I mentioned before that Paul and I are observing Lent by walking and abstaining from alcohol. Without encouragement, the older girls decided to observe Lent by abstaining from texting. This past week, we added a family observance of Lent: no talking about movies.

I noticed that a majority of our table talk consisted of bantering and quotes from movies. It bothered me. Did movies represent our family culture? As much as I love Napoleon Dynamite, where was the depth or seriousness in our conversations? Where were the topics that drew us closer? We visited the same surface and continued to scratch at it day-in and day-out.

At first, I blamed public school and wanted to pull them out. I’m realizing, though, that I need to always have my homeschool cap on whether they’re in school or not. Paul and I have been working, and we held the mistaken idea that when we got home, our general duties were over. Apart from dinner, laundry, and clean-up, the time was ours to waste away as we wished.

With all the busy going-ons of our family, reading aloud was one of the first things to go. It’s so easy to drop it. Pretty soon it’s bedtime and it’s tempting to just kick’em out of the living room — sometimes with a kiss and a prayer.

I did my masters’ thesis on the benefits of reading aloud to older children — even teenagers. Though it’s slim-pickin’s, the research is positive.

Consider the benefits: deepen understanding of more difficult books, develop vocabulary both for speaking and writing, foster family closeness, protect family culture (by reading similar books), encourage family discussions, model good reading, create positive feelings associated with reading, teach morals without preaching, romance good character without lectures, and …

it’s fun.

This family habit, which has always been a cornerstone of who we are, had just… disappeared, as good habits are so prone to do. I decided to re-establish it with Hank the Cowdog. It’s a book at Dagne’s or Ingrid’s reading level. But the voice is strong and the chapters are short and quick. I felt that we needed to ease back into establishing this nightly routine.

Paul has a highly sensitive sense of humor. The first chapter had him in stitches. The girls watched him laugh and wondered, What is so funny? The humor was over the younger kids’ heads. “What’s head of ranch security, Mom?” “What does it mean that there’s a murder on the ranch?”

There’s another benefit of reading aloud. It heightens their sense of humor. Today, we had a family gathering. Because of the amount of people, all of the kids sat at the big table and all of the adults sat at the bar. Greta, longing to be with the grownups, asked, “Mom, when are we considered an adult?” I laughed.

“Are you trying to get to the adult table?” I asked.

She nodded and I felt her pain. I remembered longing to sit among the grownups.

Elsa retorted, “Greta, you’re pretty much an adult when you don’t care anymore about getting to the grownup table.”

She’s getting so witty, I thought.

I attribute much of it to the grand books we’ve enjoyed together — the humourous situations in Anne of Green Gables or the tongue-in-cheek sarcasm of Jane Austen.

Tonight, when the guests left, the familiar begging began … “Please, Mom, can you read a chapter of Hank?” And when I finished chapter two, “Just one more chapter …. pleeeeease?”

Ahhhh. Those are the requests a mother longs to hear. Those are the requests a mother often grants.

But not tonight. There’s benefits in letting the suspense build. There’s power in withholding — as if reading is a forbidden fruit. It creates the longing, increases the desire, encourages the hope in receiving joy from the written word.

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