When my 8-year-old son nonchalantly declared his disinterest in reading in early 2020, I was truly mortified. As someone who had practically lived in a fantasy world of books at his age, I simply couldn’t fathom how any child, let alone mine, would not love to get lost in the pages of a book. Not wanting to reprise the “tiger mom” role I played with my first child, and after consulting with my son’s teachers, I decided to give him some time to fall in love with reading.
Then came quarantine. Forced homeschooling gave me a front-row seat to my son’s performance in a classroom environment, and my fears were confirmed—his disinterest in reading was indeed turning into a learning problem, at least the way I saw it.
Despite assurances from his third-grade teacher that my son was doing quite all right, and that he himself didn’t take to enjoying books until the fourth grade, I was no longer comfortable with my laissez-faire attitude in this matter. Hence, a quarantine project was born: If he won’t read books on his own, I’ll read them to him daily for as long as it takes!
After doing a bit of research online to find chapter books that a third-grader might enjoy, I put in a library order for a few that I thought he’d like. And then we started reading together. He took to this mommy and me time right away and loved being read to.
Guess what? I loved it too! Reading long chapter books to my son took me back to the good old days when I would indulge liberally in novels and daydream about fictional worlds. Those days when I wouldn’t dare leave home without a book; when sinking into a book felt as natural as breathing.
When and why did I stop reading? It occurred to me that these days my library consists mostly of self-improvement books (audiobooks, no less). How did I go from reading for pleasure to exclusively reading to fix myself? When did I become no longer good enough for me? What other wonderful parts of myself have I unknowingly abandoned?
These things creep up on you. One day you seek out an expert to help you understand the foundations of a new project, and before you know it nothing seems worth doing without getting a multitude of expert opinions. One day you’re casually taking delight in the activities that bring you pleasure, and before you know it you’ve taken to “lifestyle hacking.”
Then in a moment of clarity, you catch a glimpse of a once pleasurable activity and discover, much to your dismay, that you’ve spent a decade betraying yourself: setting yourself on fire to keep the world warm; losing track of the ways in which you once very capably cared for yourself; forgetting how to live, as psychologist Abraham Maslow put it, “independent of the good opinion of other people.”
Self-care is a phrase we throw about a lot these days, but if you were to ask a hundred people their definition of self-care, you’d get a hundred different responses. When I think of self-care, I think of returning to myself and living in a way that feels truest to me—of being, without fanfare, the me-est me possible in a world where it’s all too easy to lose oneself. When I’m living in this awareness of self, I find that it’s easier to eat well, play well, mourn well, fight well, live well, and rest when I need to.
Many of us haven’t been in touch with ourselves for so long that we can no longer remember what being ourselves feels or looks like. We do, however, sense the incongruence between who we intuitively know ourselves to be and who we are currently being. It can show up as anxiety, high blood pressure, tension headaches, back pain, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, and the feeling that we are lost and disconnected, unable to protect and guard our boundaries, unsure of what to do next.
This issue of Radiant isn’t so much a prescription for self-care as it is a reminder to restore trust in yourself and become (re)acquainted with the things that feed your soul. I hope you enjoy it.
P.S. I can happily report that my dear son, impatient with having to wait till our next reading session to find out “what happened,” resorted to reading independently, and along the way discovered his love of books! My library is also looking a little different these days: I’m now an adult in love with children’s literature.