I am a desperate reader.
Of course, I read for pleasure, and I read for information. I read to make myself think and to find out about other people’s take on the world. But, most of all, I read because I have to.
I cannot function well unless I have a book or two on the go.
There’s always a book on the arm of my sofa, which I can pick up at any five minute pause in the day. There are also books by the bath, and books by my bed. I have an e-reader too, which allows me to take loads of books with me on holiday.
I have loved to read for most of my life and I have loved a great many books. When I look back and think about my life, I find myself thinking of the books that I was reading.
When things are tricky, I retreat into the world of books. Pickwick Papers got me through high school dramas. I read Georgette Heyer novels when my husband and I struggled with infertility.
When we adopted, our boys were not big fans of reading. They said it was ‘boring’ and ‘lazy’. But I continued to read, and I brought the boys into books with me. I read The Tiger who Came to Tea to the boys cuddled on the sofa. I read Dr Suess to them in the library. I read Dinosaur Rumpus to them when they were in the bath. I read We’re going on a Bear Hunt to them when I put them to bed.
When they screamed and wouldn’t let me near them, I sat nearby and read T.S. Eliot poems until they calmed down (sometimes aloud, usually not). I felt useless.
My children were struggling with such overwhelming anger and sadness, it was all I could do to keep myself afloat. I had so little to offer them. I hid in poetry, wishing that I knew how to wrap them up and take the pain away.
When the boys grew older and I couldn’t sit nearby to watch them scream, I sat downstairs, reading Robin Hobb novels and trying to forget how much of a failure I felt.
I knew that I ought to be helping them with these overwhelming feelings. I didn’t know how to do so.
I feel a great responsibility to follow through on the promise of adoption. These children I’m raising are infinitely precious to more than just me and my family. I have another mother’s children in my house, and I owe her the very best parent I can be.
Yet, so many times, I have retreated from the drama around me, picked up a book and read myself out of the room.
So many times, not knowing what to say, I have picked up a book and read. When the days have been terrifying, I have read Where the Wild Things Are. When I couldn’t tell them how amazing they are, I read Oh, the Places You’ll Go. Wanting them to understand that my love will always be here, I read Zagazoo and The Red Thread. “It’s like this,” I tell them, “this is how I feel about you.”
In time the boys learned to read for themselves and they began to read their own books. They began to read in bed, as an excuse to stay up later. They began to read during the day, because it got them through their adored Beast Quest books faster than listening to me reading aloud.
We buy them books at every opportunity, and take them to the library every week. I have shared my favorites with them (age appropriately, of course). One of my cherished parenting moments was reading The Prisoner of Zenda to my sons. They have even begun to recommend books to me (they were right, Cogheart is well worth reading).
The boys have fallen in love with reading. They read to while away car journeys (which makes me jealous – I have never been able to read in the car). Curled up on the sofa, they read for hours on end, a glorious mixture of fiction and nonfiction, graphic novels and encyclopedias.
More than that, though, they read for comfort. When they’re upset, they storm off to their rooms, throw a few toys, toss out a few insults, then they read.
They read Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings over and over again. They read Percy Jackson and Roman Mysteries. They borrow my husband’s Terry Pratchetts and my Jasper Ffordes. When the world gets too much, and they don’t know how to face it, my children pick up books and read themselves away.
I feel slightly less of a failure now. I had thought that I was supposed to be comforting my boys, that I needed to fill those empty spaces inside them. And, I still think it would have been good had I been the kind of person who could do that.
But, I now see that I have done something, after all. I have shown them my coping strategy. It’s not much, but it’s all I’ve got.
It may be very little, and I worry every day that it can’t possibly be enough, yet I have done as I intended and given my children my all.