“There are many Beths in the world, shy and quiet, sitting in corners till needed, and living for others so cheerfully that no one sees the sacrifices till the little cricket on the hearth stops chirping, and the sweet, sunshiny presence vanishes, leaving silence and shadow behind.” ~Marmee
I remember reading Little Women to my three oldest daughters when they were little women themselves. Sometimes we curled up on the couch together, tucked under a cozy blanket. Other chapters I read out loud to them while sipping tea and eating cookies at Madison’s Tea Room on Main Street in our little home town of Warrenton, VA.
Rereading these lines Marmee shared with her girls brings fresh tears to my eyes. Maybe it is because I have a “Beth” myself. The many loving acts of care and cheerful service my Bethany showed to her younger siblings were too often unnoticed, just like the gentlest Miss March.
I don’t know how great an impact reading Little Women had on my daughters, but it surely affected me. I imagined losing my sweet Bethany and her sunshiny presence in our lives; doing so motivated me to notice all of my children more, especially my quiet ones, and to appreciate the precious gift each one is.
A couple weeks ago I read an excellent article entitled, “The Great Gift of Reading Aloud” by Meghan Cox Gurden, who expressed how stabilizing and rewarding reading aloud to your children is. She even describes the activity as “having been one of the great civilizing practices of domestic life.”
Reading out loud to our children had the effect of knitting us together as a family like nothing else. In the morning before the children and I started our formal schooling, I would read from the Bible or have the children take turns reading out loud. In addition, I would often read a character story, either fictional or a true account of a brave missionary or noble role model. Maybe that’s why Bethany wanted to be a missionary when she was young, or why Charity is currently taking a Hazmat Ops course in her volunteer fire department work!
Afternoons over tea became another regular opportunity to travel west with Lewis and Clark, or experience life on a ranch like Ralph Moody in Little Britches. At bedtime, Daddy would gather the littles around him and together, they would travel with Sam and Frodo in The Lord of the Rings or fight for Narnia with high king Peter and Queen Lucy.
Reading books out loud to our children became the highest point and best part of our days as family. I gave all the bears in AlphaBear a different voice, and read Madeleine books with a French accent—Oui, oui, of course! There was no shortage of imaginative play either.
And when our children were no longer little, the older ones would read at night to their siblings. I still remember Bethany dramatically reading Brill of Exitorn and The Runaway Princess, keeping her sisters entranced with her narrative.
After Bethany married, Susanna read Unbroken to Charity, Amy, and John. I imagine the harsh reality of Louis Zamperini’s suffering as a WWII prisoner of war sobered them all; his changed life and the healing power of forgiveness likewise inspired them.
That’s the power of great books and the lasting value of reading aloud to your children. Good stories reach way down inside you, past entertaining alone, and engage your mind and tug on your heart.
Gurden went on to share in her article, reading out loud “has been one of the great joys of our family life. It is also increasingly a torment—a torment because as children get older the schedule gets busier; because it’s ever harder to get literary classics into children’s minds before they see the Hollywood variants; because childhood itself is fast disappearing into the bewitching embrace of technology.”
And sadly, I’ve witnessed the “bewitching embrace of technology” in my home as well. Last Christmas break, I tried to enjoy playing Trivia Crack with my adult children, each one of us playing the game with each other on our individual androids and iPhones. Yes, we were “hanging out together,” but it didn’t connect us like reading stories aloud to my kids. How I miss the simpler, sweeter days we shared! Not about to be undone, however, I’m keeping my library of great classics and fun children’s stories on hand, and my lap is ready for my grandchildren!
You have such a challenge before you, mom. The power of the screen is so strong! Start when your children are young. Place your story books in revered places in your home. Guard time to read to your littles like a pirate’s chest of jewels; hold on to the treasure as long as you can.
Well-written stories read aloud connect us to one another as family. They remind us we are human, as together we laugh and cry, hope and dream, fight bad guys and help the less fortunate. Together, through the pages of our books, we share in the richness of life together, and embrace the reality that each life has meaning and worth, and every day counts for something good.
Photo Credit: All photos copyright Klicka.