Have you ever noticed how kids vie for your attention at the most inconvenient times? Ridiculous, rude or lazy demands irritate me and often get ignored. But there’s one type of request that I feel horrible brushing off: story time.
“Mom, will you read this book to me?”
“Arrgh, there’s too much going on right now,” I say while the kitchen timer beeps, my one-year-old practices standing on the edge of the couch and my three-year-old sings, “I need a wipe! I need a wipe!”
“Mom, can we read this book?”
“Sorry, sweetie. There’s no time. We’re trying to get out the door.”
“Mom, what does this say?”
“I can’t see what you’re reading,” I yell from the shower. “Ask your brother.”
My new year’s resolution is to create more opportunities to say yes to my kids, especially regarding their hunger for reading. It might mean planning an extra five minutes of wiggle room in our morning routine to save time for a book. It likely means reducing screen time (or at least reading everyone a few books before powering up). I’m also a fan of front-loading after-school hours with hugs, conversation, stories, snacks and potty time so we don’t have to constantly interrupt the rest of our afternoon to satisfy those basic needs.
When those interruptions arise, my new rule of thumb is to answer, “I would love to read that book with you. Give me two minutes to finish XYZ and then we can read.”
As a stay-at-home mom, bonding with my four kids by reading aloud is the single most productive way to allocate my time. Inside the cover of that book lies the key to school, work and life readiness. The benefits of reading extend beyond the obvious academic perks of a boosted vocabulary and early literacy skills. Books foster empathy, imagination, problem solving skills, concentration and a lifetime love of learning.
I read my twins their first bedtime story when they were 1 month old. Reading a book has been our go-to calming technique ever since. Now we have carved out a sacred 20 minutes before bedtime to read together, with each child choosing a book. No matter what craziness happens during the day or how many times I must delay, decline, or ignore a plea to read, I know we can share that time together and end the day on a truly productive note.
Unfortunately, we can’t spend all day piled onto the couch. I’m satisfied when I manage to accomplish a handful of the following:
- Cut my kids’ nails. 4 kids x 20 nails = 80 nails!
- Change a dirty diaper before going on an outing when a surprise blowout would be incredibly unfortunate.
- Wash and dry a lovey before nap time (because it is really serving as a multipurpose toy/blanket/pillow/napkin/Kleenex/pacifier/teether).
- Put away folded laundry before it becomes a tower to demolish.
- Repurpose kids’ art as thank-you cards. Mail.
- Drop off hand-me-downs with parents of younger kids to give the items a second life. Take worn-out or neglected items to the thrift store.
- Grocery shop without needing a, “Cleanup in Aisle 3!” Better yet, concoct dinner from produce I pick up at the corner stand so I don’t have to navigate the store with the stroller.
- Wash/chop/prep fruit and veggies. Bonus if any sneak into a kid’s mouth.
- Find an old milk cup or lost Tupperware lid under the couch.
- Prep a crock pot dinner to streamline the evening. Huge plus if dinner is ready for me and my husband before the kids go to bed.
- Recycle a completed activity book, empty sticker sheet, or old artwork.
- Throw away dried-out markers, paint, glue and Play-Doh.
- Reunite a missing puzzle or board game piece with its box.
- Serve lunch by finishing off left-overs from the fridge.
- Scrape food from the floor around the high chair.
- Give my three-year-old my undivided attention for “special learning time” while my one-year-old naps.
- Wrap a present and store it higher than a kid on a chair can reach.
- Time my toddler’s nap to pick up kids from school on time.
- Stop at the playground on the way home from school instead of getting everyone geared up for another outing later.
- Get haircuts at the barber shop. Hide scissors the rest of the day so no one is inspired to create their own bangs.
- Unpack and immediately repack lunch boxes for the following day.
- Convince my kindergarten twins to complete their math homework and pack it safely back in their folders before a little sister eats it, rips it, or “does” it herself.
- Complete bake sale, field trip, assembly, book fair, and fundraiser forms for multiple schools. A+ if they make it into the correct backpack, on time, with proper change.
- Let kids assemble their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for an afternoon snack.
- Teach kids to clean up their own messes with a wet wipe, napkin, lint roller, broom or vacuum.
- Fill all cavities at the dentist.
- Complete a favorite puzzle. Recycle it when I realize half the pieces are missing.
- Snuggle. Extra points if no one falls off the bed.
- Bathe kids before 5:30 p.m. Bonus if I discover a moldy bath toy and throw it away.
- Erase the reminders of the day from the white-board calendar without kids erasing something from a future day.
- Tuck kids into bed by 7:30 p.m.—or 7 p.m. if Mommy decides the day just needs to be done.
To cap off my day, I pick up my own book and read without pausing for any kid questions, sibling conflicts, snack requests, crowds of “helpers” or kids wanting to use the exact space I’m in (In a two-bedroom apartment, there’s only so many places you can go!). On a good evening I may even make it through an entire blissful chapter before passing out.
Now if you’ll excuse me, my paperback is calling.