two-year-old got a tea set for his birthday, a brightly
colored plastic one with cups, plates, a pitcher, sugar bowl, and
the all-important tea pot. He’d long coveted the set at a
friend’s house, and it was a happy day when Simon received
one of his very own. The tea set has been the longest playing hit
we’ve had in our house, and the obsession shows no sign of abating.
so Montessori,” approved a friend, when I told her of my son’s
delight in pouring his allotted half-inch of water endlessly back
and forth from the pot to the cups. “Pouring is great for
Huh. Hand-eye coordination
is all very well, but I like the tea set because of what it does
It gives me time to read.
As any parent will attest,
it is entirely permissible to stare vacantly into space with aimlessly
twiddling thumbs while one’s child plays contentedly on the
floor. But employ those same thumbs to pick up a book or, God forbid,
actually attempt to read it, and the baby radar will go on full
alert. If I have the audacity to open a book in Simon’s presence,
his usual tactic is to march over and close it. “The end!”
he says firmly, like a tiny librarian announcing closing time.
But oh, that tea set!
Once he’s settled at his little table in the kitchen, pouring
water back and forth, he doesn’t notice a thing I’m
doing; he may as well be hypnotized. I can perch on the counter,
pick up my book, and read away for up to half an hour at a time.
Or until I notice that all the water is now on the floor.
In How Reading Changed
my Life, Anna Quindlen quotes Jamaica Kincaid on reading when
she was supposed to be taking care of her little brother: “I
liked reading a book much more than I liked looking after him (and
even now I like reading a book more than I like looking after my
I feel this way quite
Some time back, I read
A Girl Named Zippy, a memoir of growing up in a small town
in Indiana in the 70’s. Zippy’s mother was always depicted
on the couch, a stack of library books at her side. She took a detached
interest in the life of her family, and it was clear that the books
were by far the most important things in her world.
I remember reacting to
this portrait with unease. Could this ever be me? Before I had a
child, I had plenty of time to read, and I read a lot. I still do,
but now I read in the fringes, on the edges of Simon’s time,
in stolen snatches. I shouldn’t feel guilty about this (he’s
having so much fun with that teapot— really, he is!) but sometimes
Every morning I make
Simon his oatmeal, click his high chair tray in place, and get him
settled for breakfast. Some (most?) mothers would proceed to make
cheery conversation of the, “My, what a big bite!” variety.
I used to do this myself. But then he figured out eating, no longer
needed my assistance, and stopped picking out the raisins and throwing
them at the cat.
Now, as soon as Simon
is secure in his chair, I whip out my book. He eats, I read. Sometimes
I look up from my book to find him watching me. And I wonder: is
he going to miss some crucial aspect of socialization? Does he feel
neglected, eating all by himself? Shouldn’t I be more interactive?
Then I think about the
entire rest of the day during which I do nothing but interact with
him, and I curse the brainwashing that prompts mothers to question
our every move. What Simon needs is a parent who feels like a human
being, and reading is what keeps me sane.
I meet mothers who claim
to love reading, but talk of nothing but their children. When, in
an effort to turn the conversation away from teething and mysterious
rashes, I ask if they’ve read anything good recently, they
laugh and ask who has time to read now?
They are not real readers.
Real readers read despite
the circumstance of parenthood. They make the time or they read
in stolen fragments of time, or they just sit on the couch and do
it and let the kid cut paper into ever-tinier fragments which are
then scattered all over the carpet, because the soul-satisfying
bliss of finishing another chapter now far outweighs the minor irritation
of hauling the vacuum cleaner downstairs later.
Sometimes I worry that
Simon is going to grow up resenting the books that compete with
him for my attention. But most of the time I think he’s going
to want to learn to read as fast as he can, to get in on the action.
He takes such pleasure in his favorite book (Sandra Boynton’s Hey, Wake Up), that I am more than willing to set aside
my loathing for the perky rhymes in this paean to early rising and
indulge him in it over and over. His first sentence was, “Bookmark
in book.” That’s my boy.
Reading seemed as necessary
as breathing to me before I became a parent. Now, my stolen interludes
with a book help to maintain my sanity by reminding me of the person
I used to be, the woman who could sink so deeply into the world
of the word that hours would pass unnoticed. I don’t get hours
now, but my brief immersions serve as a crucial respite from the
daily work of mothering a small boy.
Fifteen minutes spent
in the delectable company of Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey
are enough to recharge me for another round of singing, “The
wheels on the digger go round and round,” or for my budding
nudist’s favorite activity, “Naky baby on the bed!”
After that, maybe I’ll let him play fire hose with the vacuum
cleaner tube. He loves it so much, it’s not that dirty - and
I’ll have another chance to grab that book.
mmo : October 2004