I don't have the patience to teach my toddler to cook. I don't know what she should wear or how girls' hair works. I'm a bit slapdash with toilet training and concede the Battle of the Evening Toothbrushing the moment she's got more than four gnashers with the faintest splash of paste on them. But I take story-time very seriously. I give it the full Stanislavsky on the voices, and only very rarely turn two pages at once. In full flow, I sound like a delusional drama student whose giving it one last shot at a casting for a washing-up liquid commercial.
One of my very earliest memories is being two or three, and sitting next to my mum in her psychadelic kaftan dress (this would've been 1979) while she read a book called Indian, Indian. It was about a Native American boy and his horse, and not much happened, but I adored it, and insisted she read it over and over again. It is one of the clearest childhood memories I have of feeling loved.
Regrettably, I've just looked up Indian, Indian, and discovered it is awash with base racial stereotyping (never meet your heroes) but the sentiment – that being read to makes kids feel good – sticks with me. The nighttime story is a solid five or 10 minutes without the distractions of work or social media. There's no appointment to reach or schedule to keep, and I think our daughter (now 34 months) appreciates that time.
One current favourite is Chris Haughton's A Bit Lost, which, visually, may be one of the most beautiful kids' books ever created. It's full of colour and expression and emotion on every page, but still exquisitely simple. I've also started making up my own stories about a family of dinosaurs, because it allows me, in a cack-handedly obvious way, to ram home whatever parenting message we've been trying to get across that day. This evening, our little dino boy learnt the importance of washing his hands after going to the loo. Whichever one of us reads to her, I think (hope) she feels some of what I remember feeling as a nipper. And besides all that, it's good for them academically, teaches empathy and encourages their imaginations.
And on a purely selfish level, I look at it this way: when I'm old and demented, and she has a choice between putting me in the under-resourced local care home or a warm corner of her attic, she won't remember that I fed her (that's a bare-minimum legal requirement), but she might remember story-time.
Thanks Matt Farquharson (aka @papa_pukka of @mother_pukka fame) for sharing your story-time with us and to Emily Gray for the use of the photo (emilygrayphotography.co.uk)