To The Mom Who Doesn't Read As Much As She Used To: I Feel You
There's a lot a person, any person, gives up once they have a child. Your social life, your professional engagements, your household obligations (to say nothing of your bank account) must accommodate the growth and development of the small human in your charge. I often tell people that having children didn't change me, but it changed my life, and there's one aspect of my life that changed in a way that was more profound than most people realized. So to the mom who doesn't read as much as she used to? I see you, girl.
Since I was a toddler — before then, even — words have been my thing. I was regularly described as "precocious" by pediatricians, teachers, and people I would randomly sidle up to in order to start a conversation because I had a lot of stuff to say and someone had to listen. My mother was also a writer (still is, in fact!) so it's really no wonder I became one of those kids who always had a book in her hands.
Before I could even read them, books were magical for me. I loved the feel of them, the smell of them, their weight, and their promise. Once I could piece together letters, words, and sentences I was hooked. As a child in the single digits, I read everything most girls in the '90s read — fathomless series about blonde twins, babysitters, horseback riders, ballerinas, boy adventurers, girl detectives, ghosts, and any crossovers thereof. I read books meant for older readers to challenge myself, too —The Neverending Story, The Once and Future King, The Last of the Mohicans, A Christmas Carol. Sometimes I could appreciate them, sometimes I couldn't, but I always enjoyed the process.
I hit tweens and teens and decided it was time to read "the greats." I delved into Shakespeare, Poe, Austen, the Brontë sisters, and Nabakov. I got older and began to pay attention to the Important Books of the Day That Every Intellectual Should Read (and some books I thought fell into that category that absolutely did not). I went to college and college was amazing because, unlike compulsory education, I got to choose what I studied and my classes all required reading hundreds and hundreds of very interesting books about history and writing and 700-year-old poetry in Middle English. College ended and I joined two book clubs. My 45 minute subway commute afforded me lots of reading time, so despite a full-time job and a pleasantly busy social life I was able to continue devouring at least one book a week. Weekends were spent with my equally bookish husband at The Strand on 12th and Broadway, poring over their famous "18 miles of books" gathering new material.
I didn't know what was wrong with me, but I resented it my inability to do what I have always loved to do. Read.
It wasn't just that I loved reading — I loved being a reader. I took pride in being "the person" people went to if they needed a book recommendation. I reveled in the fact that people would gift me Virginia Woolf magnets and Shakespeare sticky notes at holiday gift exchanges. I liked that if there was another reader around they could ask me about a book and know that I'd have it on my radar. I loved that my one bedroom apartment had nine bookshelves, all full. Reading was a joy —relaxation and stimulation at once — and being a reader was an important part of my identity.
So when I was pregnant I was looking forward to maternity leave. I had a stack of books I was going to blow through while the baby napped. Some were parenting books, sure, but most were just things from the library or on my e-reader that had been building up.
In my 13 weeks of maternity leave, I finished one book. It was one I'd actually started before I gave birth. After my maternity leave ended I didn't finish a single book for a while. In fact, in the first year of my first child's life I read two books, including the one I completed on maternity leave.
At first I was gentle with myself. I was embarrassed that I wasn't blasting through literature at my usual pace but, hey! I had a new baby. But then my child got older and I still wasn't up to speed. I wasn't even up to more than a few novels a year. Not only did I miss reading, I began to wonder if I was still a "reader."
So I made a concerted effort to find more time to read, and that effort fell flat on its face. There's a reason I had time to check social media and not burn through a chapter of Infinite Jest — the latter takes concentration, the former is basically mindless and not derailed by interruption. And when I tried to read at night when my children were asleep I would just... pass out. Or my mind would wander. I didn't know what was wrong with me, but I resented it my inability to do what I have always loved to do. Read.
You don't realize how much you're working to keep your head above water when your children are really little.
Then this summer happened and without effort, without noticing, I read eight books in the span of three months. I was delighted. I felt something of my old self had been reignited while I wasn't looking.
So, what made this summer so special? How did it help me get my nerdy groove back? How had I spent this time? Well, it wasn't how I spent my time. It's how my children — now 4 and 7 — had spent theirs. They spent their time playing games together, running around the back yard and, my favorite, sitting in the hammock with a stack of their own books.
This is as poignant a parenting milestone as any I've experienced. Things have certainly been changing over the years as my babies grow to toddlers and toddlers to full-fledged kids, but there have been few clearer indicators of this shift than the realization that I have the time and energy to really be me again and in a way that is important to me.
You don't realize how much you're working to keep your head above water when your children are really little. And you don't realize how much mental energy that also takes and how little that leaves for basically everything else. Even when it gets easier it's still hard.
So to my fellow reader moms, if you're finding that motherhood has robbed you of your ability to keep your eyes open or your attention focused on even the most compelling of reads, know that this isn't unusual and it's not a failing. Motherhood is absolutely exhausting in ways we can't always see or feel, but to which we are still beholden. It's like gravity; a force that is perpetually being exerted upon us. I think it's safe to say that weight never abandons us but shifts, and chances are that there will come a time when it shifts enough for us to grab a book and sneak in a quick chapter.