This post was inspired by another post that I read at Book Riot from fellow TTAFer Josh Corman.
You see I have hit a bit of a reading slump over the past six months, a time period that just so happens to coincide with the birth of my first child.
Let’s turn back the clock to six months ago. I was preparing to have a child like most other fathers, mainly doing whatever my wife told me to do. I was, and continue to be, pretty pumped to have a baby. We had registered for all the necessary things, and by necessary I mean largely unnecessary, sleeping apparatus, feeding equipment and the ever important University of Kentucky basketball clothing that all little girls need. Eventually, at the request of my wife, I even put together a small bag of necessities for the possible mad dash from our apartment to the hospital.
Among the items in my hastily packed hospital bag was a copy of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. I figured that with my wife most likely exhausted and finding myself alone in a hospital room, there would be plenty of time to read. Well between visitors, nurses, the baby and the complete lack of sleep for a few days, the number of sentences read in Infinite Jest were indirectly proportional to the amount of free coffee from the hospital that I drank.
When Josh and his family came to visit us he almost immediately pointed out the absurdity of not only bringing a book to the hospital but also my choice in book being a particularly thick, figuratively and literally, read. I probably should have realized at that point that a bumpy literary road lay ahead.
I have read a few pages out of Infinite Jest since then. I have read several other books, but Infinite Jest has been put on hold.
Having a child wreaks havoc upon your daily schedules and routines. Is it worth it? Absolutely, but at some point you should get back to doing at least some of the things that you enjoyed before having the baby. Also, I should note that the first few months of having a kid are exhausting, and extremely difficult, especially on your sleep. It gets better and eventually you will not only return to some semblance of a normal life, but you will also have time to actually interact with your baby, not just feed it and put it to bed.
Before I get to the dos of reading in the time of kids, let’s have a look at the don’ts.
Do not use the baby’s nap time as your reading time (at least early on). Nap time might seem like the most logical free period to pick up that novel you have been putting off reading for the past few months. I think that this is a mistake. Allow me to explain. Nap time is one of the few moments that you will have alone with your wife, moments of uninterrupted, quiet and relatively peaceful interaction with your significant other. Similarly, someone has to be home while your child naps so don’t simply assume that since your wife can stay home that you can run out and do something that you want or need to do. I doubt your wife will be thrilled that you snuck in a quick round of disc golf or read Huck Finn by the creek on a 7o degree spring day while she stared out the window watching the other mom’s play with their kids. You should probably spend this time talking to each other, perhaps about topics other than the baby, asking how each other’s day is going. You could also use nap time for more amorous pursuits just remember that this is how you got here in the first place. The point is, use nap time as a moment together. Even if it is just laying on the couch/bed and taking a nap together.
Think twice before deciding to stay up late, while your wife sleeps, in order to read that book on your shelf that has been gathering dust. As with all of the advice offered here there certainly are exceptions, but allow me to explain. Staying up late when you are exhausted is generally a bad idea. Below I will suggest that you wake up earlier to read and you may think that it is no different than staying up late. For me there is a big difference as I can always focus more clearly after sleeping as opposed to when I am tired. Secondly, if your wife is anything like mine, she wakes easily and when you come to bed at midnight you have then caused your wife to wake up. No good can come from that.
A few suggestions:
Read on long car rides. Every once in a while I will have to travel a long distance to the job site where we will work. This means that I sit shotgun to the guy I am working with and sometime we can spend up to three hours in the car per day. When this is the case I usually pack a book and a pen. This is obviously not the best choice for many of you prone to car sickness, but for me it is a great way to get in some much needed reading time.
Read on your lunch break. I would bet that many of you already take advantage of your lunch break to read. I have done this several times. As a construction worker it seems a bit pretentious to pull out Infinite Jest and read it while eating a PB&J sandwich but sometimes there aren’t any other options. It can be a pain to lug a book around with you all day, especially if you work outside of an office as I do, but you could always find smaller editions that can be concealed and carried quite easily, and without a permit at that.
Read early in the morning. This has become my go to reading time. Before the baby was born I would wake up at 5 A.M. and spend thirty minutes to an hour, depending on where I was working and when I needed to leave, reading. For me this usually includes a biblical passage to start of the morning followed by whatever book I am reading at the time. So for example right now I am working on 2 Corinthians and Oscar Romero’s The Violence of Love. These two readings actually go pretty well together and make great companions. Many times it will not work out so well, but nevertheless reading in the morning has turned out to be a great choice for me both mentally and spiritually.
It has required that I change my schedule and habits a bit. Obviously I have to wake up earlier, but I have quickly acclimated to the hour difference. I have also changed and increased my coffee consumption. Previously I would fill up a traveller’s mug before I walked out the door and I would sip coffee for up to an hour into work. Now I start the pot as soon as I wake up and polish off three or four of my favorite mugs full of joe while I read (I immediately regretted using the word “joe” in pace of “coffee”).
Not only is reading in the early A.M. the most quiet and least distracting time for me to read. It is also the time in which I have the lowest opportunity cost. In other words, if I choose to read for a few hours right after work those are a few hours that I could have spent helping out my wife or playing with my young daughter. Being sixth months old she still requires quite a bit of attention and there is almost always something that needs to be done. If I choose to read then I am missing out on those other opportunities and or duties. However, if I choose to read in the early morning when my wife and child are both still asleep, I am not missing out on a thing, other than sleep, and sleep can easily be made up by going to bed a bit earlier the night before or by drinking another cup of coffee or two in the morning.
I would gladly give up reading for my wife or daughter. Luckily, neither my wife or daughter are Nazis from the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (aka the best movie in the series) and they both allow for the liberal use of books. Even still it can be difficult to find time in the day to accomplish all of the things that I would like to and need to get done. My solution? Wake up early and read for yourself. Spend time with your family as much as possible and try to limit your nightly reading to Dr. Suess and Eric Carle.