Okay, I’ll admit it. I started out as one of those annoying mothers who read to her baby bump. Later, my pampered first son was read to endlessly. As he soaked in the bath I would recite him AA Milne, bouncing British classics that my own mother read to me. I did it for me as much as I did it for him. I was lonely. There was no other voice in the house but mine. Reading out loud was like company.
Three boys later, the reading had stopped. There were more than enough voices in my house and I simply craved silence. We were always too busy anyway. From his pram, my third son could navigate the neighbourhood better than any sat-nav, but there was zero reading happening.
I can’t prove a link (and I’ve got enough mum guilt to blame myself for it) – but his speech suffered. ‘He can’t even string a sentence together’ I lamented to my mother one day. ‘Do you read to him?’ she replied. But with three boys in primary school and high school, how could I fit reading into our already overscheduled lives? I also doubted my youngest would be interested, he’d always been keener to kick a soccer ball around.
But fed up with speech therapy and the whining that accompanies speech therapy homework, I was determined to try.
We started small; Roald Dahl, one chapter as he ate his breakfast. I couldn’t help notice how the older boys began to time their breakfasts for listening in too. I began to enjoy reading to my kids, speaking in funny voices and hearing my boys chuckle.
We finished all the Dahl books and tried a few others; David Walliams and Anna Fienberg’s Tashi series which he adored. The boys made their lunches so I could keep reading. My eldest (13) started ironing his shirt. And then, the big one, a request from my middle son – what about Harry Potter? I looked at the six tomes he held in his arms and shuddered. Have you seen how thick those books are? How could we possibly get through them all? The answer was like anything else: one page at a time.
Harry Potter is a complicated tale at times and the language is sophisticated. I promised myself if my youngest (8) ever looked bored I would stop. But he hasn’t. Not once. We’re five books in, and every morning the boys sit at my feet as I read as-much-as-we-can-cram-in to the morning. They’ve see the movies – they know what happens – but reading has brought the story alive for them, and has brought us closer together.
At dinner time now, we have things to discuss. What sort of wand would you choose, dragon heart-string or phoenix feather? Would you rather be able to disapperate or fly? I get their in- jokes, because they’re my in jokes too. We’re all genuinely intrigued by this magic world which has somehow bound us.
This is a joy as a mother who is so often met with one word responses from her boys. They are not chatterboxes, and neither am I, so it’s wonderful to share this with them. There are other unexpected outcomes. The boys now want to get up in the morning. They’re not asking for devices or fighting. They are making their own breakfasts and lunches to allow me to read – they are taking responsibility for their morning routine.
I have become a better writer by reading so much JK Rowling. My boys have too. Yes, my youngest still struggles with his speech, but by spending this time with him I can see how his mind is alive with magic. It’s sparkling away in there and that’s what really matters.
Tonya’s latest book, The Impossible Story of Olive in Love is available now.
Images: Top – Getty / Bottom – Tonya Alexandra