rituals: reading to sleep (lily dunn).

Sometimes you meet people in the online world that make you wonder how they gained access to your brain, nearly mimicking your own thoughts and words. And I say this in the best of ways, because Lily is a kindred spirit of sorts, even though I’ve never actually met her.  So, see if you find yourself in her tale today, then fall in love with her storytelling ways.  Enjoy!   

Flickr Creative Commons: Dineshraj Goomany.
Flickr Creative Commons: Dineshraj Goomany.

I learned to read by listening to my mother’s voice.

When I was very small and my mother was still working, she made tapes of herself reading my favorite books and gave me the cassettes and the tape player so that I could read with her anytime I wanted to.

She modeled her recordings on the books on tape we’d check out from the public library. “You’ll know it’s time to turn the page when you hear the chimes ring like this, ‘Ding!’” My mother’s voice poured out of the speakers like magic. I followed along in my Berenstein Bears books so many times that eventually my brain started to connect the words she spoke with the words on the page. Soon I was reading on my own, picture books, and then chapter books. I entered Kindergarten at a 5th grade reading level, but I never outgrew listening to my mother read.

Books were always a part of my life, but especially at bedtime. Before a nap or at nighttime my sisters and I would all climb into my mother’s bed and she would read to us – picture books and chapter books about worlds we only dreamed of exploring. She would read even as her own eyelids grew heavy with sleep. Unable to resist the lull of the words, she would close her eyes mid-sentence and her semi-conscious brain would fill in words to finish the phrase she was only halfway through reading.

“The very hungry caterpillar ate through four pears. But he was still…tired.”

“No, Mom! No, it doesn’t say tired! It says hungry. He was still hungry!” we would squeal.

And Mom would blink awake and laugh with us at her mistake and let us finish reading it to each other instead while she closed her eyes, “just for a minute.”

And so I grew to love the way it felt to fall asleep to the rhythm of words, whether the cadence of my mother’s voice or my own internal voice as I read to myself. Reading before bed became as natural as brushing my teeth and putting on my pajamas.

Now I am a woman with a home of my own. It’s been ten years since I lived in my mother’s house and many years more since she read me to sleep, but every night, no matter where I am, no matter how tired I am, I lie in bed and read. Some days I only have the energy to read two pages before my eyes start to close, but still, I read.

I read out of habit, but also because reading books before bed settles me. It’s a way to turn my brain away from the worries of the day that threaten to keep me awake. Reading calms my mind from the constant stimulus of my computer screen or television and helps me slow down. Reading helps me escape the realities of my life, the errands that need to be run and the chores that need to be done.

For the past two years I have been living as an expat in Asia, far from home and far from everything familiar. When everything around you is strange and difficult, you cling to the things that make sense. When I lie in bed and read, I forget that I am in a foreign country, 6,000 miles from home. I forget that I am frustrated from another day spent navigating a language and a culture I don’t understand. Instead I feel a deep sense of connection – to the people in my book, to other readers, and even to my own past and all of the years I’ve spent reading in my bed.

The older I get the more like my mother I become, and while I don’t have children to read to, I often find myself dozing off mid-sentence, my book or kindle falling onto my chest (or occasionally my face) before I’ve realized I’m falling asleep.

My husband will come into the bedroom and find me “reading” with my eyes closed. “Are you awake?” he’ll whisper, and I will struggle to open my eyes and insist that I am. And he will ignore my feeble protests, close my book and take off my glasses, and set them gently on the end table while I roll onto my side and fall asleep.

Bio PictureLily Dunn is a teacher by day, a writer by night and an ice cream connoiseur all the time. She lives with her husband in Daegu, South Korea and works out her faith on her blog, http://lilyellyn.com You can also find her on Twitter @lilyellyn.  Hey, it’s Cara again – so, what’d you think?  Where did you find yourself in Lily’s story today?  

15 thoughts on “rituals: reading to sleep (lily dunn).

  1. This really resonated with me, too! Not so much my OWN mother reading to me, because I don’t think she did, but hoping that my children will see this and think of me. I tried to be THAT mom. We read many thousands of books before they entered school, and to this day, I am sure neither of them can imagine a life in which they did not read every day. I like to think of them hearing my voice, and it makes my heart glad to see them modeling this for their children. The oldest grandchildren also went into kindergarten reading far above grade level,mane I KNOW that’s why! Thank you for sharing.

    1. It sounds like your reading rituals had a huge impact on your kids and that they are passing that on to their children now. I am so thankful to both of my parents for valuing reading. Not only has reading influenced how I perceive and understand the world, but without that love of books I would never have discovered a love for writing either!

    1. Don’t beat yourself up about it – I’m sure you do the absolute best job you can. 🙂 I’m glad you feel inspired, though. Hopefully it’s something you can all enjoy!

  2. Lily, your story reminds me of reading and singing to my children as they fell asleep. Also, like you my wife and I both read until we can’t keep our eyes open, and sometimes that’s just a matter of a few paragraphs.

    1. Haha, yes, Tim. The older I get the quicker I fall asleep. 😉 But it’s my favorite way to fall asleep, so even if I know I won’t get a lot out of the reading itself, it’s a comforting habit.

  3. There is nothing I like better as well, in fact it is the main reason I try to get to bed early ~ so I can read and get into another world before falling off to sleep! Great post!

  4. I don’t remember my Mum reading to me, but she did sing! Several of those songs are still my ‘go-to’ songs as I’m walking or driving. I LOVE reading to children of friends and family when I’m visiting at bedtime – with a strong preference for reading stories written in rhyme 🙂 I certainly resonated with the falling asleep with a book or Kindle on my face! I remember when I was 10-20 years younger, hearing older adults speak of falling asleep as they read in bed. I could never understand that! I thought, ‘Just close the book and turn out the light!’ I now think differently….

    1. Haha. I used to think the same thing. But then, I also couldn’t understand how you could fall asleep watching movies and things like that either. 🙂 I think I’ve hit the point where I can fall asleep in the middle of anything if I’m tired enough. Although I’m not great at sleeping in unusual places – camping or sleeping upright on an airplane for example. Singing is also a really sweet way to connect with kids. I also have a few songs from my childhood that my mom would sing, especially if I woke up in the middle of the night afraid or something. I haven’t heard them in years but I still remember every word!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *