Raising a #LittleReader When Mommy Doesn’t Read

How does a parent who isn't an avid reader raise a child who loves books? Vaani Arora has some ideas.
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On a breezy March afternoon back in 2013, I found myself alone at home with my 30-day old. No grandparents, no nanny, no partner. She was awake and like every great mother on planet earth, I had no idea what to do with her! We held each other for a bit, strolled on the terrace, listened to some R.D.Burman and then started wailing… me, not her. As she looked at me, bemused, I pulled up a newspaper and started reading an interview of Nawazuddin Siddiqui…loudly. No mother wants to reveal to her child that she is totally freaked out by this whole mom thing. She listened, spellbound. No one cried. We were both now really trying to understand the nuanced performance of a great actor. I had discovered a way to hang out with my bub, all by myself. “Am I the coolest mom, or what?!” I said to myself. Reading is our thing, we decided.

I was never big on reading as a kid and like most people in my generation I grew up on ghastly Bollywood of the 80s and Krishi Darshan – a heady cocktail of TV and cinema. I used to be envious of all those people who would quote literary greats without batting an eyelid. MY CHILD WAS GOING TO BE BETTER AT READING THAN ME – I had promised myself during my pregnancy. Little did I realize that I had to learn to be a good reader myself first. Except, I could hardly ever read anything over a hundred pages. So it was highly unlikely that she would find me reading anything apart from newspapers, magazines, comics or emails. But then, thanks to listicles on the Internet, I found out about some of the best children’s books from around the world and I got us some of those. The best bit about reading aloud was that it helped me channel my inner actress and unleash my acting prowess onto an audience member who had little choice in the matter. But over the last three and a half years of reading to her every night, this is what I have discovered –

1. Children’s books are far more entertaining than adult books.

2. Reading is not such a chore once you actually get down to it. Picture books can be read cover to cover in 15-20 minutes flat. That includes interesting questions that accompany the storytelling too. You’ll learn to think of it as 15-minutes of entertaining your child and letting your hair down as well.

3. Over a period of listening to the stories and lives of different characters, my child learned empathy and she also learned to name her emotions. This, I feel, is critical to her emotional growth and also helps her communicate difficult emotions like frustration, anger, fear, etc. effectively.

4. Due to the lack of recreation options in the city I live in, we have had to resign to longer reading spells during summer break, thanks to rains and other extreme weather conditions that stall all football matches in the playground. Over a period of time, we’ve read books that appeal to both of us. Like the Nawazzuddin Siddiqui interview that I read to her as a month old baby, I’ve even read out loud Shel Silverstein and Gulzar’s poetry, which she is too young to understand. It has helped her discover new words. Sample this – she told me one evening that the rain had ‘ruined’ her paper boat. I remember learning this word much later in life and here I had a puny 30-month-old mouthing this word in its perfect usage to me.

5. Given that we’ve known each other only 3 years or so, the characters in books have helped us form a collective history with each other. They become talking points at dinner or reference points for certain characteristic behaviors. All this has helped us develop unique ways of communication, acquired mannerisms, and bond over them. As a parent, I really treasure it.

After all this, I am tempted to ask my Dad to read to me tonight. It might be an Urdu text and I might even pick up a few words to later make my own.

About the author:
Vaani Arora is a filmmaker and writer of picture books for children. Her 3-year-old is constantly teaching her how to survive parenthood.

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