Editor’s Note: This is a reprint from 2004, giving a glimpse into my life as a mother.
They have been a part of our family since the beginning. Having grown up as an only child, my dear, departed mother-in-law used to say, “Books can be such good friends.” This was also the same beloved woman who confessed that, on more than one occasion, she was known to stay up all night, reading a good book. When my children were very young, it was always a greater temptation for me to spend money on books, rather than toys. Early on, “Pat the Bunny” was one of the first books every baby in our family learned to know and love. As I think back, I can still hear my own voice reading aloud, as I watched pudgy little hands reach out in response to the simple commands, “Pat the bunny,” and “Touch Daddy’s scratchy face,” given in the book.
Some of my earliest, most precious memories of motherhood revolve around the printed page. It seems as if it was only yesterday, in our little house on Cherry Street, that I would sit down every morning with my first-born, 18-month old son on my lap. Besides reading stories to him, I would make the most of his very short attention span, teaching him the letters of the alphabet.
Nap-times could never be commenced without first reading through a stack of books. I can still picture his childish enthusiasm when I would say, “Hurry and pick up your toys, and you can pick out some books to read.” Sometimes, at bedtime, I’d succumb to fatigue and try to shorten a story. Well, let’s just say that if you have a “well-read” toddler on your hands, you can see why I never got away with that!
When son #2 came along, as well as with the addition of each child thereafter, the time I spent nursing a baby became synonymous with reading story books. To this very day, I can still remember how it felt to be surrounded on the couch by eager little boys, each one hanging on my every word, as I read fascinating accounts of cowboys, or animals, or Bible characters! How I loved watching their little faces, as the story developed. Back then, they weren’t known to sit quietly for too many things; however, they were spell-bound when I read to them. Reading time actually proved to be great practice for the fine art of sitting still, and broadening their attention span. Bonding and cuddling took place in those precious times, as well. How I would love to go back and spend just five minutes reliving those happy moments!
One of our bed-time favorites was “Hush, Hush! It’s Sleepy Time.” This comforting narrative unfolded, as the reader was taken on a little trip through the barnyard. Whether it was pigs and piglets, horses and foals, or cows and calves, the book title was always repeated at the bottom of each page, after it described the mother animal bedding down her young for the night. More often than not, while I was reading, tired little bodies would be known to utter barely audible sighs, when I came to the final page and whispered, “It is the end of another day. Soon the friendly dark will come. Hush, hush. It’s sleepy time for children, too.”
Books captivated my children’s attention. One of the main reasons was because when we began our family, my dear husband and I deliberately chose not to own a television. My children grew up with books being their chief form of entertainment. They learned to love books from a very early age. Considering the fact that they have all gone on to be excellent readers and students, I don’t think they were deprived!
I will never forget the mental vision I have of my third son, at about 14 months, curled up in the corner of his crib. He didn’t have much room to sleep, because he was surrounded by piles of books: probably 25 or 30 of them, all of which he had insisted upon taking to bed with him. Some kids sleep with stuffed animals; Ethan slept with books!
In the early days of our family, when our children were small, we established a ritual that we have continued to this day. Practiced almost religiously, with very few exceptions, I have spent Tuesday afternoons, shuttling our 4 children at varying ages from piano lessons, to the library, and then back home again. When the boys were still in elementary school, our Tuesday evenings were fairly predictable. Back then, by the time dinner was finished, the table was cleared, and dishes and food were returned to their proper places, 3 little boys were getting “antsy.” The suspense of unpacking several bulging bags of library books sitting beside the closet door was killing them! Because we checked out so many books from the library each week, I was often asked if I was a teacher. Of course I was! My home was my classroom!
What fun, when they discovered each book I had carefully screened and selected for them! Every Tuesday night was almost like Christmas at the Custer house, and all it cost me was the price of a library card! Even before all three boys were able to read on their own, they would sit on the couch, (for hours if I let them) all in a row, oldest to youngest, totally absorbed in their books. Needless to say, back then, our house was unusually quiet on Tuesday evenings!
Oh, my goodness! As I think back, the memories just keep coming. How well I can recall going through the necessary steps, as I taught each one of them how to read. Their first attempts were always so sweet and precious, as they put together the phonetic sounds they had learned. Those were priceless moments to behold, when the “light bulb” turned on, and they realized they could actually read words, ALL BY THEMSELVES! I praised their efforts, and they beamed from ear to ear. In those days, I would make extra trips to the library, set up reading contests, and fill a “goody box” with tempting items. I gave away bigger prizes and established other incentives, to nurture the fledgling stages of reading on one’s own. I guess my philosophy always was that being able to read well would be my child’s passport to a brighter future. While we’re on the subject, forgive me if I’ve already told you this story.
One of our family’s most treasured memories is an incident involving one particular member of the family who wasn’t so thrilled when his older brother began his intense relationship with the printed page. Because Aaron was a “reading fiend,” and would read even while brushing his teeth, his younger brother (not yet a reader at the time) felt abandoned and ignored by his sibling, and rightly so. We all still laugh about Seth, who, at 3 years of age, came to me complaining, “All Aawon does is wead, wead, wead!” (Not to worry. I know Seth would want me to inform you that long ago, he learned how to conquer those elusive “r’s!”)
Why do I recount these personal experiences, you may ask? It’s not merely to entertain, but rather, to motivate and inspire- especially young mothers- to get a vision for the little ones at their feet. I am concerned when I see children appear to have untrained, unchallenged, and undisciplined minds. Youngsters like this represent untapped potential to me.
The Bible says, in Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Should this verse not apply to a child’s mind, as much as anything else? The word, “train,” means “to bring up, rear, teach, or educate.” It is an action verb, implying the fact that something of value is being accomplished. It takes discipline and vision on the part of parents to not take the easy route by allowing their children to be just be who and what they are! Parents should be challenging them to reach higher, work harder, and become more than they are in their natural state, all to the glory of the Lord!
In this age of TV, videos, computer games, and other “easy” and shallow entertainment forms and electronic devices, we MUST fight against the trend to raise lazy-minded children. Using a movie or video as a baby-sitter may be convenient, but what, exactly, are you teaching? Whatever happened to the lost art of reading stories aloud? This practice stimulates imagination and creativity like nothing else! I have often wondered if there are some adults God cannot use very effectively, simply because they were never trained to think when they were young! (We’re talking about reaching one’s potential, here!)
And may I say a word about the type of literature we digest? Mothers, I pray each of you will set a godly example for your children- especially your daughters- in the area of the particular reading material YOU choose. Too many women live in the silly, unrealistic, superficial, and carnal fantasy-land of romance novels. Even if these have a Christian “twist” to them, how much better is it to read material with substance, like something educational, perhaps historically-based, spiritually edifying, mentally challenging, or stories filled with godly principles?
Whether we want to admit it or not, what we read does have an effect on us. Years ago, a young woman confessed to me that she knew the reason she bore a child out of wedlock was because of the kind of books she was reading at the time. Anyone can see that modern media, in every form, has done much to undermine morals. May we who say we are Christians, i.e., “Christ-like ones,” be vigilant to maintain righteousness and purity in all areas of our lives.
These days, I don’t spend much of my time reading to toddlers any more. I am, instead, kept busy pouring over science, history, or other textbooks in a homeschool setting. Whatever the stage of life, it seems that to be a mother means to also be a teacher. During these often-hectic days, I try to remind myself not to complain about all I have to do, but rather to count it a privilege and blessing to have the opportunity to teach and train my own dear children.
I challenge you, as I challenge myself. Am I taking the time, and going to the effort, to make the most of my children’s potential, on a daily basis? Am I willing to deny my personal pleasure, “my time” just to pour into the hearts and minds of the little people God has entrusted to my care? How is my attitude? Do I complain? Do I teach out of a sense of obligation or from a thankful, loving heart? Do I realize the days of opportunity to invest in my children are but a vapor?
Don’t despair over failures of the past. Determine to start fresh…today!