Posted near the hand-washing station at the NICU entrance is a sign promoting the NICU library. By the looks of it, they have all the classics: Goodnight Moon, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Guess How Much I Love You. However, even though I looked forward to reading to my kids, I was a bit skeptical about reading to a baby who weighs four pounds and is on bubble CPAP. How could I even concentrate enough on a kid’s book? How could she hear me over the noises of the NICU?
The skepticism did not last long. After so many hours next to the isolette I had to do something to keep my sanity. Kate and I started reading to London while she was still vented, pre-30 weeks gestational age. Too early? Yeah, but we sensed a theme with London, she wants to do everything early. Why not oblige her? Plus, reading is a love of mine and I want it to be for my daughter too.
We started with a book of Disney short stories. I introduced In the Night Kitchen, An Awesome Book (by Dallas Clayton, one of my favorites), and On the Night You Were Born. London not only was calm while I read to her, she satted high too. Her eyes would wander around, trying to find my voice. I was hooked.
But what do you do when you’ve read every kids book you own several times already? Easy, you start over if your kid is old enough to make requests. But London couldn’t so I moved on to magazines and novels. The New Yorker…why not? I started reading from The New Yorker app on my phone, but then began bringing the magazines into the NICU. The subject of the piece did not matter to London. As long as she heard my voice and could watch my mouth move and see my face we were making progress. I read about the origins of house music in Berlin clubs, Amazon’s effect on the publishing industry, and the start of Under Armour. Sometimes I had to whisper the words to her because they weren’t exactly NICU-appropriate.
Done with the magazines, a novel was next. Having seen the second of The Hobbit movies just a week before London arrived, and not having read the book since my freshman year of college, I had a strong desire to read the book again. I read this one from my iPad. I would shut the curtain to London’s pod for a little privacy, pick her up from the isolette, sit down in the recliner, rest her on one half of the pillow and the iPad on the other, and start reading. We finished The Hobbit in two weeks, every word of it read out loud to London as she drifted in and out of sleep on the pillow in front of me. We finished on May 7. By May 12, I had selected the next book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which meant I was committing London to a lot of listening and, for me, a lot of reading, because you can’t just read one book in a series. Well, you can, when the series sucks, but I didn’t expect that to be the case with Harry Potter. I had never read more than ten pages of a Harry Potter book. Now we are 250 pages into the third book.
I guess all the previous paragraphs represent my attempt at telling you it is never too early to read to your kid. It is hugely beneficial. Even before London was “full-term” she knew my reading voice from my regular voice. Realizing this could not have encouraged me more. She even smiled in response to the sound and rhythm of the words when she knew I was reading to her. She still does. Sometimes she flails around on the floor in pure excitement at the sound of the words and the sight of the book. And at other times she rests in the mamaRoo, so intensely focused on the movement of my mouth that I can see the learning in her eyes. And when she falls asleep I stop at the end of the page so, together, we won’t miss a word.