Friday, May 8, 2015

"Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing."  ~  Benjamin Franklin

"Read to your belly!" she said.

Read to your belly? Read to your BELLY! What in the world was that nut-case blithering about, I wondered. 

In fact, I more than "wondered." This was an experienced teacher talking, one whom I highly respected, and here she was, talking to one of our senior girls who was pregnant. I didn't know the girl, but the school board had just passed a new regulation that pregnant students would be allowed to stay in their high schools, instead of automatically being transferred to the district office's "unwed mothers program" placement. But what in the world did that statement have to do with "the price of eggs in China," as my Mom used to say when I made a remark that had no relation at all to the subject I was supposed to be speaking about.

In those times there was a daily 20-minute "Nutrition Break" in all the schools. Students could bring items from home to munch on outside in the school "plaza," or they could buy something from the "snack bar" window serviced by the cafeteria ladies. Students, and faculty, too, could buy apples or bananas or fruit juices or donuts. It wasn't a perfect idea because the lines at the 6 windows were always miles long, and many slow-walking kids would make it to the window just as the 5-minute "warning bell" rang. Kids had to watch their fingers because the windows were slammed shut on the dot. After all, the cafeteria ladies had only a short time to get all the lunches ready for the noon-hour. Yes, "hour!" In those days schools devoted a whole hour for teachers and students to have lunch.

Of course, teachers were allowed to butt into those "Nutrition" lines at any time, so I always had my daily donut just about 2 1/2 minutes after the bell began to ring. I know… I know… as a teacher I ought to have been buying fruit to make a silent stand as a health statement to all the kids, but I always had plenty of fresh fruit sitting in a pretty bowl at home. I could get that anytime, but fresh donuts? Setting a good example flew out the window for me every time that "nutrition" bell rang. 

So, donut in hand, I wandered over to the colleague who told a pregnant senior to "read to her belly."

"What did you mean when you told that girl to 'read to her belly'? Never heard that before…"

"Terry, babies can hear from inside their mothers. Didn't you know that?"

"Wait! Babies INSIDE OF THEIR MOMS can HEAR the outside world? You're kiddin' me!"

"No, I'm not. Terry, sit down…"

This esteemed teacher, this lady who was the sort of teacher I hoped I could be someday, began to explain her own experience…

"While I was pregnant, I read this research about babies being able to hear while they were still in the womb. In fact, because I loved Shakespeare, I read several of Shakespeare's plays out loud to my stomach." 

"You're kiddin'," I stammered.

"C'mon, Terry… I had several months to wait for her to be born. I didn't know how to knit booties, so what else could I do while I waited? By the way, did I ever tell you that I wanted to be an actress when I was younger? So, I even read each of the parts in a different voice," she laughed.

"Well, Terry, I had a daughter, and the terrible thing for me was that she never liked school! I mean, I'm a teacher, and my first and only child didn't like school! She loved playing with the kids in school, she loved P.E., but she only did her homework because I nagged her every single night."

This teacher told me that her daughter did graduate from high school, and then she went to college only because she needed a college degree to go into the field she did like which was math. There she had to take the required college English classes, and she had passed each one, but only by the skin of her skin-less teeth.

"But, Terry, the summer before her junior year of college, MY DAUGHTER signed up for a class in SHAKESPEARE! MY DAUGHTER!"

"Why would she do that? We're talking heavy-duty English class here. That was weird!" I muttered.

"That's exactly what I said to her, right after I got up off of the floor where I'd fallen over backwards! She said, and I quote, 'I dunno, Mom… I dunno………..' And off she went back to college to take all sorts of higher math classes where she was getting A's and to take the 'Shakespeare's Dramas' class, too."

"She jumped in head first, didn't she!" I was stunned.

"That's not the amazing part, Terry. Be quiet!  There's more…" said the English teacher with the treasonous daughter. "She came home at the semester break and showed me her grades, and there it was - an A in that Shakespeare class. AN A!"

Her daughter, a girl who hated English classes and didn't like to read any literature at all, had aced a first semester class in Shakespeare! She told her Mom that she'd already signed up for the second semester classes. The  one class she could hardly wait to take was called "Shakespear's Comedies!"

"Mom," she had said. "I don't understand it! I KNEW those plays. I DID! I KNEW those plays… it was like magic or something. I'm not saying that that was an easy class, or anything, Mom. In fact, it was hard for everyone else, but it was easy for ME! Mom, it is soooo weird!"

"Now, Terry, I had NEVER told my daughter that I'd read to my stomach! Never!"

Now, Dear Reader, that was "back in the day" when I was a new teacher, teaching art at my first place of employment after I graduated from university. But, just this morning I was reading the newspaper, and there was an article explaining that expectant Moms ought to read aloud to their unborn babies. The article said that research absolutely verifies that the child you bear with that pre-birth experience will do better in school than those children who were not read to. 

Of course, it's never too late. If Moms haven't read to their bellies, they can certainly read to their babies. But, I'm just sayin'… and it doesn't have to be William Shakespeare, you know.


  1. Interesting story. I had heard of this idea, and I thought it just meant the mother's voice was comforting, soothing to the tiny baby. Could it be more than that? Who knows.

  2. Well, when I had my fellowship in the UCI Writing Project, that information was in one of the research tomes I read. But what I wrote took place when I first began teaching high school, and that teacher's story cinched it for me. I met her daughter later that year, and she told me the story, too, and it really made an impact!