There’s not a parent I speak to who has ever said to me “We have all the time in the world.” For anything. Sure, there are some parents who are better time managers than others, but the cry of “not enough hours in the day!” to get through a list of things to do is fairly universal. On that list? Reading. With kids in school there is assigned reading, of course, but what happens to reading for pleasure during the school year—independently or as a family? With only so many hours in a day, how do you carve out extra time for reading together or even sitting down and reading a book yourself (without falling asleep)?
Just our evening routine to me is like planes stacked up and ready to land at Newark Airport on a holiday weekend. Our well choreographed dance means we try to keep everything literally in the air while we land each plane and tick it off the list. One thing slips and you have an epic backup before bedtime. I should say before the kids bedtime, because mine is still a ways off. When I climb the stairs at night the only thing that’s keeping me from simply laying down and sleeping in the hallway is the fact that since my children are horrifyingly bad sleepers I know someone will invariably step on my head at dawn on their way to our room.
I would like to get into bed and read a book. I used to do that. But I’m one of those all-or-nothing readers. I have trouble reading a book I love in chapters. If I’m into a story I will just stay up reading the entire book, which leads to a 3am realization that no matter how good the story, the next morning will be a rotten one. I am trying to read a book like a normal person, a little at a time, not only because I desperately need sleep but because I also want to show my children what reading for enjoyment looks like, not what reading as a book junkie looks like. I also want them to see me reading while they are awake.They see stacks of books on my bedside table. They see me check books out of the library for myself. I have to work hard for them to see me making time to actually read them.
My kids are still young enough that their bedtime routine involves books, and we read plenty of them. But there are nights when we’re rushing or someone is cranky and our book time is cut short or not given it’s proper due. I don’t like rushing through books or reading “because we have to” because to me that negates the idea that reading should be a pleasant, pleasurable activity we want to do rather than have to do.
Luckily, reading is not a nocturnal sport. Reading before bed is lovely, but it doesn’t mean you can’t share a story in the morning, afternoon, or even the evening. For time-pressed families, sometimes coming up with an alternate strategy is better than cramming reading in and rushing through it.
I’ve written about my love of bathtime reading to the kids, provided they can keep the water IN the tub (always a challenge) and nowhere near the book. The kids are winding down and splashing around and, most importantly, they are contained. Which means I can take a seat and read.
I am also a big fan of the “waiting until” reading time. As in, “We have 20 minutes until we have to leave for the birthday party, so we have time to read a book.” I look for pockets of time that we have throughout the day. On weekends when dinner is cooking I can find myself with some time to spare, which turns into “Let’s read while the chicken is roasting” time. With my new independent reader I like to have him read a book to me while I’m getting dinner ready (or lunches or snacks or whatever the endless meal service time is). I also tuck books in my bag for waiting rooms (I am always there longer than I think I’ll be). And if I am really together in the morning (a crap shoot) I can sneak in some morning snuggles and a book to start the day. Having bedtime book time is great, and that’s definitely my favorite time to read with my kids, but I’ve made it a priority to look out for other times we can read.
I’m also aware that I need to look out for times that I can curl up with a book when my kids will actually see me reading. My kids are the skeptical sort (go figure) so telling them I read before I go to bed only goes so far. Having them see me read is proof positive. And again, I have to be creative about when I can sit down someplace quiet and open a book, which is sometimes a laughably futile goal. On Sundays, our house goes into football mode with an eager audience in the family room. We’re all there, the kids in their Giants shirts, my husband with his fantasy team on the computer next to him and… me. On the sofa, with a book. It may not be optimally quiet. I may get interrupted or hit in the head with the football that is being tossed around. But as they settle in for their fun activity, my kids can see that I happily settle into mine. Football Sunday reading is not ideal. But as any book junkie or sports fan knows, it’s all about the score.
In a changeup to what I’m reading with the kids, here’s what I’ve recently read by myself without worrying that a child will tell me they don’t like it:
by Susan Minot
With mesmerizing emotional intensity and stunning evocations of Africa’s struggles and beauty, Susan Minot gives us her most brilliant novel yet.
I’m Supposed to Protect You From All This: A Memoir
Every reader will recognize herself and her family in this gorgeous and heartbreaking memoir, which helps us to see why sometimes those who love us best hurt us most.
Today Will Be Different
by Maria Semple
TODAY WILL BE DIFFERENT is a hilarious, heart-filled story about reinvention, sisterhood, and how sometimes it takes facing up to our former selves to truly begin living.
The Bitch is Back
More than a decade after the New York Times bestselling anthology The Bitch in the House spoke up loud and clear for a generation of young women, nine of the original contributors are back—along with sixteen captivating new voices—sharing their ruminations from an older, stronger, and wiser perspective about love, sex, work, family, independence, body-image, health, and aging: the critical flash points of women’s lives today.