By the time I was born, my parents were separated. They agreed that during the school year, my sister and I would be with my mom, and for summers and holidays, we’d be with our dad. And since my dad’s military job moved him around a lot, we spent those summers and holidays together in a number of different locations, including Texas, Georgia, Virginia, and North Carolina, to name a few. We did fairly normal activities together—cooking, traveling, watching movies, walking the dogs—but of all the memories the three of us have made over the years, many of my favorites revolve around one activity: reading together.
Every summer, we’d read about three books together, with each of us picking one. We’d sit in the family room or at the dining room table every day or so for at least a couple of hours, taking turns reading chapters aloud. The tradition nurtured a love of books and reading that I still turn to for a de-stressing self-care practice. And while I can’t recall every story we read in all of those different locations, there are a certain few I particularly treasured.
In Georgia, when I was about 9 years old, for example, we read The Horse and His Boy, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, all by C.S. Lewis. What I remember loving about that series experience was not only the magic of the stories, but my dad’s dedication to ensure we understood each. He gave the characters distinct voices, which was always very fun and engaging, and he also tested us over the books, claiming that learning didn’t stop just because school was out.
He would have us sit down at the kitchen table in front of a printed word document of multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank questions. And while this sounds like something that might make a child groan, truthfully, I found it to be exciting. I always liked school and tests, so the quizzes provided an opportunity for friendly competition with my sister to see who could get the best grade. (Yes, Dad graded us).
But these weren’t your average school tests—rather, they included questions laced with love, containing inside jokes and nicknames, for instance. After completing the tests, we’d sit together and go over the questions and their correct answers. The exercise further instilled both my love of reading and storytelling, and also my critical thinking skills that would help me succeed in school and beyond in later years.
Just because we can’t read together like we did during those childhood summers doesn’t mean the tradition has ceased, though. I’d instead like to think it evolved.
We primarily read together during summers, since that was when we shared the most time together, but summer doesn’t last forever, and neither does childhood. Once my sister and I went to college, we no longer spent our school year with our mother, so our parents divvied up our time at home even more—meaning no more entire summers to read with dad. But just because we can’t read together like we did during those childhood summers doesn’t mean the tradition has ceased. I’d instead like to think it evolved.
Passing a physical book around to one another transformed into passing along book recommendations, which we still discuss intermittently over the phone or email. But, the practice of reading and learning together has shifted to more of a movie club. Now, each week, one of us gives the other two a selection of three movies, and the other two pick the one they find most interesting. We all have to watch it by the following weekend, and then we have a group FaceTime to discuss. This way to stay in touch is still a means of engaging with content and learning from each other afterward. And I believe it would be a difficult arrangement to see out had our dad not fostered a warm environment for engaging discussion during our summers reading together during my childhood.
Outside of that weekly movie-club call, we also talk to each other separately on a regular basis, but this evolved tradition of coming together around a creative medium still stands, and it still feeds my wellness needs. I don’t think I would be as emotionally secure with my family, love storytelling as much as I do, or understand the importance of certain issues and how to deal with them, had my father not established this practice of reading together.
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