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Ah, Family Literacy Night.  Though it comes but once a year it brings with it mommy-guilt that lasts and lasts.

For those of you not familiar with the phenom that is Family Literacy Night, let me introduce you.  It’s the result of a lot of work and very noble intentions on the part of our town’s public elementary school faculty.  All three schools cooperate to present an evening of workshops, free books and performances all in the name of getting kids and families reading.  Now that’s a cause I can get behind.

Normally.

The free books are great.  My five-year-old took his to school the next day for show and tell.  It was all about caverns and the various things that hang around in them.  A week later he’s still carrying it everywhere.  The performances are entertaining and enlightening.  The refreshments are even better.  But the seminars, oh, the seminars.

Last year we attended one on literacy games.  It was really good.  We played one or two of the games.  The kids decorated game pieces.  We even got a big stack of mimeographed game boards with accompanying directions.

I think we were probably still at the school when my eldest (and obviously wisest) son said, “You’ll never play any of those games.”  I strenuously disagreed.

I brought them home.

I put them in a drawer or a closet or something.

I never played them. 

When enough pieces were lost and game boards were sacrificed in the name of arts and crafts I relocated them to the recycle bin.

This year’s seminar was on the importance of reading to young children.  One of the two teachers leading the group pointed out that research shows that children need a total of 1,000 lap hours, during which they’re read to by the person who cares for them, before kindergarten in order to be reading ready.

I am not kidding when I tell you that five-year-old Ben’s head snapped around to me and his eyes widened into saucers as he silently mouthed the words “ONE THOUSAND?!”

My thoughts exactly.

I’m a little slow so it took a few days but I finally did some math to get my mind around this.  If the lap time you have with your child is reading bedtime stories, I think it’s safe to assume you’re spending about thirty minutes each evening.  At that rate you would have to be sure to never miss a day from birth to age 5.48 to achieve the magic 1,000 hours.  If, however, you don’t intend to bring a pile of picture books to the hospital in your overnight bag and you think you might have a cold sometimes or you are considering ever having an outing that ends in toddlers falling asleep for the night in the car, you might want to bump that up to 45 minutes a day.  You can reach 1,000 hours in 3.66 years that way–or you can do it in five or so years with a reprieve here and there.

Either way, good luck.

Tonight I decided to watch the clock while I read to my three little ones.  I choose wordy books (Board books are for amateurs!) to make sure we got the maximum amount of time in.  We started with Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.  Before we were through Ben wanted to know if he could leave.  I said no.  When the first title was complete, however, he slid off the bed, army crawled to the door and jumped up to announce “I got away!” before running off.  He lasted twelve minutes.

On book two, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, Marie was fidgeting.  She grabbed at the pages.  She bit me.  She stood on my lap, danced and tried to walk up to my shoulders.  She eventually escaped.

I’m not sure what the third book was now but James, the last hold out, stood up and walked away in the middle of that one.

We got 25 minutes in.

God help any of you who have children who can’t sit for a book because this is what happened with a couple of my kids who can sit.  I quake in fear for the others.  I guess they’re just doomed to the same fate as those who weren’t breastfeed for twelve to twenty four months or who didn’t have ugly black and white mobiles hanging over their bassinets or the ones without iPods playing Mozart in their nurseries on a regular basis.  They’re just not going to cut it in any way whatsoever.

The other day at lunch I asked Ben what he thought about needing to be read to for a thousand hours before kindergarten.  He made one of his crazy Ben faces and said, “I’m not doing that!”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it will give me a headache.”

I hope not Ben, but if I don’t get to read you a bedtime story tomorrow and we end up behind I hope you’ll forgive me.  I’m not sure if we got 1,000 lap hours in for your sister before kindergarten either but I have to go to her induction into the Junior National Honor and I might be home a little late.

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