People are always telling me how wonderful it is that Teghan loves books. It’s a thing we say to parents, the same way we congratulate each other on our children’s height or ability to hold a pencil correctly. Apparently it all leads to great things. I never did learn to hold my pencil the right way, but I always loved books; and I suppose I was an example of how reading to your child will turn your children into readers who will do better academically.
It’s such an easy part of parenting. We want to feel as if we are giving our children our time and attention. We wonder if we are screwing them up. Reading books to them seems like the right thing to do, and there is no wrong way to do it. Every new parent has at least one important skill mastered right from the start.
Teghan does love books, but she looks at books in a very different way. She doesn’t understand dialog or story plots. She prefers her books in small sets of three. At first she wants to tap the front and back of each book. Then she taps on the pages. Then she bites them, and carefully chooses which pages need to be torn out. Eventually each book will be reduced to scraps of paper. If we attempt to touch one of her current favorites, they will all be thrown and a tantrum will begin. She has a very specific ritual that only she can participate in.
That’s okay. I can select a book from outside her current group and often get away with reading it. Sometimes it makes her angry; the rest of the time she simply ignores me. I may find myself sitting on her bed reading while she runs up and down the stairs. She won’t look at me. She will cry if I so much as ask her to come closer- specifically when I am holding a book. She clearly thinks I am doing it all wrong.
Reading a book to my daughter makes me feel invisible. Is she doing that on purpose? Her lack of social skills often leaves me in the dark. While a different child will sit and listen if interested, Teghan can be fully engaged while doing something else entirely. So I keep reading. Just in case. I suspect about 80% of parenting for me falls into this “just in case” department. Language and social development is a road map most parents take for granted.
Being able to simply sit down and read a book with your kid is also something most parents take for granted.
She loves letters and will watch videos about them. She desperately wants to say words, and is always practicing. At night I can hear her in bed reciting new words, saying them in different ways until she gets it just right. Her speech is limited to a few simple words and phrases that she uses to get what she wants. We are miles away from conversational words. Reading to her seems like the best thing we could possibly do, so I try not to give up hope.
We have come to accept that our journey with books, like everything else, will not be traditional. There will be no bedtime stories if we hope to get her to sleep. She does like to cuddle in bed or on the couch with her Kindle or our phones. She can spend a quiet hour thumbing through photos of herself at the beach or riding a roller coaster. We keep albums on our phone with words and pictures so she can see what the words look like. We have book apps that she will look at, but she mostly taps a few pages and loses interest. Any attempt to read them to her this way is met with the same anger as with a paper book.
She has favorite cartoons now, so we try to find ones she will like that have a storyline. She will yell and tap on the screen when she sees things she can label, like a “belly button” or “eggs!” It makes her happy to recognize and label appropriately. Maybe that’s a start. Maybe down the road that comprehension of conversation and storylines will come. Maybe all this “reading while invisible” is secretly evolving into something that makes sense to her. So we keep reading. Just in case.