September 20, 2013

Baby bookworm

When I was newly postpartum and post-surgery, feeling groggy, sad, and insecure in my new mom role, I turned to books. Not books on parenting mind you, but children's books. I decided that even if Emilia was very newly born, something we could do together that didn't require a lot of special talents or knowledge or even physical mobility was reading. Books were my comfort zone. And Emilia was lucky to have a lot of books gifted to her before she was even born!

Growing up, I was a voracious reader. My schoolteacher mom encouraged it and some of my earliest memories are of reading with her and my grandmother. My gram taught me how to read via the classic "Fun with Dick and Jane" series. It had lots of rhyming and illustrative pictures that enabled me to work with contexts to make sense of letters on a page. That was when I was about 3. Still, when I was pregnant I didn't anticipate that I'd turn to reading with my own baby to bond with her when she was barely a week old.

The first book we read was Charlie Harper's Colors. The vivid contrasts allowed Emilia's blurry newborn vision to still be stimulated and follow along. The second book we read was The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton. She was mesmerized by the page where all the animals exercise. It remains her favorite to this day! All the Boynton books are favorites of Emilia's because of the fun rhyming and cartoon animals. And reading The Going to Bed Book remains integral to her bedtime routine, along with Goodnight Moon.

After attempting to read, If I Could Keep You Little when Emilia was only a few days old, I found myself crying my way through the words. I put it down to save for another less fragile time. Its message truly captures the bittersweetness of how swiftly time passes along with the excitement of seeing them grow and change.

Another book we read very early on that remains a favorite was The Mommy Book by Todd Parr. When my own mom (who bought the book for us) read it to her, she marveled at how engaged Emilia already seemed by the pictures and the process of advancing a page. The page depicting the mommy with the long blue hair wearing jeans caused Emilia's face to light up with enthusiasm which was amazing to see.

Now when we read books, it's fun to notice what will stand out the most for Emilia. Often she will put her hand on a page and try to get us to turn back so she can linger on a visual from before. She loves to point to the babies in Everywhere Babies. I was really lucky to be given the bulk of her library as shower gifts from loved ones. And I've also bought some of my favorites like Virginia Lee Burton's The Little House.

My mom and sister created centerpieces for the tables at my baby shower with children's books they picked for us. Through working with children my mom in particular was familiar with many series and titles that are new to me and fantastic. The above book, Llama Llama Misses Mama is one such newer volume about separation anxiety with a mama who drops off the little llama at school/daycare when she goes to work. We're reading it a lot lately because the message about separation anxiety fits our current situation.

Regardless of whether my mom chose old favorites or new classics, she inscribed every book with a message for me and my then baby-to-be. When I read to Emilia, I include the inscriptions, though she's sometimes eager to advance the pages to find their more exciting visual offerings. I had no idea I would get so much joy out of reading with her. I had no idea she would respond so strongly to pages and colors and the sounds of words in patterns and rhymes. Reading remains among my favorite moments of our early days together. And it's one of my favorite things to do with her to this day.