The other day, I reposted a link to Frank Bruni’s, Op/Ed piece in the New York Times, “Read, Kids, Read.” Bruni cites a study that recently revealed “fewer than 20 percent of 17-year-olds now read for pleasure almost every day. Back in 1984, 31 percent did.” What an incredibly disheartening statistic. Aside from the nearly irrefutable fact that reading is linked with higher intelligence, this speaks to our culture of instant gratification found through digital technology. Those few who are actually reading are slowing down their pace of life. Sitting with a novel, albeit in the hard copy or tablet format (I still very much prefer the hard copy; the act of turning the page, and yes, I’ll admit it – smelling the book), takes time.
Reading for pleasure is not something I’ve been able to figure out how to incorporate back into my life post the birth of my daughter. I have cued up on a list the next several books I’d like to read and have promised myself that I will pick them up this summer. I used to read before going to bed, but I go to bed so early now that if I read before bed, I’d be getting into bed at 8 o’clock, thus leaving little time for catching up with my husband after the baby goes to bed. An excuse? Perhaps, but perception is reality and that is my current reality.
There is a larger issue at hand, though. Time. The pace of it all. How we’re always looking to get things done more efficiently so that we have more time. And yet despite all the gadgets, aps, and time savers available, there doesn’t seem to be any time gained. I’m guilty of it. Just this morning I was trolling Pinterest for “quick and healthy recipes.” The irony is, last night after watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, where he travels to France, my husband and I were talking about the culture of food in France as compared to here in the states. We’re all about the hurry-up, the fast-food, the “quick and easy.” I remarked to Big Red that we need more of that in our lives where the ingredients and the cooking of those ingredients becomes part of the leisure and enjoyment. That dinner is more than just a wolf-down in front of the television, but a reason to stop and relax. How we are to accomplish this with a seven month old escapes me.
From time to time I get these romantic notions that I will only buy the freshest ingredients from our local farmers' markets, maybe even join a CSA, cook it all from scratch, and we’ll sit down to each meal prepared with a glass of wine. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? I have yet to transform this vision from black and white to Technicolor.
Here’s what I don’t want, and forgive me if I digress. I don’t want my daughter learning that the end goal is to hurry-up and finish whatever it is we’re doing, whether it’s cooking, eating, or yes, even cleaning. Nor do I want her learning to turn to the television to fill in the blank spaces. As of today, I’m hosting an internal battlefield as to whether or not the TV is in fact abominable, and if I should fight to change the current. It’s how I grew up and I’d like to believe I turned out alright. As I’ve said before, monkey see, monkey do – so if I’m not willing to change my own television watching habits, how could I ever expect her to learn otherwise? Some days I want to get rid of the bright shiny box, and other days I’m like, “Nah, it’s not so bad – I really love watching Real Housewives of ______.” As my students would say, this is “the struggle.” I’m riding the “struggle bus,” when it comes to television.
Lucille deserves the bucolic childhood that every kid should have; playing in the park, rolling down the hill in the backyard, riding her bicycle, painting, running through the sprinklers, drawing, fishing, and reading at her leisure with a flashlight inside the fort she built out of couch cushions and bed sheets – a modern day Laura Ingalls.
Maybe it’s more about balance and less about definitely exclude this or must include that. Not every dinner in our household will be a pastoral farm-to-table, but maybe we can work those in a couple times a week…at some point...someday down the line. So she may watch cartoons on Saturday mornings; I have fond memories of watching such with my younger brother, and we often were playing while watching The Smurfs. We’d dump the bin of Legos out on the floor and create mansions while He-Man battled villains or Jem made sure those pesky Misfits didn’t thwart her latest Holograms concert. I used my imagination. I did. And so will she.
This issue of time will never leave, and is something I’ll have to reckon with. My daughter is seven months old already. It’s such a tired cliché, but it really is all happening so quickly, and I find myself in isolated cyclones of panic knowing that I’m never going to get this moment back. It is terrifying. Yesterday, I only saw her for a few minutes in the morning. Professional duties occupied my afternoon and evening, thwarting my time with her before she went to bed for the night. This morning, when I fed her at 5 am, I found myself running my cheek along her downy head of hair, inhaling that magical sweet scent. My free hand gently playing with hers as she grasped my fingers in a milk-drunk trance. I found rapture in the weight of her body against mine. In the cloaked darkness of her room, the morning chorus of birds beginning their hymns just outside her window, I savored every moment. Time, for once, was not my nemesis.