There is nothing quite like crawling in bed with a good book.
Unless you amp up the coziness factor and add a child curled up next to you ... or maybe one on each side, their warm little bodies pressing up close.
If you are lucky, your faithful puppy dog jumps up, circles around a few times -- perhaps even scruffing up the blankets and pillows, making a little nest of comfort.
And if you are truly, richly blessed, you might find two dogs suddenly with you: one demanding attention by putting herself squarely between you and your child, the other curling round on the other side, sighing in contentment, sprawling across three pillows.
At our house, all of this is set in motion by saying "story time!" The Rottie and the Yellow Lab bound up the stairs, playfully growling and pushing each other so that they are both assured of a spot during this highly anticipated close to the day.
I started reading to our oldest when he was a tiny little bundle. I like Dr. Seuss, and I thought the rhythms rolled into a baby’s ears. I knew we had done something right when he chose his first sentence with care: "Mommy, read book, please." I stopped everything I was doing in my office, and complied, right then and there. How could I not?
When the second son came along, the eldest chose which books we’d read, while I nursed his little brother. He just naturally jumped into story time, too, with the two Rottie sisters, the dogs of that stage of our lives, curled up next to us. It’s a good thing we had queen size beds to use for story time then; we would not have all fit otherwise.
We had baskets of books in their rooms. They would read themselves to sleep at nap time. When they woke up, they would often stay in bed-the older one in particular -- maybe for almost an hour, just reading their stash. Pretty much every night, they fell asleep nearly buried in the mounds of volumes they took out. Sometimes, I awoke to a crash -- and then, when I heard no scream, I’d realize it was not a child that fell out of bed, but rather, a bunch of books.
I let them choose which ones to check out, which ones to read each night, which ones to read over and over and over again. I read more about cars, trucks, tractors -- anything with wheels, really -- then I wanted to, for longer than I wanted to. I recall wishing their fascination with snakes and dinosaurs would pass by faster than it did, too. But eventually, thanks to our wonderful librarians, we found several series that appealed to all of us. As they got older, and read well by themselves, we even established rules that no one was allowed to look ahead in the current book.
Story time expanded from "just one chapter" to an agreement of two chapters. Then we negotiated out more time. Finally, even I could not stand the suspense, and we’d read to a more natural stopping point. How could we just leave without knowing what was happening next?
Our favorite? Hands down: Harry Potter. I waited until they were older to pull this off the shelves for them, having read them myself just so I’d know what others were talking about. I started reading the first book in November. We read at night. As the series progressed -- truly, the plots increase in intensity under JK Rowling’s mastery -- they actually wanted to go to bed earlier, just so we could read. Sometimes, they would demand that we would read after supper, when they would normally be engrossed in Legos. Snow days? They would plead for story time during the day. The dogs reveled in these extra opportunities for cuddling; the fire place roaring and the snow outside made me forget what clients were waiting on, and how I should be in the office during working hours ....
During this marathon reading, our daughter joined us from Guatemala. Her foster family didn’t worry about strict bed times, or routines -- but we, by necessity of school schedules, absolutely did. Our transition plan involved story time. She had inherited the king-sized bed, and there was plenty of room for one mom, one little 2-and-a-half-year-old, one older brother of 10 and another of 8 -- and two Rottweilers.
We all piled in the bed together, and we started out first with a couple of books in Spanish that were just for her. Her brothers learned a few words, and read sometimes in English, too.
Then, we’d pick up again with Harry and his friends. No one cared how long it took for her to fall asleep, surrounded by family and lulled by my voice recounting the adventures over at Hogwarts. Over the first couple of months, we gradually made the space wider, first sending the brothers out, then I would leave and read in the hallway between the two rooms, and eventually, I was reading the "boys’ book" in the boys’ room.
By March, we wrapped up with the final book (new to me at the same time). We finished our marathon winter of reading. We dabbled in mysteries, historical fiction, fantasy, action ... I sought out suggestions, and hunted out books. Over time, we’ve bought iPads and Kindles, trying to keep up with their appetite for the newer books that our library doesn’t always seem to have.
Happily, our treasured books have been passed on. My 5-year-old niece in Illinois can barely see over her stacks upon stacks of hand-me-down books. We’ve shoved those same books in suitcases and bags in the last year, bringing them back to the east coast for my 2-year-old niece in Massachusetts. It makes my heart sing to hear her voice chanting, "Hand, hand, fingers, thumb," just like my husband used to do when these guys were littler.
In the last two years, as the oldest son’s sports demands changed his nightly schedule -- and they couldn’t agree anymore on what to read -- story time has shifted to just our daughter and me -- and, of course, our two dogs. Other parents assure me that we kept this tradition much longer they most, even if it often makes me sad to not close the day with them this way.
But sometimes, those older two still make an appearance. They often still seem to hang around the room, even if not exactly coming in -- especially if it is a cold and wintry night. The middle child in particular finds great amusement in flying into the room, landing on the bed in the perfect way to infuriate his sister.
Sometimes, he tries to crawl from his room into his sister’s without me seeing him. He says it is because he likes to scare me (which, indeed, counts as one of his favorite tricks).
He’s not fooling me: he is just giving into the allure of story time.
Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools-now at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment, the Brattleboro Town School Board and the Early Education Services policy council.