One of my favorite things about raising kids was getting to read to them, even when we were reading the same book over and over again. When boy number one was only a couple of years old, he would come to me with his current favorite story, for example the Little Golden Book, My First Counting Book and when I finished, he would take it from me, climb down from the chair and go over to his dad on the couch to have it read again. Then, back to me and so on. Other huge favorites included The Big Red Barn, and The Large and Growly Bear. Kid number two loved dinosaurs and animals beyond all reason and so the two of us hit the nonfiction hard for years. I do GREAT Sesame Street voices–I rocked both The Monster At the End of this Book as Grover, and Cookie Monster’s Book of Shapes as the title character. Reading separately at bedtime was a ritual the boys and I enjoyed until we started finding books they both liked and reading those together. “Mom, can you come up for stories?” was a plaintive call I heard nightly after all the teeth were brushed. Some nights I almost couldn’t bear it, I was so wiped out, but I never regretted dragging my butt upstairs. Remembering their bright little faces as we climbed onto my bed to read Lloyd Alexander books, or Varjak Paw, or King Arthur legends twangs my crusty old ‘Parent of Teen Boys’ heartstrings like you wouldn’t believe. One day, when my mother-in-law happened to be visiting, she heard me read a couple of chapters of Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis to them . When the reading was done, she looked at me with surprise and said, “You did that really well!” She was not a woman given to compliments, so it was kind of a huge moment.
But kids grow up. They broke it to me gently: “It’s okay if we don’t read tonight, Mom,” and “We’re kind of done with that.” It took a long time to find another outlet. I had often thought it would be awesome to do voiceover work with the ultimate ambition of recording audiobooks, so I made a demo tape last summer and sent it to some talent agencies, who either didn’t get back to me or were so flush with talent they were uninterested. Dead end. After listening to me bemoan that state of affairs, my friend Kelly, writer and radio personality extraordinaire (see her at Hot off the Wire and So Then SHE Said,) suggested I check out State Services for the Blind [SSB]. I did. They train volunteers to record leisure and text books for people with print disabilities, including vision impairment, learning disabilities and a horrifying thing I’d never heard of: paper allergies. It was the start of a new kind of reading for a new audience. I had to audition, and then I had to be trained and let me tell you, these SSB people are TOUGH. Now I dedicate 3-4 hours once a week (plus commute) to try to bring the written word alive for people who cannot just flip open a book and dive right into education or escape. I don’t always love what I am assigned; I don’t get to pick my own material, but I know that someone out there requested each book specifically and so I always do my best. It is both a noble calling and a way for me to do something I enjoy. It might be something you enjoy as well. If you think it might be, I encourage you to look into your options, perhaps through your local library.