Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Booking it!

I've always had a passion for books. For three years I worked at a bookstore and got an employee discount. That was dangerous! I'd often spend half my paycheck there. (That was before I bought my house, when I still had a disposable income.) Even before that I had been picking up hardcovers at book sales for years. I finally had to get a bookcase to store them all. I still have most of my books displayed on shelves in my living room. My most prized ones are autographed copies of Clive Barker and Anne Rice books (I stood in line for book signings when they were in the area, back in my "goth" days) as well as an autographed cover by Mel Odom (I love his beautiful distinctive illustrations of women. His work graces many of the book covers on my shelves. I met him at a Barbie store back when I was collecting dolls. He also designed a beautiful doll named "Gene" who has the same haunting eyes as the women in his paintings. I have a few of them along with my Barbie collection.) Anyway, I'm getting off topic! The point is, I love books! I love the escapism of reading them (when I have the time, not often these days!) I love the books themselves, the cover art, everything about them. A friend told me I'd have to get rid of the books before Michelle is crawling or she'd be pulling them off the shelves and destroying them. I have more faith in her than that and I'm not getting rid of my books! I hope she leaves them alone. After all, she has her own books which are much more colourful and eye-catching.

My love of books may have started before I was born. My mother told me that while pregnant with me she didn't have food cravings but had a strong craving for reading. She doesn't like to read and other than the newspaper, usually avoids it altogether but while pregnant with me she had the urge. So she read the entire Bible cover to cover out loud! She didn't have any novels to read and I guess she thought it would be a nice gesture (being a Catholic and all) to read the "good book." She believes that it was feeding my brain while I was in utero and that it helped me to do so well in school (I was a straight A student through university, B.A. Specialist in English, Major in Drama, Minor in Art History). I always did have a love for words. I was a master at spelling bees. I always loved writing. I remember one year in high school English when we were studying poetry. Our teacher gave us an assignment to write 10 poems -- one for each category, including haiku, free verse, sonnet, etc. Everyone in the class groaned. I grinned from ear to ear. It was like Christmas to me. The best homework EVER! Writing poetry was one of my favourite hobbies. I'd written hundreds, if not thousands since I was a kid. I wound up writing two poems for each category. My teacher was impressed. Years ago I had sent some of my poems to publishers and was thrilled to have a few of them accepted into literary journals (The Queen's Quarterly, Dalhousie Review and Green's Magazine.) When I learned to play guitar years later, songs came flooding out. I would put together a simple chord progression and once I had the tune, the words would just flow. Songs are just poems set to music. Writing poetry is like breathing to me. Most of my songs were written in under 15 minutes. To date I have written close to 1,000 songs (hundreds of which are posted on Youtube if you want to check out my channel -- there's a link on the right side of this page if you scroll down.)

I'm grateful to my Mom for reading to me, especially since it's something she didn't enjoy. It would be like a mother eating pickles because the baby wanted them, even though she hated them herself. I really do think there's something to the idea that reading while pregnant can be good for your baby. I know that the baby can hear her mother's voice. She may not understand the words but I still think that on some level it may prepare her for language. She may learn by osmosis. She may pick up on the patterns and rhythms of speech. Being fed with words may start the brain working to recognize speech and make it easier for her to talk later on. It's a theory. It can't hurt to try it. So needless to say I read to my baby as well while I was pregnant. And did a lot of singing too. I felt a bond with her even before she was born. She seemed to react to the sound of my voice. I would feel her moving and it was like we were communicating, even then.

Now I read to Michelle every day. Our storytime doesn't last too long. I stop once she seems to get frustrated. At just under 3 months old her attention span is only so long. Whether it's books or her swing or whatever it is, she may be entertained for a while but then it's time to move on to something else. Sometimes she lasts as long as half an hour. Other times it's only ten minutes. I have a selection of board books and bath books with short, simple stories so it doesn't take long to get through a few of them anyway. She can't understand them yet of course, but she does show interest. She's even started grabbing the books, touching the pages and she makes little sounds as I'm reading. As though she's trying to read too. I hope she loves books as much as I do. I thought it was a good sign that she would hold books herself and look at the pictures. (Here she's looking at her mermaid bath book.)

She seems to enjoy nursery rhymes and Dr. Seuss because of the rhyming sing-song quality. I also have books on counting, shapes, colours. I figure she might as well begin learning early. They absorb so much in the first year of life. I think the sooner the better to get her mind working. I am glad to be able to devote my time to her while I'm on maternity leave. The fact that I'm not in a relationship helps too. She is the focus of all my attention and energy. A man would have just been in the way. (Especially one as needy and demanding as her father. A big baby himself! He would have been exhausting and stressful to have around. Not to mention his dog. It was a blessing that he made his exit so Michelle and I could have quality time together.)

The consensus, among family, friends and strangers, is that Michelle seems advanced for her age. Many people have commented about how alert and aware she is. They are impressed at how she'll interact with me, smiling and making sounds in response to me. Some are surprised at how well she holds her head up (especially during tummy time), how she sits up straight (in her bumbo chair), grabs and holds onto things, smiles, coos and has conversations in babyspeak and even stands (with assistance of course!) People do warn me however not to be too anxious for her to do things before her time, especially crawling and walking because then she'll be getting into a world of trouble! At least right now she stays where I put her, when she's not in my arms.

I thought it would be cute to get pictures of her holding books. It really does look like she's reading! I was encouraged that she would even hold them and look at the pictures. I'm never sure exactly what babies see. I know that their vision develops gradually. Her field of vision is getting wider because it used to be she would only smile at me and recognize my face when I was right up close to her. Now she sees me and smiles at me even across the room. She smiles at herself in the mirror. She notices things on the TV. She loves the painting that hangs over the change table (one of the mermaid paintings I did for her) and always stares at it and smiles. Sometimes she talks to it. I love her babytalk. I try to mimick the little sounds she makes because I've read that this encourages babies to communicate. It makes them feel important and acknowledged and motivates them to keep trying to make vocal sounds. She has started making little squeals and high pitched screams occasionally now. It's like she's finding her voice and realizing what she can do. I can't wait until she can laugh. Right now she has kind of a silent laugh along with some coos and gurgles. I'm also anxious for her first words. I'll be ecstatic to hear her say "Mama" and "I love you" someday.
One of my favourite children's books in Michelle's library is "Why I love my Mommy." It features adorable illustrations of animals and words from real children about why they love their Moms. (...because she sings to me, because she feeds me, etc) I remember when I first saw the book in the store I flipped through it and started to cry. It was so sweet. I was hormonal, being pregnant, and feeling fragile after Mike had left me. I wanted to get a couple of things for the baby. I couldn't resist this book. Knowing that one day my little girl would say "I love you" helped me to get through the difficult days when I didn't know how I'd go on. This book also reminded me that Mommy is most important. My little girl would be just fine with her single Mom. Even when there is a Daddy in the picture, there is no bond on earth like that between mother and child (no offence to the fathers out there!) Mommy is usually the one to feed, and sing to and snuggle with the children. Mommy is the nurturer, the primary caregiver. From what I've seen, hands-on fathers who are just as involved as the mothers are in their children's lives are the exception, not the rule. So I never have to feel like Michelle is missing out. Don't get me wrong though. I think in a perfect world a child would have two loving parents. I wouldn't entirely rule out the possibility that one day there may be an exceptional man out there worthy of being Michelle's father. I'm just not holding my breath! And if he doesn't show up (or doesn't exist) that's OK too. My baby girl and me will be just fine.

While I was pregnant I made it a routine to read "Goodnight Moon" to Michelle every night before bed. I actually didn't even have to read it. After reading it every day for a few weeks I had it memorized so I could just recite it from memory from then on. Recently I discovered that there is a Halloween version, a parody book called "Goodnight Goon." It's hilarious. They've done a great job of matching the original page for page with monster references instead ("The cow jumping over the moon" is replaced by "Martians taking over the moon" for example.) I think I appreciate it more than anyone (I've read it to Michelle but she didn't seem as impressed) because I know the original by heart. It makes me chuckle. I like when books or movies for kids appeal to an adult sense of humour. A lot of Disney movies do that. They are for kids but they'll have some jokes and references (double entendres, innuendos etc) that kids would never get. I always loved animated movies. I have a collection of them, all of which I had long before I knew I'd ever have a child to watch them. I was always like a big kid myself. 

I love storytime with Michelle. Many years ago when I worked at the bookstore we were hosting a storytime in the mall. My manager asked if I would do it. I loved reading to the kids. It was fun. It was great to have their attention. To see their little faces eagerly listening. Back then I couldn't have guessed that one day I'd be reading to my own little girl. I always loved kids. I just didn't see myself as a Mom. Reading children's books was fun because it allowed me to be a kid myself, to act silly. Being animated and using funny voices came naturally to me. My Mom always had a squeaky voice and acted stories out as she'd read to us. She was like a walking Disney character!

My Mom asked me why Michelle needed so many books. To me, they are a necessity! I have fish books (to match the theme of the nursery!) books on cats and other animals, books on learning colours, shapes, numbers, letters, picture and word books, nursery rhymes and Dr Seuss books. One book I haven't read to Michelle yet (it's too long for her at this stage) but that's one of my favourite books of all time is "Love you forever" by Robert Munsch. I remember the first time I read it to my nephew. I had no idea how the story would go and it caught me off guard how sad and touching it was. I managed to hold it in until my nephew was asleep and then I had a good cry. It will be hard to read it to Michelle. I really don't want to cry in front of her. I've had to hold back tears (of joy and sorrow) with her a few times. I can be a sentimental fool sometimes (especially when hormonal!)

Any time I see a movie or a commercial or anything eluding to how fast kids grow up and they show a series of clips going from baby to adult, it chokes me up. I remember my Mom used to cry as she'd sing "Where are you going my little one, little one? Where are you going my baby, my own? Turn around and you're 2, turn around and you're 4, turn around and you're a young girl going out of the door." I'm tearing up just typing it now! Time does go so fast. I'm cherishing these days with Michelle. I know she won't be a baby for long. Before I know it she'll be reading books herself, going off to school.

Some say that there isn't a market for books anymore. Paper books are becoming antiquated, being replaced with electronic devices. I'm an old fashioned girl (I don't even have a cellphone yet never mind all these other modern gadgets.) To me nothing compares with holding a real book in your hand. Turning each page (not just touching a computer screen.) And of course for children, you have to have physical books. You can't just hand them a computer screen thing with words on it. Not when they're at the age of putting things into their mouths anyway. Books are magical. They are works of art. They are teachers. They are escapes, glimpses into other lives, other worlds.

I don't know whether my Mom can take all the credit for my love of words and books. I think that like anything else it's a combination of nature and nurture. As she put it, she had a craving for reading while pregnant with me so it was as though I needed it. She didn't experience that at any other time in her life and to this day she doesn't read much aside from the newspaper and my blogs of course! (She loves my blogs but says it is hard on her eyes to get through them. Maybe I should make them shorter!)

Michelle has a pretty good chance of loving words since both her father and I did. (For all his faults I have to admit that he was clever at least. He was the only guy I ever met online who could actually spell! He loved wordplay and was a wiz at Scrabble. We played often and he usually beat me.) I'm also hoping that by introducing her to books early that it will foster a love of reading that will carry through her lifetime. 

I'm trying to do all the right things for Michelle. Aside from nourishing a child's body by feeding her, I think it's just as important to feed her mind. I am so grateful to have this year to spend with her, even though money is tight on maternity leave. These days are so precious. She has so many milestones to go through. So much to learn and discover, so much growing to do. Having the time to play with her, read to her and teach her is priceless to me.

No comments:

Post a Comment