Although I enjoy personal reflection, I’m not usually one for making New Year’s resolutions. But this year, I do have one small personal change which I resolve to implement in 2011.
Photo: Wow! Here’s a vintage photo (from October 18, 2008) — diving into a book together.
For many years now (gosh, maybe twelve?), I’ve been practicing the St. Ignatius Examen every night while I do my journaling-in-the-round thing. It’s been a very helpful and practical spiritual discipline — particularly for this season of raising small children, since it only takes about ten minutes. I sit down after the girls are in bed, and I look back over my day. Then I ask myself, “When today did I feel most connected to God?” (which is called your consolation) and, “When did I feel least connected to God?” (which is called your desolation).
This past December, I started noticing a pattern in my daily consolations: they were very often related to reading books with Lucy and Rosie. I remember when that first started showing up in my journaling, I somehow felt as if it was sort of a lame excuse of a consolation. “Of course I like reading books with the girls,” I thought; “it’s the one time in the day they aren’t running around like wild dogs.” But as this came up more and more in my spiritual ruminations, I started to take this consolation a little more seriously.
It’s true that it’s really nice to have a quiet(er) house during those reading times, but I think there is more to it than merely lower decibels. There’s a special sort of intimacy that comes from sharing a story while getting all snuggled up close together. I find that I’m able to give the girls my full attention in a way that isn’t as easy for me through other activities, even when they’re aesthetic and collaborative, like working on art projects for instance. And maybe it sounds contrived, but in those gentle, quiet moments together, I think the presence of God is with us, showing us how to love one another and be loved. It’s awesome.
Most of the time, I’m glad to read with the girls. But sometimes if I’m in the middle of something, it’s tough to stop and read. I can’t always quit sautÃ©ing the onions at the drop of a hat, or sometimes I just need to finish sending off an email for my job. All the same, there are other times when I could drop what I’m doing, but I don’t because my priorities aren’t sharply in focus. I need a little help remembering this constant truth: at the end of the day, I’m always really glad about the time I spent reading with the girls.
So here’s my resolution for 2011:
As often as possible, say “yes” when the girls ask to read a book.
Drop what I’m doing and sit down to read with them. Or at least get to a reasonable stopping point (so the muffins aren’t burning) in order to grant their precious request. I allow myself to limit the time we’ll spend (“I can read just two of these stories, but then I need to go stir the soup”), but I want to get that “yes” in as much as I can.
I actually started doing this in December, after I noticed the trend in my examen practice. Since I’ve been working on it for a few weeks, I have two other tips that have been helpful for increased family reading:
- Get lots of books from the library. Lucy and Rosie really enjoy reading new stories, so we’ve been going frequently to the library just to browse the recently-returned cart. It’s been nice to have Lucy’s library account, too, since we are frequently pushing the Chicago Public Library’s thirty-item limit!
- Try to do as much dinner preparation as possible in the mid-afternoon. Most mothers have noticed the problems in the witching hour — that hour in the late afternoon when you’re trying to prepare dinner, the children are getting tired and hungry, and everybody wants attention. So that makes it prime time for group reading, but it definitely requires some planning. I find it’s really helpful if I have dinner in the oven already, or at least have foods prepared/chopped/measured so that the actual cooking takes only ten minutes or so. If I really get cracking on dinner preparations at about 3:30, I’m usually more available during that pre-dinner hour. Of course, this approach usually needs a weekly menu plan, so that I’m not just deciding at 3:30 what we’ll have for dinner.
Let me add that I’ve recently been enjoying the 2010 reflection questions and 2011 goal-setting questions at SimpleMom.net. Tsh offers a lot of really useful information for family life in her blog, and these two lists are great examples. I recommend taking a look, if you like that kind of thing. Even though we’re a few days into the new year, it’s not too late!