So Jenny and I were at the pool a few days ago and I was telling her about this woman in my yoga class, we’ll call her Anna, who admitted that she “wasn’t a reader.” (I must note that Anna was speaking with the instructor, not directly to me. I was just eavesdropping, like a creeper.)
Anyway, Anna went on to say that she felt really guilty about it because she knew it was important for her kids to see her read and enjoy it, and she worried that they weren’t getting the right scholarly influences from her at home, etc. And the instructor replied that there was a lot of societal pressure about this subject and if we had a dollar for every single thing that inspires guilt in us as mothers, we’d be rich, or something like that. Let it go, in other words.
It got me thinking. I’m a reader, a writer, and a former English teacher and scholar, so of course my home is rich in print, and I read constantly, and we go to the library and to the bookstore, and we read together and separately, and listen to books on tape, and I go to book club and we go to book club and I read to them and with them and in front of them. But that’s easy for me – it’s what I’d be doing anyway, independent of my role as a mother. Reading is not something I decided and committed to do. Being a capital-R Reader is natural for me; it’s who I am.
And then I thought about Mike, my husband. He is not a Reader. I think he’s a genius, though. He can build anything, fix anything, make sense of any kind of technical problem. He’s a talented musician, a wonderful artist, and a successful businessman. And I know many other successful and brilliant adults who have fabulous careers and live quality lives yet don’t really do books.
So to play devil’s advocate, I posed the question to Jenny: Is it really a parenting absolute that we need to be so diligent about our kids’ reading? Do we need to raise Readers? (And I’m certainly not championing illiteracy. I’m talking about being a Reader, a lifelong lover of books, not knowing how to read.) The short and easy answer is yes, of course. But I guess my feelings are complicated by the fact that there are SO MANY things our kids need to know how to do nowadays – swim and use the internet and play basketball and do chores and drive a car and ride a bike and plant vegetables and sit still at the symphony and serve their communities and recycle and say please and thank you and budget money and eat organically and so on and so forth – that it gets overwhelming, for a parent. I can honestly say that I don’t require my kids to get enough exercise. None of them are very athletic, and I don’t force it. Maybe I should. I mean, with childhood obesity rates, and everything. But no mother can do everything. (And it’s so hot here in Houston.)
Jenny’s response was in the affirmative. She wants to raise Readers. And her reasoning is persuasive – reading takes us out of ourselves, teaches us about the world, forces us to see things from differing perspectives. Reading promotes a larger world view. Yet while I agree with her, I wonder – is reading truly the only thing that does this? We then tried to think of families we knew and realized that pretty much all of our friends were either Readers, or married to one. Which means that their kids have the experience of at least one parent as a Reader. Are these kids truly better prepared, more educated, smarter?
My point is that we all feel guilty about some area in which we don’t measure up. Can we cut ourselves some slack on the reading thing, knowing that there are plenty (TONS AND TONS) of extremely successful adults who aren’t Readers? Or is the guilt well-placed? What do you think?