I was reading aloud to Pari (my 8.5 year old) yesterday morning – Maupassant’s short story – ‘Two Friends’. That book – a collection of short stories by the greatest short story writers ever – O Henry, Guy De Maupassant, Saki, Chekhov – has been on my shelf for more than ten years now. I hadn’t touched it.
Yes, I’d not turned a page of that book even though I love to read. Even though I love short stories.
But, right now with you, I don’t want to dig into why did I NOT read that book in so many years. On the contrary, I want to figure out (and, I’m thinking aloud with you as I’m writing this) WHAT made me read it that morning?
I feel, the prospect of reading to Pari (actually, it’s more like reading to her and to myself!) is something else. I’ve figured that I can create time to read to her even in the middle of dozing off. It’s not merely duty. It’s fun. For her and for me. It’s our sacred time. It’s my me-time. It’s our co-learning time. It’s our confiding time. And so much more. Come join me in this journey of self-discovery…
Conversations, Reflections, Discoveries!
I love reading aloud to Pari because the characters, plots, places and events lead us to many interesting conversations, reflections, opening up of heart and mind and learning related and tangential things.
For instance, when we were reading Two Friends by Guy De Maupssant, in a scene where the friends go fishing, the setting is explained so beautifully that both of us immediately felt this could be an inspiration for a painting. Pari shared excitedly, “mamma, look how he describes the setting” – in the spring…when the early sun caused a light mist to float on the water and gently warmed the backs of the two enthusiastic anglers. I resonated instantly and added, “Yes” and this: in autumn, towards the close of the day, when the setting sun shed a blood-red colour over the western sky, and the reflection of the crimson clouds tinged the whole river, brought a glow to the faces of the two friends. “What a painting it would make. Pari, I think a writer has to be an artist in his vision, to be able to paint a picture through his words…”.
This was just one of the many things that we shared and discussed over the course of reading that story – set in the backdrop of a French-Prussian war. The discussion and learning continued even after the reading was long done.
Pari wanted to know what “Prussian” meant. I explained to her briefly then, so as not to derail the flow of the story. But later on, we went deep and this led to a discussion about the geographical limits of countries; why that can lead to wars. Holocaust came up, which led to Anne Frank and her life and the diary she wrote.
So many learning connections.
From literature to history to philosophy to life itself – the subjects flow and merge into each other seamlessly, when I’m reading aloud to her. There’s no ringing of bell (as it happens in schools) to indicate literature class is over and it’s time for the history teacher to step in.
I wonder if such connections can ever be explored in a school setting – due to the limitations of time and the scheduled curriculum that a school teacher has to take care of in a limited time-line.
But, does that mean a student in a class-room will not form those connections?
I think, he/she still will. But sadly, those connections will not find a voice and hence, will not enrich the learning atmosphere in the class. The reading-aloud will continue – more in a one-sided, linear fashion. There won’t be much room for explorations of the heart and mind, genuine interactions or tangential connections.
Letting the thoughts and emotions surface….
This morning, we were reading “The One and Only Ivan” – a heart-melting saga of animal friendship, courage, pain, loss, rescue. When Stella the Elephant teased Ivan (the Gorilla), “…elephants are superior because they feel more joy and more grief than apes…”, I confided in Pari, “yes, now I exactly know why I love elephants. I feel like they do. I experience both joy and grief strongly. I feel a connection with elephants.” At this, Pari paused to think and then remarked, “Yes, yes! I’m like that too. But people do not understand this. They think we’re too sensitive and moody.”
That story of Ivan touches upon his grief and how he chooses to bury his memories in order to live the present life as matter-of-factly as he could.
This led Pari to talk about memories, and grieving over some painful memories. Intense subject, I know, to talk with an 8.5 year old. But guess what, she’d been thinking about me – a painful part of my story that she’d witnessed and she was holding it in her heart. It came up as a moment of resonance.
I may not have known if we wouldn’t have allowed our hearts to be triggered spontaneously by those words we were reading.
Thousands of such ‘sharings’ and connections have happened over the years – between Pari and me – during reading aloud to her – with her. Reading has not been plain reading at all. We get under the skin of the story and the characters and the setting. But then, that’s part of the reading. But, we also get to learn and understand beyond the realm of the book/story/setting.
Negotiating tougher books and topics…
So, there’re compelling reasons for me to continue reading to her even though she’s a fluent reader herself; even though she will keep growing as a reader and will no longer need me to explain a difficult sentence or a context.
I believe she’s open to try out a tough book/topic because I read to her. She may not otherwise be able to enjoy it (even though she’s interested in that subject) due to the difficulty of the writing style or the vocabulary. Many of the books that I’ve read to her are written keeping in mind a prolific reader – the subject as well as the style. But, she’s benefitted from them and enjoyed them for I read to her and keep enough room for questions, reflections and conversations.
The Energy of Shared Words
The long minutes (sometimes hours) that we spend together this way – me and her snuggled up on a sofa with a favorite book – make us connect in the most personal, philosophical and artistic ways. It makes us reflect on the sad and the joyful. It allows us to negotiate the academic and the intellectual. Our connections span the whole gamut – much beyond the realm of the book itself. The energy of my voice soothes her; the power that she feels in my tone, the expressions, the sighs, the drawls, the squeals – this energy cannot be felt from TV, video games, radio or online.
It’s my “me-time”, too. As it is, my me-time has been elusive of-late with a 10-month old around who’s fighting sleep all the time; who’s at the intersection of crawling and walking; who waits eagerly for the first ray of dawn to crack open so she can be out on the terrace…
So, yes, it’s that precious me-time redefined which makes reading aloud to/with Pari so much fun – I look forward to it as though it’s a date with a friend.
Being a Mindful Mother
To me, as a mother, those moments that I read aloud to/with Pari, are the moments to slow down, center myself, breathe deeply and consciously, cherish the physical closeness of my child and connect with her in a mindful way. During those moments, I keep the phone far away and take my mind off the tasks lined up (as it is, I don’t enjoy multi-tasking). These moments with Pari also help me move closer to her perspective, which in turn makes her see me as her trusted partner, a friend, a guide, a co-learner.
You’ll agree with me – it IS our sacred time – that time of reading aloud to her (and to myself!).
What do you consider to be a sacred time between you and your child?
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