My Agenda


There's an almost endless amount of noise out there in the world about what parents ought to do for their children (eat dinner with them, read to them, keep them organized, bla bla bla) and most of it I try to let fly over my head. I try to tell myself that one of best things I can do for them, in the larger sense, is to be calm and not worry about all the things I'm supposed to be doing. Besides, there are enough things I like doing (reading to them, having dinner with them) that making any of these things into things I'm supposed to do would kill the fun and make all of us miserable.

The thing is, I hadn't so much thought about what the children themselves want, when I thought about that.

I mean, for the longest time they've just wanted to have dinner with us, or to have us read to them, so it's all worked out. And while I know I am coming on up to the time when they're going to intermittently hate me, I still felt that, more or less, I was the desired one. There's a certain arrogance one gets from being, you know, Mommy. In a small circle, at least, everyone wants you all the time. It's enough to go to a girl's head.

Last night, when Chestnut was getting ready for bed, I asked her where The Secret Garden was.

"You know, I think I'm just going to play until I fall asleep," she said.

"But I can read to you," I helpfully explained. "We can read anything you want. And then we can cuddle," just sort of assuming, you know, who could refuse that?
"Oh, no thanks," she said cheerily.
My throat got kind of tight, I looked around the room for some support. Nothing. Diana was reading on her bed (she prefers having a reading cuddle to being read to, a reading cuddle involves an adult and her lying in the big bed each reading their separate books and every now and then discussing them. It's awesome). Chestnut was busy with some plastic stars arranged on her pillow and a strange folded up piece of paper.

Now I know that

1) this does not mean I will never read her another bedtime story,

2) this is as nothing compared to the way I will be shunned in just a few short years, and

3) it's amazing and excellent that she can be engaged by a few plastic stars and a piece of folded paper. What was she doing with it? What could it mean? It looked really fun and it's none of my business.

It's just that I wanted to read to her; I really did. And I didn't—it didn't work out for me on that particular night.
I used to wonder at what age kids stopped crying every day. I would ask various parents of older kids, whining "When does it end? The daily crying over every little thing, it's killing me." And now it turns out (duh!) that all of it ends, the good and the bad both. I don't think the bedtime stories are ending exactly. I have no idea when this happens for other people, it wasn't something I ever thought to ask. But I do think they're on their way out. And it's too bad. It turns out, as hard-to-get as I sometimes played, I liked those weird things you're supposed to do for people as much as they did. And soon I'll be the only one who does.

7 thoughts on “My Agenda

  1. My daughter is only 3 and my heart is already breaking for the time, hopefully years away, when she no longer wants me to read to her.
    Isn’t it sad that people don’t really read to each other anymore? In Jane Austen books they’re always reading aloud. I guess that’s what people did when there wasn’t any television. Sigh.


  2. Have you ever read “The Book of Lost Things?” It’s a terrific book that has nothing to do with this discussion, except that the main character recounts one of his favorite memories of his mother: walking into the room to see her reading, then sitting down near her to read his own book, each engaged in their own story yet completely together.
    I will be so sad when I can no longer read to them. Listening to my dad read me a bedtime story well into gradeschool is one of my happiest memories. But I like to think that we will still be able to share, if not a book exactly, then at least the experience of reading together. At the moment, my youngest seems surgically attached to me; but my oldest wants to know why he has to come home at the end of the school day. So I’m anxious for space and simultanelously not wanting to let go.


  3. Well, if I might offer a glimmer of hope: THE SECRET GARDEN was the last book my daughter let me read to her. She was 6 at the time.
    BUT, now that she is 8, we have discovered the wonder of reading to each other – and the book it started with? – LITTLE WOMEN. She reads a few pages, then I take over. And we talk about it in a “cuddle” afterward. It’s really delightful.


  4. Gulp! This post makes me want to go wake my daughter up and read to her before it’s too late! How could I have insisted on a short story when she’d have been happy with something really long!!
    When she was an infant I was told “The days are long, the years are short” and I can’t think of a more concise and painfully accurate description of parenthood.


  5. 5th grade, “Island of the Blue dolphins”. My dad did his best to continue to make reading fun as well as a meaningful bedtime moment. Yes, eventually the story changes. . . the night gets shorter. . . But the moment is always meaningful. 26 years later, BA in Literature, I read every day. Thank you Island, the story I know only as “the one my dad read me when I couldn’t go one page further”.


  6. Interestingly, I don’t remember being read to. I put a stop to it the minute I learned to read. I read Little House in the Big Woods by myself when I was 5 and that was that.
    I pray all the time that Brynna isn’t like that. That she wants to be read to until she’s 64. Because she’s 5 now.


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