Ah, summer . . . an idyllic time marked by long, warm, lazy afternoons spent lying in an enormous hammock with your sun-kissed children, sipping icy lemonade, and reading good books.
Of course, this delightful idyll may be no more than an idle fantasy if you’re a working mother with a nine-to-five gig that rolls right on through the year — fall, winter, spring, and (sigh) summer, too — without paying much heed to the seasons. For you (as for me), no doubt, summer is the time of year when you take a good, hard look at your life choices and ask, “Why didn’t I go into teaching again?” (In every other season, you probably know exactly why you didn’t.)
Summer reading is super important, of course, for both your kids and for you — you can’t risk their young brain cells rotting during the long holiday, after all, and they’re likely not going to bother reading if you don’t.
Still, without a hammock or any time to laze around in it, you may have to think outside the box.
At the library
The public library is paradise on earth for book-loving kids and their book-loving moms. What better way to start out your their summer vacation than by scheduling an evening outing? Bring your laundry book basket, but be sure to check the website before you go: public libraries (especially in picturesque rural communities like mine) have notoriously irregular weekly schedules.
Summer Hours for Small Town, U.S.A., Public Library
Monday: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Tuesday: 12:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Wednesday: closed (for some reason)
Thursday: 7:30 a.m. – 9:45 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. – 4:37 p.m.
Friday: closed (because why not?)
Saturday: 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m., except on a second Saturday immediately preceded by a waxing gibbous moon, when the library will instead be open 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. (We apologize for the inconvenience.)
Beware, though: what with all the camping trips, picnics, pool parties, family reunions, baseball games, county fairs, and summer concerts you’ll also be trying to squeeze into your limited summer free time, it will probably be late August before you find time to make it back to the library and return your basket of books. By this time — unless you’re very conscientious about renewing online (and I’m not) — you’ll likely owe the library overdue fines that are roughly equivalent to the annual gross domestic product of Lichtenstein.
On a road trip
At some point this summer, you’ll no doubt be using some of your precious vacation days to take a cross-country road trip — or as m’coll Ahna likes to call it, a #summerreadtrip — with your literary little darlings.
This can present many opportunities to encourage summer reading in a variety of different formats.
Option 1: Pack a tote full of books and encourage them to read to themselves.
Pros: Peace and quiet.
Cons: Heightened risk of explosive motion sickness.
Option 2: Read aloud to them.
Pros: Family together time!
Cons: Devolving vocally from Meryl Streep to Clint Eastwood before the first rest stop.
Option 3: Audio books.
Pros: Listening to your favorite books read by distinguished British voice actors.
Cons: The nagging paranoia that audiobooks somehow don’t count as summer reading and are really just DVDs with the picture turned off.
I recommend mixing and matching these three approaches, just to hedge your bets. Medio tutissimus ibis! Et minus vomitum!
At the beach
Sometime within the next three months, you may overhear your fellow (probably childless) colleagues chatting together about their beach reading.
It sounds heavenly. Doesn’t it? Warm sun on your shoulders, sand between your toes, the gentle sound of surf in your ears, a fun murder mystery in hand . . . sweet serenity.
In this precious season of childrearing, however, it’s best to ignore all such tantalizing conversations. Change the subject to craft beer or the merits of sustainably sourced bamboo over reclaimed barnwood flooring, if you must — I bet they won’t mind, and you’ll be spared the agony of wistful thinking.
‘Cause let’s face it: beach days for you and me have less to do with trashy literature and more to do with practical mathematics — in my case, counting to four over and over and over again.
Here’s how any attempts to read at the beach tend to go these days:
Read: “In the . . .”
Look up. 1: splashing in the water up to her knees. Fine. 2 and 3: building a sand castle. Good for them. 4: mouthing on a plastic shovel. Could be worse.
Read: “cool of the . . .”
Look up. 1: sitting in the waves. Lovely. 2: burying 3 in sand. Worth monitoring, but no need to intervene yet. 4: stealing potato chips from an open bag on a stranger’s beach blanket. Right. Book down. Beach reading time is over. It was worth a try.
If you’re like me, bedtime stories are a well-loved staple of your family life. You may not always be free to take the kids to the zoo in the mornings or rig up a makeshift slip-n-slide for them in the afternoons, but you’ll always be there for bedtime stories.
Summer, however, can present some creative challenges when it comes to this sacred nightly ritual. In Michigan, for example, the sun will set at 9:22 p.m. tonight, and most children — mine and probably yours included — would prefer to stay outside and play until the last rays of sunlight have faded into the west. And who can blame them?
By the time they do wander in, grimy and exhausted, you’d think it might be hard to talk them into bedtime stories.
But nope. Just try tucking them in without half an hour of late-night reading, and you’re bound to hear moaning: “What? No books?”
You, no doubt, have a weak spot for children who profess their love of books so ardently — even if it is just a desperate ploy to delay an already late bedtime — so you’ll likely cave and read them one, two, three, or even a whole pile of books. (You’re a softie.)
You’ll face the consequences of your tenderheartedness, though, as soon as the last kiss is planted on the last grubby cheek of the last happy child.
You’ll look up at the clock and realize you’ve just let bedtime stories roll right on through your post-tuck-in booktini time (that’s book + martini, in case you were wondering). It’s almost the witching hour (you know, like 10:30), and no matter how fast you sip and speed read, you’re going to fall asleep in your armchair after three paragraphs and no olives. Again.
Ah, summer . . .
You’re an enterprising woman, though. You’ll improvise. You’ll devote your evenings to reading with your children and do your own summer reading . . . on your lunch break!
Never mind that you usually use your lunch hour for grocery shopping, doctor’s appointments, oil changes, trips to the gym, etc. — just bring your book along with you. Literature is always better with the smell of automotive chemicals in your nostrils and gym sweat running down your face!
In conclusion . . .
Summer reading is fun, enriching, and absolutely wonderful, but for professional mothers like you and me, it can also present real challenges.
So here’s to you, you devoted, hardworking, book-loving moms:
Whenever and wherever you find time for summer reading —
with your kids or on your own —
at the library, in the car, at the beach, in the evening, at the gym, or in the waiting room —
* * *
About Rachel in Review:
Life for this kid lit enthusiast and working mother of four can be messy. Confusing. Painful. Funny. Breathtakingly beautiful.
Enter the Eerdmans books. So, so many of our books, whether they’re bedtime books for babies or coming-of-age novels for young adults, seem to have a single uncannily common quality about them: they just fit. These wise, wonderful books somehow manage to tie into — and by so doing, help me sort out — the knotty complexities of life as I actually experience them.