I was lucky enough to have parents who read to me often when I was a child. I remember my mom reading “We’re Taking an Airplane Trip” before our first family trip to Florida when I was 5, and my dad reading the Sunday comic strips (“the funnies,” as they of course were called) to my sister and me. It nurtured my love of reading and of reading aloud.
I love the rhythm, the musicality, of a thoughtfully constructed series of words and the way tone and inflection can bring text to life. And after the words themselves fade, memories of their delivery and how they made you feel remain.
I loved reading to Nate before he was born, and I love that that was something that Joe and I shared. Our library grew quickly thanks to baby-shower gifts and my pilfering of select childhood favorites—“Madeleine” and “Has Winter Come?” among them—from my parents’ home. Reading aloud while I was pregnant gave me a good practice run, too, I thought, so I could get the cadence of different texts down before their debut in front of a live studio audience, so to speak.
But my favorite book to read now is one I didn’t read (on purpose) until Nate arrived—“On the Night You Were Born,” by Nancy Tillman.
I remember that I first discovered the book at a card store six months before. Struck by the sweetness of the message that this child, any child, is a marvel-worthy miracle, I bought it for a close friend who was due with her first in two weeks. I didn’t know at the time that she had gone into labor earlier in the day and was already at the hospital. She gave birth to a beautiful baby girl the next day. That summer, I was glad to receive my own copy as a shower gift.
In the chaos of the night when Nate was born, I didn’t get to read him the story I had hoped would be the first he’d hear “on the outside.” The hospital’s copy of “Sheep in a Jeep,” with which I was unfamiliar, was procured instead. The next night, after Nate returned from Comer Children’s, a couple of big, burly, wonderful guys at Edward Hospital moved a loveseat into Nate’s NICU room so Joe and I could sit and hold him, and I read him “On the Night You Were Born” for the first time. I was sorry that I didn’t have the cadence down.
I don’t know how many times I’ve read it aloud since. Always in the nursery, always sitting in the rocking chair that Joe built, like my dad used to read to my sister and me in their big old rocking chair. The book has such a lovely rhythm and beautiful illustrations, and the ending rarely fails to catch my throat.
“For never before in story or rhyme (not even once upon a time) has the world *ever* known a you, my friend, and it never will, not ever again.”
Today, I am happy to say, I read it for both of my kids—one in heaven and one on the way. Nate’s little brother or sister is due around Labor Day, a couple of weeks after Nate’s second birthday. Oh, the stories I can't wait to read, and to tell.
“Heaven blew every trumpet and played every horn on the wonderful, marvelous night you were born.” What a blessing.
• Christine LaFave Grace works as an editor and writer.
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