I miss the beginning of the pandemic. Not the constant refreshing of the COVID maps that kept me up until 1 a.m. or the paralyzing fear of running out of toilet paper or the anxiety that gripped me so tightly I could hardly breathe, but you know, the air of togetherness that pieced us all together.
Puzzles were fine, and so were the endless walks with my kids on neighborhood scavenger hunts, but the thing that really got me through were all the chances to read out loud to kids. The Virtual Drag Queen Story Hours, Romper's own Operation Storytime, librarians all over the world downloading Zoom and opening book after book — everyone realizing that reading to children is one of the most important things we can do for them. For ourselves. For the world.
Reading is an ancient pastime, and reading to children goes back just as far, but the 20th century brought a resurgence of reading and books — specifically how important it was for every child to be able to read. In 1942, Little Golden Books launched specifically because the publishing company realized many books were too expensive for families — the classic stories started at just 25 cents a piece, "democratizing reading for young Americans." From the 1930s through the 1960s, Dick and Jane books were extremely popular and used as a learning tool for kids to pick up on phonics and sight words through the simple stories. Sesame Street debuted in 1969 specifically to help children prepare for kindergarten by teaching them the alphabet and numbers, the Scholastic Book Fair launched in 1981 to bring the power of reading and books straight to kids' elementary schools, and Accelerated Reader programs and Pizza Hut's Book It! reading initiatives took over the '90s. In 2010, Feb. 5 became World Read Aloud Day to celebrate the importance of reading out loud to kids.
And all the while, libraries were offering story times, buying books instead of cards for baby shower gifts became the norm, and 55% of parents reported going to the library in the last 12 months. Dolly Parton's Imagination Library has put 152,366,795 children's books into homes and Little Free Libraries are popping up in over 100,000 locations. Parents are consistently told how important reading to their children is, and many baby resources offer "read to baby" as a way to bond and connect with your newborn, even if their eyes aren't fully focused and they still smile when they toot.
The power of reading to your children can't be understated — and honestly, it's the one part of parenting I feel like I can always muster the energy for. It's the wholesome, gratifying, lovely part of the day I look forward to the most. Because global pandemic or not, the stretch from about 4:30 to 6:30 is fraught with anxiety for me every night. It's when my kids are most needy, and suddenly they're starving but not for the meal I've been trying to cook while balancing a laptop on a box of Cheez-Its. They are desperate for Doritos and bananas and NO MAMA I WANT YOGURT. It's that time of day where I'm remembering all of the stuff I didn't finish during naps and screentime and the early morning hours. And good news, bedtime is still like a full 90 minutes away.
But once dinner is over and we've kicked plastic blocks out of our way and moved crayons and papers and Barbies to make a path to the couch, my anxiety wanes a bit. This is the highest quality of quality times despite the fact that we are all on top of each other for 24 hours. And this is the time when I feel most important, the time when I feel most mom. It's time for stories, and no matter how tired I am or stressed or worried, I am always, always ready to read out loud to my kids. With voices. With animation. With just enough energy to read one more page.
The lengths our society will go to in order to get kids excited about reading, to share stories with them, to introduce a new world for them to fall into, always amazes me. When libraries shut down in the pandemic, librarians didn't hesitate to make story times virtual. The Association of American Publishers shared which publishing houses were changing their copyright terms so that teachers could read books out loud through YouTube without infringing on any book rights. Eva Chen, Mac Barnett, Oge Mora, and more children's book authors immediately said "yes" when asked to read their books online to kids.
Collectively, the world was tired. A global pandemic! Working from home! Financial stress and hundreds of thousands of people dead. But the world rallied around kindness and goodness, and the world decided, "You know what? We're exhausted. But we can still read to the kids."
Just like a parent.