Saturday, March 31, 2007

When Do I Have Time To Read?

When talking with friends and also with homeschoolers, we often talk of ideas or opinions about thing we heard about on the news or read someplace. Basically since my first child was born I have been challenged by my friends and acquaintances to explain how I find time to read. Most can’t understand how I find time to read. They want me to explain exactly how I was able to find the time to read. And one friend asked how I was able to sleep at night since I was made aware of various controversies or problems in the world—didn’t those issues keep me awake at night?

Here is a summary of my reading history from the time I became a mother until now.

When my oldest was a baby he was a “marathon nurser”, wanting thirty minutes on each side. To boot he’d fall asleep at the end and if I attempted to move him he’d wake up and want to nurse again. There were many days in his infanthood where I plunked my butt in a comfortable chair and just planned to be there for a couple of hours, for the duration of first, his nursing, and second, his nap. Since at the time we had regular cable television and since the pickings were slim, I read a lot more books and magazines in lieu of television.

Back then I was having problems with breastfeeding and my baby was turning out to be more challenging than I had imagined. I soaked up books and information about how to breastfeed the right way, normal ages and stages of babies (wondering if what my son was doing was normal as it was so much harder than anyone had ever told me). I read a ton of parenting books to try to help me figure out how I could survive motherhood.

Later I began the process of becoming an accredited La Leche League Leader (a volunteer lay breastfeeding counselor). Their application process mandated a lot of reading of specific books and after my accreditation I also had to stay current with the latest news about breastfeeding, nutrition, childbirth and parenting issues. I also attended conferences about breastfeeding and parenting and heard great lectures from some speakers and my interest was so piqued that I would read the books they had authored afterward. That was all very exciting for me. I would devour books and I was excited by the ideas and information held within those books.

During that phase of babyhood and toddlerhood I also was reading some fiction books. However I suddenly was not finding enjoyment reading Stephen King novels because as a new mother with children, the latest book that featured drive-by shootings of children while they played in their front yards was not entertaining. King was my favorite writer and it killed me to not be able to read his books any longer. I also rejected an Oprah book club book which started out with the drowning death of a two year old (was that “Map of the World”, I think it was). Some other books were no longer interesting as they portrayed the verbal, physical or sexual abuse of children and that was not entertaining either as I was trying to carve out a more ideal childhood for my son.

When baby number two arrived it got harder to read. As a baby he was a sprint-nurser, being done in less than fifteen minutes flat. He was not a long-sleeper. He didn’t want to be in arms much. He wanted to be awake, alert, and in the middle of the action with his older brother. The little squirt was sitting up at five months by himself and crawling at seven, walking at nine months and running before eleven months, and navigating stairs as an adult does at thirteen months. Yes, I was always kept on the run. There was not a lot of reading going on.

Then my older son was having some problems and I realized through reading books that he was having food sensitivities or food allergies or food intolerances (pick the phrase you prefer). I read a ton of information on that but it was not fun and also I spent a lot of time dealing with parenting a child who was having behavior and physical issues due to foods consumed.

When I did read, I was reading about homeschooling and psyching myself up to do it, and trying to convince myself that if I did homeschool: 1) I was capable and 2) my children would turn out normal. I will admit I felt a bit odd reading about homeschooling older children when my own children were not even that age yet, I thought of myself as a bit of an “armchair homeschooling mother”.

I also focused on learning how to teach a child to read. I didn’t just read the directions that came with a curriculum; I researched the whole phonics vs. whole language debate and formed my onions. I did this reading mostly while sitting down on a couch with the kids playing at my feet or in the room. To be honest I was worried about my ability to teach my child to read and so I educated myself about how to do it. It didn’t come easily for my older son but he did learn to read, then I was able to let that “project” and that “anxiety” go.

When I began homeschooling my older son the time for reading was reduced further. As I added in a couple of outside classes I began to experience that thing where the mother is busy driving the kids from this appointment to that appointment (which I hate). I think of myself as a lot more than a plain old chauffeur and I resent my time being spent in that way.

There were some times here and there when I’d find a good escape novel. I will confess that on some days I did nearly nothing except read while the kids played happily all around me. We ate, they played, and I read. When my husband would come home from work I’d announce that we were going out to eat or having take-out pizza or Chinese as I was too busy reading to have planned and prepared dinner. My wonderful husband would not complain. Actually it was great to immerse myself in a good book so deeply that I could blow off making dinner, and I was happy that my marriage was so stable that I could do that without any complaint from my husband!

Right now with my children in first and fourth grade in our homeschool I will be very honest and will say that I have not been reading much or at least not reading a lot of books cover-to-cover. I have had a hard time finding good fiction that truly serves as an escape novel. I have tried a few books and abandoned them. Some which people love, I find very dry and can’t get into the story. Others are too heavy and depressing for me to continue with—I figure a novel is to entertain or to escape into not to further bring negativity into my life. Still other books seem so light and easy to read that I feel that my brain cells aren’t even working and it becomes a mental effort to force my eyes to move across the page and to force myself to sit in that chair and to just read that book. The worst of all, though, is when I can predict the outcome of the book when still in the beginning, then I get curious, suffer through the book and yes, find out I was right about the plot, but no satisfaction is felt.

I like to read nonfiction about issues that makes me think and helps shift my paradigm about my views. However lately some of this has been too much to take. I don’t have the mental energy to handle it. We’ve been living with some very stressful things in our family including two relatives with Cancer, one is dying. The health of both of my grandmothers is declining and that is hard to grapple with. My husband and I have also spent our time helping one or the other relative. The continued unemployment/no income thing is completely draining at this point (it is a topic I try not to mention in my blog).

So now when I try to read certain nonfiction I find I can’t do it because sometimes it is making me even more stressed out than I already am. I am telling myself that I can’t fix all the problems in the world so why should I become more informed of some of them? For example, why continue to read books about education reform in America when nothing is changing and things are just getting worse? We are homeschooling and I need no further proof (to build a case) about why I should want to stay away from public school. However on the other hand with this family situation the way it is who knows, maybe we’ll be forced to put our kids in public school if I have to go back to work and then what? I’ll be really miserable having been informed of the problems in public school and knowing my kids would be in there!

The talking heads on television and radio are upset that mainstream Americans are not more educated about current events and American politics. Well, it is downright frustrating to stay informed about and it takes time and effort to find the deeper information to help make sense of it all---and to do that all the while we are living out the rest of our lives. It is one thing to be a radio talk show host and have ones job revolve around a small information topic and to know a lot about that topic. It is another thing entirely to not be a radio talk show host and to have a whole life to lead plus somehow spend hours per day reading many newspapers and books and keeping on top of a small topic. (Those people are ignorant about lots of things; they specialize in certain topics, like current events and politics.)

So what is the point of me being an expert on politics or world governments? The problem is that once a person understands something on a more deep level, it becomes clear that most of America is ignorant about that topic, thereby adding to the continuation of the existence of that problem. Also when we realize that politicians might have a deep understanding of the problem but they choose to not act to make positive changes, it is downright maddening to me. So this is why I choose to not spend a lot of my time watching television news or reading books or other media about those topics. I just can’t handle the idea of being informed about something which I am powerless to affect change with.

I have many books that I own which technically are on the “to be read” list. I can’t say pile because they are not in a pile; they are on the shelves, on many shelves. These are both fiction and nonfiction.

In an effort to have some fun and to enlighten myself about something that is my personal interest rather than a topic that some other person thinks I should know, I have been reading books on the history of certain types of art and about the lives of certain artists that I am curious about. I have been reading a lot of books about certain art techniques and I have been spending time making art using those techniques. (Hooray, actually using in real life, the things I am learning in books.) I have been reading about teaching myself to draw and am spending time learning to draw by practicing it. I have started a few different types of journals and write in them. I also have been reading the published journals of some artists.

It has bothered me that in my formal education at public school and in college that I was not required to read certain books that are classics. It has gotten to a point where I am a bit afraid of fictional works that are labeled classics. I think it is based on the fact that I now know that so many students are forced to read these, but I was not, so in some way I wonder if I am too stupid to read them. It bothers me to know and hear some people referring to classics in an offhand way, with a common knowledge and I don’t get it as I have not read that book. One example is when Jeff Probst was talking about the concept for the reality show “Survivor” and he said it was based originally on “The Lord of the Flies”. I had no clue what he was talking about.

So I have taken some baby steps. Last year I read “Lord of the Flies”. I was very capable of reading it, which was a relief although the book really upset me, it was so well written that it just really hit me to the core of my mind and I could not shake the images or the story from my mind, even when I wanted to. Then last month I read a classic that I have heard a lot about -- “Catcher in the Rye”, which I found a very easy read and blew through very quickly (and I enjoyed it to boot).

Let’s not also forget that I am teaching my children as I homeschool them. I am exposed to what they are reading and I am doing the family read-aloud’s. That takes up my time and that is a type of reading that I am doing.

Well at this point it is true that I don’t have a lot of time to read books. So now I am in the place that my friends and acquaintances were in, seeming to not have enough time to read all the books that I’d like to read. I now pick and choose carefully. I stop reading a book if it doesn’t seem worthy of my time. I have also reduced my magazine subscriptions to only those which I want to read cover to cover. I browse through The Wall Street Journal and read the articles that appeal to me.

So now the truth is, I am reading less than I used to!

Technorati Tags: , , , , .


Jenny said...

You have something to pick up over here....

Thanks for making me think!


Birdie said...

These days, I seem to do most of my reading while working out on my exercise bike! If there is a will, there's a way. ;)

Tammy said...

Oh, thinkingmother, how I can relate to so much of what you have said.

Two things I want to say: First, I had the same issue with fiction, and found that books in the Young Adult section of the library fit the bill perfectly - well written books about topics that give the feeling of hope. Lois Lowry and Louis Sachar come to mind immediately.

The other thing is *magazines!* - They have been my mainstay for reading these past few years. I always have a few tucked in the car for when I have to wait for a class to be over, or when we're at the park. I think I have at least 10 subscriptions. :P And the only "fluff" mag I have is Rachel Ray's magazine. The rest are "thinking" mags, like Utne, Mother Jones, Newsweek, Spirituality and Health...

You've inspired me. I think I'll write about this topic on my blog too. I'll link back here when I do. :)

Thanks again for your thoughts!