What if I can’t raise a reader?

My mum reads every night before bed. Without fail, even after the longest day, even if it’s only a paragraph, she gets cozy under the covers with a book perched on her ribs. Lately, she reads from a Kindle, which she’s insistent I buy, but my materialist side is intent on pages, spines, and margin notes. I’m getting off track. The point is that my mum reads a lot. And, growing up, she read to me every night, took me to the library, and enrolled me in young writer’s camp.

Like my mum, I really want my daughter to be a reader. I’m from a family of readers. Books are the topic at every family dinner, though it mostly consists of us screaming titles across the table. “MIDDLESEX,” an aunt will yell, while everyone else audibly sighs in agreement. I want Joanie to be part of that tradition. I want her to raise her bottle in the air with confidence and say, “but have you guys read The Gruffalo?”

Of course there are a million reasons why reading is good for you, and I won’t bore you with a review. I will however explain the two additional reasons why having a bookworm of a daughter is important to me.

The first being that I like that loud camaraderie my family has achieved over books. Yes it’s abrasive, and no, it doesn’t lend itself to criticism, but by knowing what my family is reading, I can keep tabs on what’s going on in their minds. For instance, I know that if someone’s reading Knausgaard’s My Struggle, that person is feeling heady and perhaps over-analytical. To have an idea of the lens through which a family member is currently seeing the world, and to be able share that lens is a priceless bonding tool. Who doesn’t want that advantage with their kids?

The second reason is that I don’t know how to relate to people who don’t read. Maybe I’m a bit of a snob, (If you ask my mom, she’ll tell you I’m a huge snob.) but for me, reading is like eating and sleeping and drinking and babbling with Joanie. It’s just something I do without thinking. I believe that if you’re not a reader, you’re missing out on a tradition that’s much older than you are, than Twitter and television are, than silly swiping games are. Reading has been around before screens and it’ll be there after. (I hope. I think.)

I say these things, but of course I’m realistic. I can read out loud and point out all the dogs on all the pages all I want, but Joanie will still be a person complete with her very own agency. She may hate reading. She might be bored by it, or she might find some other way of devouring information, or she may have troubles with the technicalities of words on a page. Sure, there’s something to be said for nurture, but who knows if I’m doing the right thing, or if Joanie even cares. I’m not going to stop trying simply because no one knows what will happen, but I need to be prepared. She’s my daughter, and I’ll figure out a way to communicate with her, if not through books. That being said, I must admit, I’m terrified by the prospect. What if I can’t raise a reader?

To end on a positive note, because I’m hopeful Joanie will end up having some kind of relationship with the written word, given the way she likes to put the pages in her mouth, I have included a list of books that I love reading with my daughter.

  • The Wind and the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  • Olivia by Ian Falconer
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  • Lousie Loves Art by Kelly Light
  • The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson
  • Mister Seahorse by Eric Carle
  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
  • Esio Trot by Roald Dahl

I’m always looking for new books or to be reminded of old ones, specifically ones with strong female characters. Please please please leave your suggestions in the comments below.

Also please note that I am rethinking my love of Shell Silverstein’s The Giving Tree.

Fine, Loverboy, I’ll Work for the Stupid Weekend

Joanie is napping. I’ve just finished half the dishes, filled the slow-cooker, put the groceries away and found the first few minutes I’ve had to write this blog (with the exception of Friday night’s Grey’s Anatomy hour), in months. I took a hiatus from my weekly posts when I started working full-time in order to ease back into my usual overly ambitious list of projects. It seems fitting that my first post back should be about going back to work.

My intention was never to be a stay-at-home mom, but I did want to relish the first few month’s of my daughter’s life and to be physically present for as much of that time as I could. At least that was the way I approached the prospect of maternity leave during my pregnancy. After four long months of preventative leave and two months of maternity leave, I felt the walls absorb me as they did that poor woman in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall Paper.” Okay maybe not to the extent that. No one was oppressing me, but I was feeling terribly anxious. To combat the cabin fever I picked up two shifts at a restaurant. Twice a week I’d serve brunch, meet new people, wax baby with other young couples, and make a little cash to help support my family. The walk to work was my favourite part; ten brief minutes under the early morning sun, with no one around, no crying, no chatting, not even another pedestrian. It was magical. Then winter came and the stroll became a trudge, so nuts to that.

When Joanie was four months old, a spot opened up at the daycare. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to let her go, but there was a time limit on the offer, and, as you’ll note in previous posts, it ended up being the right decision. Any job prospects I had weren’t due to start for a few months, so apart from my shifts at the restaurant I was suddenly flush with time, beautiful, luxurious to the point of naughtiness time, time which I used to tidy my apartment, write short stories, prepare lavish meals, and read the first three volumes of Knausgaard’s My Struggle. This was magical too.

Then January happened. I picked up four more shifts, then quickly changed to a new job, overlapped the two positions for about a week and watched the tidiness of our home erode and the vibrant green of my houseplants turn to a crispy brown. I now write in short unproductive spurts, have abandoned the dream of a clean sink, and order pizza more often then I should.

I can deal with a chaotic life. A woman at the daycare recently said to me, “It’s amazing what the human body can put up with.” I repeat that phrase in my head a lot, usually when I’m pushing a baby carriage through six inches of snow and stifling all sorts of horrible words. It helps me stay proud of what I’m doing and of all the good things I’m able to manage, even when so much is left unattended. The one thing it doesn’t ease, the one thing I can’t deal with, is the amount of time I spend away from my daughter. Today is the first day in months that I’ve spent a full day with my daughter. We woke up, drank some milk in bed, read some books, folded and unfolded the laundry and played with blocks. It’s been the best day I’ve had in ages and I wish it would last for several more, but I have to work tomorrow. Joanie will go to daycare. I will rush home from work to pick her up, push that damn buggy through a blizzard, and make it home with just enough time to shove dinner into her face, sing a couple Journey songs in the bath tub and put her to sleep.

I finally understand that stupid Loverboy song.

Note: All this is to say that I will now be posting every other week. Sorry for the long winded explanation.

Cave-Ladies and their Little Cave-Babies

“It is assumed that our bodies will ‘know,’ even if we don’t, what pregnancy is like and what it is for; that we are, on some cellular level, wise, or even keen on the reproductive game.”

Anne Enright skeptically writes in Making Babies about the innate sense mother’s are presumed to have about pregnancy, bodies and parenting. If it were true that this sense exists, and I’ll say right now that I have only the slightest inkling of that inborn faculty, then why are there so many texts written about the subject? Why does the What to Expect conglomerate have its own movie? Why are there endless online discussion boards that contradict internally and whose sheer length render them useless? Aside from the obvious profit, I think the answer lies in a real need, one that combats the idea of a natural knowledge.

Before I go any further I want to assure everyone that I don’t deny the existence of a nurturing instinct. Lots of women find they know exactly what they’re doing as soon as that sneaky sperm weasels its way into the egg. I for one was astounded by the confidence with which I held my daughter on her first day in the world. But the notion that I should know my body, my daughter and what to do with both of them is laughable to me. It applies unimaginable pressure.

Despite my reticence towards mantras, I have one: “If cave-ladies can do it, so can I.” My relationship with the mantra is complicated, largely because of my tendency to over think it, rendering it useless. While it has occasionally helped with some of my more insurmountable anxieties, more often than not it leads to a series of questions. What did cave-ladies know about pregnancy and motherhood? At what point did a cave-lady even realize she was pregnant? Was it when the urge to push became undeniable? Terrifying. I imagine the infant mortality rate among cave-babies was significantly higher than it is among their twenty-first century counterparts. It likely took a lot of trial and error to successfully raise a child to fifteen and cave-mums would likely benefit from some warning regarding what to expect. While suggestions of what music to play to a fetus are useless to the average neanderthal, I’m sure they would have appreciated some instruction about labour and delivery.

As much as Heidi Murkoff’s patronizing tone annoys me, I needed her books. Although I forgot everything I’d read as soon as I felt Joanie’s wriggling, slimy body for the first time, I’m thankful that I am not a cave-person, and that I can refer to a vast library of resources for advice about baby sign language, poop taxonomy, and chapped nipples. I have no innate sense when it comes to the aforementioned topics and I challenge anyone who implies that I should.

Note: If you’re like me and you don’t feel like being placated by TLC (the channel not the girl group. If T-Boz, Chilli and Left-Eye want to placate me they’re welcome to) or Heidi Murkoff or Vicki Lovine, then I recommend Anne Enright’s Making Babies. Enright treats her readers like the intelligent, mature and thoughtful people that they are. Her book is an island of reality in a sea of schmaltz.