This is a repost of an original article I wrote for BlogHer.com.
In the months after my first child was born eight years ago, I had a mix of feelings most new parents experience: I was elated, exhausted, scared, and joyful. I also felt a bit lost. In the journey to motherhood, part of what made me was left behind.
My life was all about feedings, diaper changing, and getting that kid to sleep through the night. I hadn’t thought or talked about much of anything else since my son had been born. What about me? Where was I?
These questions remained throughout my transition back to work. It wasn’t until my son’s sleeping was under control, and I had figured out to get how to the office on time without baby spit-up on my shirt, that I discovered how to shake off that lost feeling: I started reading again.
Books were my first love. Before my husband and kids, I had loved to read — to uncover stories — with a devotion nearing obsession. My childhood was spent at the library, devouring book after book until, by age 11, I had read everything in the children’s section. I moved onto the adult section and wore out my beloved library card.
I still remember sitting on the floor of that library, full of anticipation, flipping through the books I had not yet read, selecting the ones I would take home.
Through books, I traveled around the world and throughout time. I learned about different cultures, improved my vocabulary, and become a more thoughtful and informed person. I continued my love of reading into adulthood, carrying a book around with me wherever I went. I read all the time before my son was born. A perfect afternoon was lying in my sun-strewn bedroom, curled up on pillows, captivated by a story.
But kids have a way of changing, well, everything. That time I had allocated to reading in my pre-kid days was taken over by a small person who wanted me most of all, and, while I was thrilled to be his mama, I knew that I needed to find myself again. I did that through reading.
I started back slowly. In the beginning of early motherhood, I put a stack of magazines on my bedside table and committed to reading 10 minutes every night before I ended my day. It didn’t matter if the magazine article was about the best sunblock for kids, the benefits of meditation, or the situation in Afghanistan — I read.
Quickly, I noticed changes. I fell asleep easier, and I smiled more. I had more to talk about than how much the baby had eaten that day, and I thought about issues beyond what was happening behind my front door. Gradually, I emerged from that total preoccupation with my new role as a parent. I was a different me, of course — motherhood has a way of doing that — but I could tell that I was back.
Reading was my gateway to realizing that being a parent didn’t mean giving up what I loved or who I was. It also taught me the value of making time for myself.
As my ten minutes of reading before bed turned into 20 minutes and even 30, I graduated back to books. I dusted off my library card to read novels, nonfiction tomes, and even romance paperbacks. Historical fiction, science fiction, bestsellers, and classics — I bounced from genre to genre. I started asking friends and family for book recommendations again, and my list of “books I want to read” grew long.
Jump ahead to today, that newborn is a rising second grader and his little sister is six. Both of my kids have fallen in love with reading, too. Were they genetically pre-disposed to have their noses in a book? Or, is their dedication the result of our daily time together, snuggled up with a story? Together, we’ve gone to Hogwarts and outer space. We’ve learned how to spin a spider web from Charlotte and how to be a pacifist from Ferdinand. We’ve trekked to Antarctica with Tintin and learned how to rhyme from Dr. Seuss.
Getting their first library cards was as noteworthy as when they took their first steps; both times I cried with happiness at their achievements. You’ll never hear me tell my son and daughter to stop reading — except when the school bell is about to ring — and they know that books are our treasured possessions. As a result, I find books in every corner of my life — my bag, our car, the kids’ backpacks, the bathroom, everywhere.
Despite the sometimes overwhelming demands of career and parenting, I carve out time for reading. I grab moments where I can: waiting to pay at the grocery store, in the minutes before picking up the kids from school, and, as always, before I fall asleep. I’ve even been known to stay up late into the night to reach the last page of an “I-can’t-put-it-down” book, my husband sleeping beside me. I may be tired the next day, but I’ll also be satisfied.
Reading is my guaranteed way to retain my sanity.
Through books, I escape the repeated cries of “Mommy,” my family’s never-ending laundry pile, and the stress of work deadlines. The only stress from books, in fact, is the lack of time to get to them all.
With a stack of novels next to my bed that is up to my hip (I measured!), I need more hours in the day. And, if I found those extra hours, I’d definitely use them to read.