Reading aloud for 100 days in a row without missing a single day is no small feat. Actually, doing anything for 100 days in a row is no small feat. We are human, after all.
In The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared, Alice Ozma tells the true story of her father, who decided to read aloud to her for at least ten minutes each day- without missing a single day- for 100 days in a row. They called it the Reading Streak.
The Streak lasted a lot longer than they expected- 3,218 days, to be exact, without missing a single one. That’s nearly eight years. Think of all the stories and books shared over that amount of time!
But what strikes me most when reading Alice’s memoir isn’t the number of days or the quantity of books she shared with her father.
What strikes me is the glue.
She says it best herself: “The books were important, but the conversations they started and the bonds they created are what really matter.”
Parenting is difficult. Often, I am pressed for time by a long list of to-do’s. Keeping up with the laundry, the soccer game schedule, the math drill, the dentist appointments, and the dishes keeps me more occupied than I’d like. After all, I have half a dozen kids- there are quite a lot of them and there’s only one of me.
It isn’t unusual for me to get to the end of the day and realize I haven’t made a good heart connection with one (or more) of my kids. I’ve been wrapped up in my work, my chores, the homeschooling lesson plans, the leaky faucet and the last-minute run to the grocery store.
When I’m struggling to connect with my kids- especially the tweens and teens- when they are driving me crazy more often than they are pulling on my heartstrings, I find it difficult to spend quality time with them.
“I need to make time to connect with that child tomorrow,” I’ll say to myself as the my head hits the pillow, later than it ought. I’ll make plans to have a conversation with her- though that can be difficult to do when tensions are running tight.
Perhaps we could play a board game? We all love board games. But when a child is routinely getting on my nerves, it won’t necessarily be fixed just because you are now on opposite side of the Monopoly board.
But reading aloud requires a different kind of energy. Very little of it, for starters. All I must do is break open the cover, and suddenly my children and I are transported to another time and place— together.
We’re seeing through the same lens, hooking arms on an adventure. We’re experiencing something bigger than ourselves, and we’re doing it side-by-side.
Just like glue, it’s incredibly bonding- it cements our relationship, even when I can’t muster up the superhuman virtue I need to make a meaningful connection.
We’ve got enough evidence to prove that reading aloud with our kids will improve their academic ability, grow their communication skills, and enhance their thinking patterns.
But I think most of us are after more than that. We want something more important than academic success.
We’re looking for glue.
And that’s what Alice tells us reading aloud gave her.
When I remember the promise I made to and with my father, the books are key players. But the star was, and always will be, the man who read them and the devotion he showed me by reading them aloud.
Reading to someone is an act of love. This book is, above all else, a love story.
When my children are grown and gone, they won’t likely mind that their childhood included dishes piled in the sink, or that I never ever reached the bottom of the laundry basket. They probably won’t remember much about the math worksheets, the writing assignments, or that we never seemed to get around to as many science experiments as we had hoped.
They probably won’t realize how much time I spent worrying about whether I was a good enough mother- whether I was giving them what they needed, whether I was offering enough of myself.
But I bet they’ll remember the stories.
I hope they’ll be wandering through a bookshop 20 years from now and see the cover of a book we read all those years ago. They’ll remember that we sipped hot cocoa while reading it. That we read during the chaos of an ordinary morning, when the house was a mess and the babies were crying but I stopped the world from turning for just a small bit of time, so that we could find out what happened to Edward Tulane next on his epic adventure.
They’ll remember that I loved them, and that I did it best through the pages of our favorite books.
Because while the books themselves are important, the bonds that we create through their pages are what will stand the test of time.
(P.S. I had a wonderful conversation with Alice about the impact her father’s reading had on her. You can listen to it right here.)