when I found myself with a book in my hands. The dreaded tummy time sessions were actually the perfect time to distract him with nursery rhymes and songs. I cut out paper shapes and taped them to the wall next to his crib. I set up a small mirror at baby level next to the changing table. When he wasn’t interested in staring at himself, I opened a board book and propped it there instead. I read out loud from my own books while he slept (bad words and all). All of those tips and tricks that I had nonchalantly uttered to other new parents were coming back to me: I started describing the trees and street and trash on our walks, reading the shampoo bottle in the bathroom, spelling out letters on his belly during baby massage time.
The truth is, while my idea of how reading and literacy skills would be incorporated into my baby’s routine was incredibly idealized, it’s possible to do those things that the experts recommend.
It might not happen right after you meet your baby at that most fateful of blind dates. It might not happen days, or weeks, or maybe even months after that. But it will.
So take a deep breath, and try to relax – you will get through this essential time with your new baby. I did!
What a lovely article!
Here is another tip. My first son was so easy to read board books to immediately. (I’ll confess I didn’t know I was supposed to do that but my mother in law did.) My second child threw the books. Or she would grab them out of my hand. I couldn’t get anywhere. Her daycare provider told me–let her hold the book and page and if she keeps opening to them same page just keep reading it over and over. Let her control the process. This helped a lot. It wasn’t the easy reading process with a coherent book that I would have enjoyed but like you said, just reading words helped her.