Saturday, February 19, 2011
Finding Time to Read
A few weeks ago now, Hope left me this comment, ending with a question for me:
As a mom to two young kids (4 and 2), I've only just begun getting back into regular reading in the last 6 months or so. Though, it is a big challenge, I find that it helps to keep me from losing myself in being a mother and wife. I was always an avid reader as a child and thoughout my adolescence. My question to you is how do you make time for it with your busy schedule? And how did you make time for it as your kids were growing, particularly when they were young and in those demanding years?
The time lapse between her question and my answering post demonstrates those demands that impinge on all our schedules these busy days, but it's a worthwhile question and one I'll try my best to answer.
First, I'd like to acknowledge Hope's emphasis on the importance of preserving some sense of self during those years when we risk losing that to motherhood and being a wife, partner, employee, or whatever other identities we may be juggling. Because reading is such a solitary and inward journey, we might fear that it is selfish -- and it is, but in the best possible way. Nurturing a self, in considered acts of self-ishness, means there will be a self to offer others. My mother, who had twelve of us to care for and raise, insisted on a nap every afternoon -- I doubt she ever fell asleep during this naptime, but I know she worked her way through a prodigious number of library books, always stacked beside her bed. We learned to respect that small pocket of time she reserved for herself and learned that books were worthy entertainment for kids as well.
I followed my mom's example when I had my own. I had grown up dependent on books for entertainment and escape and solace and just generally learning about a big, exciting world, and I confidently assumed my daughters and son would be just as keen on reading. This proved to be the case, and we rarely went anywhere without a few books stashed in my bag for instant entertainment. Library storytimes were a weekly event, and I doubt a day went by that we didn't read four or five picture books together. Meanwhile, my own reading happened at naptimes and after the little ones went to bed at night -- I was very, very fortunate that our family sleep schedule was pretty consistent with pre-schoolers always in bed by 9 at the very, very latest, and all my kids afternoon-napped 'til kindergarten. Sorry, it's the truth. I'm not sure how I managed it, but it wasn't a gift horse whose teeth I checked, believe me! And I did my best not to clean while they napped -- this was me time, although, as argued above, I believe that ultimately translated into a benefit for the family. So that was a huge pocket of reading time, right there -- naptimes and those glorious hours between the kids' bedtime and my own.
Of course, I wasn't working outside the home -- I had a private music studio, but the hours were generally after school, so I didn't have to sacrifice precious kiddy naptime to anything as sordid as earning money. And that put me at a huge advantage over those moms who rush to get little ones ready for daycare drop-off in the morning, then work at their desks all day, before rushing to pick up little ones, feed them, play with them, bathe them, and finally fall asleep with them before getting up to start the whole thing again. My daughter does that routine right now with our two-year old granddaughter. Even so, Bronwen manages to keep ploughing through her share of books -- some she reads on the bus commute to work and back each day. I know she does what I used to do and she reads in the evening before falling asleep. And I haven't asked her, but perhaps she sometimes reads while eating her lunch at work -- I used to do that, even before kids, balancing the need for some social time with co-workers against the need for some time on my own.
Carrying a book everywhere is a simple way to salvage all those precious minutes lost to waiting -- something that's not too heavy, that's absorbing enough to shut out other cranky commuters. I'll often tote a mystery for that reason, saving reading that demands a more focused concentration for those times when I get a more protected quiet.
The other way to steal some minutes for reading is to think very carefully about just how clean and orderly your home needs to be. This is an intensely personal as well as family-specific decision, representing a melding of your own and your partner's family/home cultures. But in my experience, housework can be never-ending if you let it. Someone is always spilling something on a floor you've only just washed, or knocking over a pile of laundry you've carefully folded. For me, it worked to set some basic standards for hygiene and organization, figure out which weekly or bi-weekly hours could or should be devoted to achieving those, and then tolerate the slippage from those standards in the in-between times. If I knew that the toilets had all been scrubbed, for example, on Thursday morning, and would be again, next Thursday, I could ignore them on Wednesday in favour of my book, if I happened to find seven minutes because someone got picked up early for skating lessons and I was on my own.
But besides accounting for the difference between my working at home and a mom doing the daycare-work-home commute, I'd have to answer Hope that a huge difference between her experience and mine would be the competing technologies for her leisure time. Without an iPod, heck, without even a computer until my youngest was seven or eight (and even then, only with dial-up access and a text-only Internet environment), books had only to stand up against television's paltry offerings -- not much of a contest really. We didn't even own a VCR (old-school video player) until my youngest was in high school, preferring to rent occasionally rather than have the easy temptation so close at hand.
Now, even as committed to reading as I am, I spend hours daily on-line. And there's no question that much of this time is frittered away. When I talk to people who wish they could find time to read books, I'm generally tempted to ask them how much time they spend "plugged in" -- between e-mail, blog-reading, texting, youtube-watching, or time spent at the iTunes store, I suspect we could find them each at least thirty minutes daily -- time for a chapter or two, right?
I hope to get back to this topic in a future post, 'cause I'm not quite done yet. But I'd love to hear what solutions you've found for carving out time to read. . . . Did you read when your kids were growing up? Do you still? Any advice for Hope? Chime in, I'm listening . . .