Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Motherhood Changes Reading

All mothers know that motherhood changes everything. It's important to note that motherhood brings a little person in your life who you love more than anything else. But you'll also no longer be able to  go to the bathroom alone, you'll do without adequate sleep more often than you'd care to think of, you'll become largely immune to disgust of bodily fluids, and "hobbies" like reading can take a big fat hit. But those aren't the only ways motherhood changes reading. At least, for me.

I knew in the early days of Greyson's life, I wouldn't read much. I was exhausted. Now, on the other side of maternity leave and 19 months into his wonderful life, I still find my reading is slow and spotty. It's largely to do with outside influences: work, home life in general, obligations, and did I mention work? All that is enough to frazzle the hardiest of brains.When I come home at night, I have two hours to spend with my child before bed and roughly two hours of my own time after he goes to sleep. The hours leading up to his bedtime are full of dinner, bath time, play time, and what's become a battle of wills to brush his teeth. We sing songs, we watch cartoons, we look at books, play with blocks, practice words, identify the parts of our faces, attack the dogs (that's mostly his thing). After his bedtime I usually spend some time cleaning up, take a quick shower, and if I'm lucky, I have the grey matter left for a book. Many nights I only have the grey matter for Chopped on the Food Network.

But like I said, these physical tasks aren't all that changes. Motherhood doesn't only impose a time conflict. It imposes conflicts of the heart and brain much bigger than I'd ever imagined before I had Greyson.

I've mentioned before that prior to motherhood I was mother to only one being: my dog. I've always been an animal lover, and cruelty to animals in fiction is one of those things that will send me sprinting away from a book. Admittedly, I was not particularly bothered, in my past life, by issues of child abuse, child neglect, and all those horrible things. Horrible, they are indeed. It might sound ridiculous to say that those issues didn't affect me before, but they certainly did register and resonate the way they do now.

I see the world, to a large extent, through my child and his experiences now and those to come. To read about child abuse or neglect or simply a child's sadness--especially a little boy--can leave me reeling.  When I read Joanna Kavenna's excellent novel, The Birth of Love, I sailed through the dying mothers infected by their doctors, but it was a little boy missing his mother that left me on the floor:
She thinks of Calumn, waking in his little bed, wondering where she is. Crying, "Mamamam." She has only spent a few nights apart from him since his birth. Mostly, and in defiance of the opinions of experts, he spends the night in their bed, nestled between her and Patrick. She wonders if he woke in the night, and if he cried for her and found she had gone. Her mother would have been sleeping in the spare room--she imagines Calumn shuffling along the corridor, opening the door of the main bedroom, finding it empty, not knowing where else to look. Bemused and lonely in the corridor, in his little pajamas. She should have told her mother to sleep in the main bedroom instead. She hadn't been thinking, at the time.
I see Greyson in this passage. I see myself wondering how the hell I forgot to ward off this simple, momentary heartbreak. Women spend much of their lives worrying about others, helping others, being responsible for others. We nurture, we teach, we provide. We worry. We hope. We love, for sure.

What motherhood has given me, in life and in reading, is a ferocious empathy. I've also gained a heightened sense of responsibility. I see people more now than I did before: the grown-ups and certainly children. I want to help more, I want to soothe more. I also want to scissor-kick those in positions of power who squander their opportunities to do the right thing (hello, Penn State scandal).


In recent days I feel my reading slump lightening up a bit, and with a Barnes and Noble gift card burning a hole in my pocket, I've been trying to decide exactly what to purchase. The first book that came to mind was A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. I feel down in my bones that I will love it, but I'm also terrified of this book and what it will do to my heart.
An unflinching, darkly funny, and deeply moving story of a boy, his seriously ill mother, and an unexpected monstrous visitor.
At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting-- he's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It's ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd-- whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself-- Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.
It's going to lay me out flat, y'all. Seriously. I'm going to cry until my eyeballs roll across the floor. But I think I'm ok with it, because I suspect this one might hit me the way The Book Thief did. In a powerful tidal wave of emotion that leaves me with a sense of catharsis. Or at least I hope so.

Motherhood is, bar none, the hardest thing I've ever taken on, but even in its first moments it was the best thing, too. Do I mind being so drastically changed in body, mind, and heart? Absolutely not. He's the love of my life.


 

32 comments:

  1. What a lovely post! That little person sure does change your perspective on life.

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  2. Amen and amen. The kiddos do change everything, in so many ways. I remember it took me a couple of years to get settled. And then, adding that second to the mix? Whew, I'm exhausted. But it's a good exhausted.

    Like you, I knew A Monster Calls was going to gut me. And it did, as it is going to gut you. But, as you already suspect, it was cathartic in a very surprising way. I hope it helps you as much as it did me. Jason Issacs (Lucius Malfoy himself!) reads the audiobook. I can't wait to listen to it and probably will early next year. Since I usually listen to audiobooks on my commute, I hope I can see to drive! lol

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  3. By the way? That boy is so stinkin' cute!!!

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  4. awww what a cute little kid you have there!

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  5. Soooo true! The whole world turned upside down in the instant that I first made eye contact with my newborn baby. He is a teenager now but I will never forget that moment. Your little guy is adorable!

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  6. what a cutie. The babies do change things. It is amazing how life events can shape my reading. I would say that motherhood and being a survivor of sexual violence have most impacted what and how I read.

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  7. I couldn't get past the first sentence of the excerpt you posted from the first book...I will run from it if I see it. I have 3 daughters...I still feel like somebody punches me in the stomach when either of the two older ones back out of our driveway...I still have not recovered from The Lovely Bones...I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels this way...give that sweet baby a hug :)

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  8. What a wonderful post! I agree with you - it does change everything and it does increase your empathy for everyone. I haven't read A Monster Calls, but thanks for the warning - I'll ensure I have a giant box of tissues handy when I do get round to reading it.

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  9. What a piercing post, Andi. I can relate to everything you said, and had to stop reading to hit the counter with an, "Amen! Me, too!" when I came to this line: "What motherhood has given me, in life and in reading, is a ferocious empathy." I'm not sure if I needed even more of a sense of responsibility in my life (already being a guilt magnet of sorts, interested in helping everyone even if it's beyond my capabilities), but that is heightened to. And I came here thinking I'd read a post about now you're reading "Goodnight Moon" every other night. ;)

    p.s. Love the photographs!

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  10. Thank you, Kathy! You're so right. The depth and breadth of the changes in perspective are what really floor me sometimes. I just didn't know!

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  11. Heather, it makes me feel really good to hear (read?) you say that it took a few years to get settled. I cannot even imagine adding another child to the mix. Ack!

    I cannot wait to try A Monster Calls. I think I'm ready for it! I think!

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  12. Thanks, Toothy!

    Thank you, Rachel! It is quite amazing the change that comes over a person. I look at him now at 19 months and think, "Oh HOW will it been when you're a teen?" lol

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  13. Amanda, I can certainly imagine those two things would send inevitable ripples through one's life, perceptions, and most certainly reading.

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  14. Patti, you are most certainly not the only one. I have to say, The Birth of Love was FANTASTIC. You might actually appreciate it because that particular passage relates to a woman having her second child and worrying how the first child will cope and react. Very interesting, heartbreaking stuff.

    Lemme tell ya, the hardest book to read as a mother was ROOM. I got through it, but I thought it was going to kill me.

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  15. Jackie, wish me luck with A Monster Calls. I probably won't be able to read it in public. I don't want to do the "ugly cry" for everyone passing by. :D

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  16. Thank you, Bellezza. It's really been an amazing change. I was REALLY responsible and pretty empathetic before. Maybe it's a dominant gene prevalent in educators. lol I think we go in with a preordination for those traits and they're just heightened by motherhood.

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  17. What an amazing post! You're going to make me cry. It's so true how motherhood changes reading and especially our view of the world. Reading your excerpt from The Birth of Love almost had me in tears. My youngest (6) is at that stage where he realizes things die and that his mama will one day. . . We've had many nights in the past few weeks where he's crying himself to sleep over it. *sigh* My worst fear is leaving my kids before they're adults. There's so much I want them to know.

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  18. Such a lovely post, Andi. And that photo of him sitting on the curb is too cute! That expression!

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  19. What a fantastic post! I have to agree with you. I couldn't even bring myself to read the paragraph you posted about child abuse. I absolutely find myself staying away from those books that I know will bruise my heart. Ever since I had Ethan, I can't read about it or see it on tv without tearing up or crying. In so many ways...more good than bad....Ethan has changed my life. And your little man is so adorable =)

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  20. Andi--this post is absolutely beautiful. Damn You Google Reader for not allowing me to share!!!

    As a new mother, I've experienced most of what you've written about in this post. But I haven't done as much reading the past six months and so haven't experienced the emotional rollercoaster related to reading about such topics. Interesting what you say about seeing people differently, though. Because, yes. Everything is different. When people told me that motherhood would change my life, I vaguely understood. But now, I know that I had NO idea what that meant exactly. But what a blessing that change has been. Whew--comment hijack. But really, beautiful post.

    And beautiful pictures of your little doll. My favorite is the first one with the dumdum. Haircut?

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  21. I loved this post. We're the same age, and I'm childless (and may or may not stay that way), and one of the things that scares me most is how parenthood would impact my reading, but I never thought of it in this way before. I so appreciate your candor and wisdom on motherhood and reading, as well as balancing academia with both. I consider reading (and blogging) such a part of my identity, and losing it is one aspect of parenthood that frightens me most. It's petty, I realize, but it does give me pause.

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  22. Natasha, I dread the day Greyson is old enough to "get" that sad fact of life. Like you, my biggest fear is not being here to see him grow up. Funny how motherhood can make us contemplate mortality much more. When there are little ones around it's so much more about them than us.

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  23. Thank you, Katie! That's one of my favorite pics of him. So cute!

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  24. Trish, I didn't know what it meant that motherhood would change things either. Boy, now I do! And it's funny, the littlest things (like reading) can make me contemplate the hardest on these changes.

    And yes, the dumdum was from the first haircut. I have pics of him putting it into his ear and nose, but it I don't think it ever made it to his mouth. :)

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  25. Not petty at all, Carrie. I certainly thought about it too. One of my biggest fears and my most intense thoughts before I had my son was, "I'm never going to get to do what I want again." And by that, I meant reading and blogging. You find a way. It's great to have a support system, and it's absolutely necessary to realize that MOMS NEED THEIR TIME TOO! It made me feel guilty in the beginning but now, not so much. In order to be the best mom I can be, I have to have some time to wallow in the things I love, namely books and blogging.

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  26. I'm interested to see how being a mother affects my reading. More, less, different styles, more crying.... who knows? :)

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  27. I'm looking forward to hearing about it, too, Trisha!

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  28. Andi, as usual you have written an incredibly eloquent post about something that so many of us relate to but could never describe as beautifully as you. I always say that as a mother I found my heart and I wear it on my sleeve more than I could have imagined. It seemed more intense when my son was younger but even now that he is a teenager I know I will never look at life the same.

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  29. What a seriously beautiful post.

    I couldn't agree more.

    My daughter is 18 months this week and that is exactly as I would put it. "Ferocious empathy". The news, books, and movies can make me weep. I feel so deeply now.

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  30. Ditto, ditto, ditto!! A beautiful post and so very true. My little girl is three and since her birth I've gone through the same emotions... And like you, prior to this, I couldn't take reading about cruelty to animals. Now, the child issue has joined the animal issue. I feel like saving your post and pinning it up on my wall!

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  31. I tried commenting earlier but think I might have had a computer "issue." Anyway, had to come back and try again because I LOVE this post. I have a three year old daughter and have gone through the exact same experiences as you. Bravo for your words, which capture all of the emotions so perfectly.

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  32. Yes! I agree that the term 'ferocious empathy' is both poetic and apt. Such a great post.

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