For E’s third birthday we gave her a simple gift, a gift that she has enjoyed every night for the past 365+ days – a reading lamp on a timer. It clips onto the other part of her gift – a combination bulletin board, and bedside table – and when we are done reading books together, we spin the dial on the timer and she has another 15 minutes of personal reading time. This is when she truly comes alive. Even though her room is on the top floor, our stair hall is open for all three floors, and sounds travel easily both ways. As we move through the motions of our post-kid-bedtime routine, she enters her world of make-believe, aided by the words and illustrations of the books stacked at the foot of the bed.
This has become one of our favorite times of the day.
Each story comes to life, at a volume and pitch that would carry from a stage to a vast audience. The plot lines and characters weave in and out of each other, and one cast is allowed, even encouraged, to mix and mingle with those of another world. She interjects her own friends, her own teachers, and (quite accurately) her own parents’ voices and phrases into these stories, and she often throws in the taboo words that we frown upon during the day, because she’s “reading” them, of course, not just saying them.
It’s art, right?
These stories continue well after the light goes out, and occasionally we have to yell up a reminder that her time is up. It’s pointless though. If she’s really into the tale she just continues without skipping a beat, fueled by the desire to make it to the last page, fueled by an extra long nap that afternoon, fueled by something – who knows what? Something that makes a reader keep turning the pages, eyes straining to read by the hall light or the bed light, trying to keep drowsy eyes open to the end of the chapter.
Nine nights out of ten, she finishes when she is ready, neatly stacks the dozen or so books at the foot of the bed, and carefully arranges her sleep friends around her and pulls her sheet up to her neck and shuts down for the night. Later, when we check on her before going to bed, we marvel at how she can read aloud with such passion and abandon, books strewn every which way, and then just decide that she’s spent and begin her nesting ritual on her own accord.
But that tenth night is the best night. It’s one of us reaching her room, while the other one is brushing teeth – the whispered “hey, you’ve got to see this” – and then the two of us standing by her bed, surveying the reading session that was abandoned midstream by a little girl who just couldn’t keep up with her imagination. She’s a frozen moment of her favorite pastime, the girl who will drop anything if you settle down onto the couch to read her a book, and we just wish we could see what she’s dreaming about.