By my rough count, I’ve read 63 books this year, not including the countless number of kids books I read aloud. It’s a respectable number–nowhere near my peak, but not too shabby when I take into account everything else that happened in 2015, which notably includes raising a toddler and growing a baby.
Part of the reason that I make it a point to read often is so that my son, and soon my daughter, can see me enjoying books. I want to raise readers. Readers can be entertained anywhere, they can explore new ideas and test theories, and I have found that they are generally interesting people who are capable of having great conversations. The best advice I have ever been given is to develop the ability to speak genuinely and intelligently with anybody about a topic that interests them. Sometimes that means knowing a lot about a subject and sometimes it just means knowing how to ask thoughtful questions. I took that advice seriously and realized that being broad in my reading choices is the best way to develop those skills. This year’s books included history, science, literary fiction, young adult novels, architecture, material culture, food, mystery, essays and memoirs. I loved some of them, worked my way through others and stopped reading a few that I just did not enjoy.
I believe that reading makes me a more interesting person. The mental space to encounter new ideas and explore old ideas in unique ways makes me a more thoughtful person. The ability to do something for myself definitely makes me a better mother.
There are a few things that I know for sure about what 2016 will bring. Our family will gain a new member and many sleepless nights. The toddler will grow faster than I realize and learn new things constantly. My children and I will read together. And I will read alone to keep a sense of myself. Because in my continually changing reality, books will remain a constant.
Have you ever watched a toddler’s face?
There is nothing guarded or held back. Emotions play out in all their ferocity and quickly flicker back and forth. Anger turns to elation when the blocks finally stay stacked. Happiness becomes sorrow when a loved one leaves the room.
My favorite toddler face is a mixture of surprise and wonder. Something like this:
The picture is blurry, but I think the general feeling comes across nicely. Noah was amazed that his Uncle Ryan could skip rocks across a river. It violated his fragile grasp of gravity.
More recently the face looked like this:
He spent a lot of our walk through Zoo Lights pointing and talking and generally being excited. However, it was the carousel that had him truly impressed. There were movement, lights and animals. Here’s a close-up:
Riding the carousel was an entirely different face (a combination of trepidation and sleepiness), but I never want to forget how happy he was watching the animals go around in circles well past his bedtime.
You can’t manufacture a face like that; you can only enjoy them when they come.
As I sit here drinking my coffee, ignoring the plaintive cries of my toddler for a few more minutes, two candles are glowing in the background. I wrote last year about my love of Advent, a feeling that gets stronger each year. This season I find myself waiting for many things–my students to turn in their final projects so I can put my online class to rest, paychecks to come, temper tantrums to end. I can feel my daughter forcefully moving, which has me impatiently thinking of the day when I get to hold her.
I am trying something new this Advent, which I hope will evolve, the way these things do, into a loved tradition. I filled the drawers of our Advent calendar with things to do. Some are big, like visiting Zoo Lights, but most are small things that we can do each day to put us in the right mindset. So far we have danced to Christmas carols and mailed postcards to loved ones far away. Soon we will count the donation pig and do something for some else. It is an attempt to remind us about what we are spiritually waiting for, beyond the temporary desires that hit each December.
We sing the missa simplex at our church this liturgical season, and one line keeps coming back to me each morning: “Christ, true light from light, heal our blinded sight.” As I hear hate speech coming from a presidential candidate in the wake of heartbreaking violence, I pray that this season of waiting will allow us all to open our eyes to the beauty and goodness that still exists in our world.