When you were a kid, did you envision what it would be like to be an adult? Were there things you were excited about, things you couldn’t do the way you wanted to, as a kid, but would be able to, once you were ‘all grown up’? As an adult, do you find that your childhood fantasies just don’t match your reality?
When I was a girl , I thought that one of the coolest things about growing up was going to be the freedom to read when and how I wanted, for as long as I wanted, without anyone else telling me what to read, what I was forbidden to read, how and when and for what purpose to read.
I’m 45, now, and I’ve been an adult for decades, long enough to know that things nearly always look different from the outside than they do on the inside. Adulthood hasn’t given me absolute liberty to read. Even though I do have far more time, per se, for reading now than I did when I worked outside my home, and when my children were small, time and attention given to reading are time and attention that aren’t available to be given to something else.
Life as an adult is a blending and a balance of choices and priorities. The same is true for children, of course, except that they usually have less power to exert their own will and make their own choices, which might be why they tend to imagine adults as free to do as they please.
Before I became a parent, I read abundantly and diversely. I loved fiction – assorted sci-fi, fantasy, quirky stuff, cultural stories, classics, and occasional police or military procedurals, mysteries, and romances. I also enjoyed non-fiction on a variety of topics – self-awareness, writing, learning, parenting, and assorted pastimes. I read more than I wrote, in those pre-Internet days, and I have no regrets. My reading was a rich and varied meadow of learning, experience, thought…I deepened and widened my perceptions and perspective, and some seeds lay fallow and dormant for years, waiting their proper time to spring to life. Of course, I needed to fit my reading around my work schedule and social life, but that still left many hours a day free – and I gave a lot of that time to writing.
Once we decided to have a family, my reading shifted. Instead of allowing impulse and instinct and word of mouth to direct my choices, I became deeply focused on the goal of being an informed parent. I chewed through books on conception, pregnancy, nursing, birth, sleep training, sibling rivalry, education, and much more – almost all of it having to do with some aspect of becoming or being a parent. I all but stopped reading fiction; instead, I devoured mainstream parenting magazines and attitudes. I don’t regret that reading – I think it was crucial to the later shift in my approach, this gathering in of information and opinions.
By the time my oldest was mobile reading time became a shadow of its former self, and a high percentage of the time, any reading I did was to my baby boy. For several years, I was mostly only reading parenting and home organization magazines. I had a brief interlude, when I was on bedrest when carrying my daughter. Then, I was able to add in a few fiction titles just for me.
Once I was tending to Jeremiah, then almost three, and his baby sister, Annalise, there was far less time for personal reading. Mostly, I read magazines with mostly bite-sized features, so that I could catch at a few new ideas or images…my mind was hungry, in those days, and I was shifting, gradually becoming someone I hadn’t been before. Eventually, the little snippets added up to a new way of seeing life, and living it. I developed a peaceful relationship with my children, a stronger marriage, and dealt with the worst aftereffects of surviving an abusive childhood.
I was able to begin to read novels, or weightier non-fiction, starting when the kids were about eight and five. That was the point at which they were both able to tend to their basic physical needs, and I was needed less for those things. From there, I had increasing freedom, although there was still a good deal of time devoted to the reading the children wanted me to do, as well.
My children are thirteen and ten, now, and both avid readers of things that intrigue them. They are given much time and freedom to pursue those passions. This is so that they can explore their world on their own terms, so that they don’t have to dream about future adult freedoms. We still read together sometimes, but everyone also has their own personal reading preferences. And the time and freedom they have translates to much greater freedom for me, too – even though that wasn’t the intended goal.
Today, I tend to read the way I write. There are ebbs and flows; times when I scarcely read, and others when I almost binge-read, such is my desire for new input. I read a variety of things, in many ways. I still fit my reading in with the rest of life, because I do have children, and a husband, and a home, and friends, and other priorities…
Still, it’s a lot more like what I imagined as a little girl than I once thought it could be, and that makes me happy.
Did you have childhood dreams of reading as much as and whenever you wanted? Some other dream of delightful excess? How has adulthood measured up to those dreams?