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.


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