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Moms Passing Precious Time

Written by Marla Paul

One mom remembers the sweet days of bedtime stories.

Roaming the aisles of our grammar school book fair, I finally spied it. "There it is," I yelped. "The new Arthur book!"

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The antics of Arthur, a droll grammar school aardvark, had delighted my daughter, Elizabeth, and me for years. We looked forward to every new adventure, which we read so many times we practically memorized the words.

No, I should say I practically memorized the words. Elizabeth was content to listen, nestled on my lap, her brown curls tickling my nose as I unlocked the mystery of the words on the page.

Reading her a book was like unwrapping a present. I savored the spare and elegant prose and lush illustrations; she relished being transported into the tale, whether exotic or familiar.

"Read to me, Mommy!" she demanded at breakfast, after school and before bed. Those were the best moments of my day.

But as I stood in the aisle at the book fair and paged through the long-awaited Arthur story, an unwelcome realization tugged at me. This was too babyish. Now, at 8 years old, Elizabeth had moved beyond such simple sentences. I picked up some more picture books with gorgeous pictures and charming stories. They seemed too young as well. I began to feel depressed.

My daughter was growing out of picture books faster than a new pair of party shoes. I would miss them. But not to worry: I bought her some chapter books. At least she still needed me for those.

In the evenings that followed, I read Elizabeth a riveting mystery about a plucky orphan girl whose aunt had been enslaved by truly fiendish woman. Could the girl rescue her desperate aunt? We were enthralled.

"One more chapter, pleeeeeze," she implored.

"That's enough for tonight. We'll read some more tomorrow," I said. Then my daughter did something new. She picked up the book and read the next chapter herself.

The following night I walked into the family room to see her curled up in a chair, immersed in the mystery.

"Want me to read it to you?" I asked.

"No, that's OK," she said, her eyes glued to the page.

"Are you sure?" I said, my tone just short of pleading.

The following night my services were rejected again.

"That was a great book!" she said several days later, setting it down with an air of satisfaction.

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This is what it had been leading up to, all the hours I spent searching the shelves of bookstores and libraries for stories that would enchant her, all the time we spent cuddled on the couch sharing them. I'd been reading to my daughter before she could even lift her little head in the crib let alone understand the words. I want her to love books as much as I do, to reap all the delights and lessons of literature. And now she is well on her way.

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So why do I feel so sad?

Because the days I have left when she plops herself on my lap and asks me to read to her, my arms curved around her as she sips a bowl of soup, are as numbered as the pages in "Little House on the Prairie," which she is now devouring. I've bought some time by finding books that are still too advanced for her to read on her own. But it won't be long before she no longer needs me for those, either.

I feel like someone who has taken a loved one to the airport for a fabulous trip. I'm waving goodbye at a face in the plane window, thrilled for her journey, but sorry I can't join her.

It's a good thing. I know that. And now I'll have time to read my own books, which had often sat unopened on the coffee table before they were due back at the library. And there is one other unexpected advantage.

As I was settling into a hot bath the other night, my daughter popped her head in.

"Want me to read you a story?" she asked.

"Sure, why not?" I said. And while I relaxed in the steamy water, I listened to her animated reading. It was the first time anyone had read to me in about 40 years. I loved it.

"Want to hear one more?" she asked. I closed my eyes and settled back for another good yarn. I could get used to this.

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