Gather ‘Round: Reading for the Soul

We’ve been puttering around the house all morning, the kids and I. It’s our sixth snow day so far this winter. The boys are building with Duplos, Ruthie’s doing laps with her baby stroller, and I’m wandering around. I’ve washed some dishes, thrown in a load of laundry, scrolled Instagram, tossed a few random toys back into their bins. The day feels aimless and mundane, and it’s just now 10:00 a.m.: no-man’s land.

Ruthie cries because Leo snatched her doll as she strolled by his construction site, and he screeches loudly and runs away. Suddenly, Ian dumps the entire Duplo basket over with a crash. Here comes the chaos.

Over the noise, I shout, “Who wants to read a book?”

Whenever my husband and I find ourselves drawn again to the concept of minimalism, we laugh as we think about the books. Books fill an overflowing cart in the playroom and a basket in the basement, shelves in the living room and each kid’s bedroom, plus a big plastic bin in the back of my closet. More are packed away with the autumn and Christmas decorations. We are a reading family, and stories are the soundtrack of our days.

As a third grader, I would run to the end of our driveway at the beginning of each month, eager to check the mailbox for a red and white cardboard box from Scholastic. Inside was my monthly delivery of four Baby-Sitter’s Club books: a subscription box before subscription boxes were cool. Late at night, tucked under my purple comforter, Kristy and Mary-Anne and Claudia and Stacey and Dawn were my companions, ushering me into my lifelong passion for stories.

When I was pregnant with my first baby, my co-worker Jill approached my desk in the church office and handed me a gift: The Big Book of Things That Go.

“It was Michael’s when he was little,” she said, and I tried to imagine her son—now a high school quarterback—flipping the pages of the oversized book with tiny, chubby toddler hands.

Today, almost six years later, the cover is bent and worn. Most of the pages are held together by Scotch tape. If you ask my boys what they want to be when they grow up, one says an excavator operator and one says taxi driver, because they have been captivated by the vehicles they encountered on those pages. I am not at all interested in transportation, but I don’t have to crack open the book to tell you, “Hatchbacks are popular cars in cities because they are small and easy to park,” and “A pick-up truck has a flat, open back that is useful for carrying small loads.”  So many other children’s books are solidified in my memory, too.

Horn went “Beep!” Engine purred.

In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf.

A told B and B told C…

On the night Max made mischief of one kind and another…

They stop their crying and wild mischief-making, and they come running, like eager farmhands to the dinner bell. They’ve each grabbed a book from the playroom cart, and we plop ourselves onto the living room floor: Ian to my left, Leo to my right, Ruthie in my lap. Once we’ve settled whose choice will be read first, the scuffling quiets, and I hold up the cover for them to see.

All the World,” I say, “by Liz Garton Scanlon. Illustrated by Marla Frazee.” I turn the page. The book is one of my very favorites, and I’m glad they’ve picked it.

I have carried my love of stories with me, from The Babysitter’s Club to Anne of Green Gables to Pride and Prejudice. It propelled me from bad high school poetry into undergraduate journalism classes. It transformed me from aspiring journalist to first-grade teacher to Internet writer to aspiring author. When I encounter an amazing story or a perfectly-penned sentence, goosebumps travel up my arms, and my heart swells in my chest.

But even when I haven’t found time to put my own pen to paper, or my reading seems to hit a lull, I gather my children around me. Every single day, multiple times a day, you can find us with our noses, together, in a book.

Even when the kids have been fighting all day, they all make room for one another to see the pictures.

Even when our home is loud and chaotic, everyone quiets down to hear Evan or I say, “Once upon a time…”

Even when I’ve barely had a moment to connect with my children all day, they lean in extra close to help turn the page.

Even when I’m grumpy and tired, I can find a good laugh or creative inspiration in great illustrations.

Even when my mothering is haphazard or unintentional, the stories give us language to learn about hope and peace and love and trust.

I am no longer a child, but I still get the urge to chop off my hair like Mary-Anne did, and I still cry when I think about Charlotte not making it back to Zuckerman’s barn. My boys still ask to read The Big Book of Things That Go every day, and we’re on to our second copy of Little Blue Truck Leads the Way. I feel most like myself when I place the final period at the end of an essay, and we are most like the family I want us to be when we are gathered around a story: grounded, together, entranced by all that is good and true in the world.

Featured Image by Hill Smiley Photography

 Lindsey is a writer, reader, and mom who is slowly learning to trade perfectionism for freedom. A Florida-to-Michigan transplant, her faith and sense of purpose are shifting as she experiences seasons in the world and in her own life. Lindsey is also the co-founder of The Drafting Desk, a newsletter for anyone trying to pursue grace instead of perfection. You can find her on Instagram @lindseycornett

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