Parenting, Bonding, and Reading Aloud by Jenny Houlroyd
To my dearest daughter,
I was deceived to believe that the answers to my parenting questions could be found in the non-fiction section of any bookstore. My analytical mind wanted to solve each problem like a complex scientific experiment. This method worked in the beginning. When you cried, I made a hypothesis and tested it. Did you need your diaper changed? Were you hungry? Did you need to be burped? As the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months, my ability to correctly project the outcome improved. I really believed that I had nailed this parenting thing.
As you grew, your “Whys” sent me running to the reference isle of the library in search of answers to questions ranging from how many people live in China to why are there different types of clouds. I still found the answers in the non-fiction section, but these books cannot answers the questions of the heart. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry taught me that the most beautiful things in the world can only be felt with the heart.
I want to help you find the answers to the questions, but you have also made a horrifying discovery. You have discovered the world can be mean and cruel. You have watched hearts break as family members have died. You have witnessed the debilitating effect cancer has had on your grandfather’s mind and body. You have let the darkness surround you when facing bullies on the playground. I have caught you watching the news, seeing you look on in disbelief at the countless tragedies- murders, abductions, and natural disasters ripping apart families and communities.
The truth is this- the world can be an incredibly dark place to live. As a parent, I don’t want to admit that fact to you. You are only eight. I want to protect you from this darkness. I understand that you are scared, and so we read. Recently, we read The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, and I found myself shouting, “Yes!” when we read, “Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light.”
For you, my daughter, I want to make light. The books we have read together each night have helped us break out of the darkness and find light again. Over these books, we found worlds well beyond those that we could ever afford to travel, putting them within our reach. We have laughed and cried together, bonding over Harry Potter, Junie B. Jones, Stuart Little, Matilda, the BFG, and Ramona Quimby. The emotional bonding that reading together has developed is something I never expected, but I have grown to rely on reading as the compass that resets my heart at the end of each day.
Reading stories with you has also built a bridge, allowing me to discuss difficult topics- suffering and pain, love and despair- emotions that feel awkward and forced without a book as our guide. As Charles Dickens wrote in Great Expectations, “Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.” I know that traveling on this journey with you has certainly bent me into a better shape, a shape that dreams of new possibilities, of hope.
This hope grows in my hearts each time we open a book together. This time spent together lets me ted to the constant growth of thistles that prop up in your mind throughout the day. And I know from reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, “Where you tend a rose my lad, a thistle cannot grow.” Which indeed, my dear daughter, I know you will grow into a beautiful rose.
For these reasons, I have learned from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, “When in doubt, go to the library.” Yes, indeed. When I am in doubt, I go to the library. I hope that you understand that as your parent, I do not have all the answers, but we have Kate DiCamillo, Judy Blume, Roald Dahl, E. B. White, Lewis Carroll, Beverly Cleary, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Dav Pilkey, Nick Bruel, C.S. Lewis, Frances Hodgson Burnett, and so many more authors we have yet to meet.
Love you always,
Jenny Leigh Houlroyd is a faculty research scientist by day and a children’s book reader by night. She enjoys discovering wizzpoppers, wild things, and wonder through children’s books with her two children. She lives in Marietta, Georgia with her husband, two girls, and their dog Mangus. She spends her days running, knitting, reading, and enjoying time with family. You can find Jenny on Twitter at @booksbabiesbows or on her blog: www.booksbabiesandbows.com.