Our Reading Lives

How I Managed to Read During My First Year as a Mom

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Alya Hameed

Staff Writer

When she isn't editing, chasing her toddler around the house, or experimenting with recipes, Alya is usually submerged in a book. She holds an M.A. in Children's Literature from SDSU; she's also held a quidditch match before—her skills are clearly wide and varied. These days, she's lucky to be able to write in tiny pockets of time. Find her on Twitter: @SimplyAlya.

Now that my son is well past his first birthday, I’ve been looking back on the last twelve months to figure out how exactly I managed to read anything at all. Obviously I did not expect to reach my yearly 100-book goal (and I’m well on my way to not reaching it this year either, surprise surprise), nor did I hold myself to reading harder. 110% of my focus has been on the little person who is becoming more alive with personality each day. Still, somehow I have managed to eke in some personal time with just me and a book. Or what passes for personal time now, since the baby is almost always hanging around (or off of) me. Consequently, I had to come up with some curious methods for reading.

I should point out first that the alternatives to tangible books figure prominently in my life too. I did embrace my Kindle years ago, especially as a tool for obtaining (and holding on to as needed) library books. Obviously it’s easy to hold it in one hand while soothing a toddler with the other. More than that, using services like OverDrive and Libby have saved me from going to the library with an infant. Things have changed now that the little one enjoys trips to the library too, but still it’s a boon. Audiobooks have also served me well, particularly in the car and kitchen. I have even discovered readers whose lilting timbre have won my doubtful ears over.

Nevertheless, neither form holds a bookmark to the comfort and poise of a book in my hand. Reading print books also demonstrates to my son that I don’t rely on electronics alone. He’s no stranger to the books we read together, but I’d like him to pick up on the habit of reading through life (not just staring at screens of varying sizes). You can never start habits too early, right? This is where my mom would chime in that I’m nuts. But with the varying amounts of sleep and absolute lack of free time on a daily basis, I’m allowed a bit of nuttiness. It adds a salty snack to reading.

Anyway, as to those methods I had to come up with…I spent some time reflecting on how this bibliophagist will do just about anything to get some time with her novels. Most new parents can relate to my attempts, although even I admit one of them is bordering on the absurd. More on that in a bit.

Tried and True Methods for Reading with an Infant

Firstly, I mastered propping the book on the stroller. We have a bulky jogging stroller which is almost never used for jogging purposes. It has been great for brisk walks and meandering strolls though. Plus, its ample breadth offers enough foundation along the handles and canopy to balance a medium-sized novel. I wouldn’t try anything too lengthy and heavy (whether in weight or content), but a lighthearted mystery or witty story would do. I’ve always been jealous of people who can walk around reading a book (I’m far too accident prone to dare read-walking in public), but this offers a happy medium. I’m already splitting my attention between the walk and my son, so adding another element wasn’t too difficult. And if he falls asleep on the walk, even better. I stepped into The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill on a few walks. By the way, reading a few passages to my kid (or my husband whenever he lets me) is an added bonus.

Another method I used is more about the situation than any specific skill needing to be mastered. I just propped open a book on a soft pillow next to me while breastfeeding. Sure, my son had his nursing pillows to support him, but whether on the bed or the sofa, I almost always had a pillow set aside for my novel. Baby on one side, book on the other. This was my preferred reading time because it was highly adjustable—need to move the baby to the other side? No problem, book (and its pillow) can just switch as well. Plus, I could read any manner and size of book I wanted. A Gathering of Shadows and A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab were very quickly consumed in this manner. Come to think of it, I think there should be a pillow designed just for this purpose.

Lastly, I stumbled on a method that is indubitably not for the faint of bibliophilic heart. This works best for a stint of rereading an old favorite, specifically something you have multiple copies of and want to read to your kiddo. While reading out loud is not required, it does help, since your baby is up-and-at-’em during this time. The performative element injects a further sense of delight. Basically, I have read some of my favorite books out loud to my son. But in order to keep his attention away from the book in my hand, I gave him a second copy to, umm, “handle” on his own.

I already stated this isn’t for everyone, but it gave me a chance to read Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone to my child, and make my own embarrassing attempts at the voices of so many beloved and distinct characters. I will never in public share my rendition of Hagrid or Professor McGonagall, but I’ve had loads of fun acting them out at home. It just means that I now have a copy of the book that’s in numerous parts…missing a few pages…without a cover…occasionally strewn across the living room…you get the idea. But then I also have my own pristine copy. So it’s all good. Really. Once you learn to let go, it really stops hurting deep inside. Besides, seeing my baby enjoy the tactile aspects of a paper book is charming. He gets to experience the sight of printed words, the musty smell of a good book, the rich sound of paper being torn away from binding. I’m hoping that phase will pass soon.

Every day brings a new challenge with my ongoing quest to read. The perils of parenthood provided no shelter for books in the last year. I still emerged battle-worn but triumphant, and I expect it will only get easier over time. Or even more interesting. How have you managed to squeeze in some book time with a little one in your midsts?