One Moms Literacy: from Facebook to Real Books

In the 10 years since I left professional worlds and committed myself to my role as a SAHM (stay at home mom), I’ve only read less than 10 books. Or maybe even less. Staying mostly at home and dealing with two hard-tempered toddlers made me lose all interest and delights in books. I did have spare times, here and there, but instead of reading books, I preferred to read Facebook.

I used to be an avid reader in my early years of childhood. I started reading very early, around 3 or 4 years old. Being bored with the obligation of reading books for me, my 2nd brother decided to teach me to read so I would stop nagging him to help me read books. Soon after, I started reading by myself and having not many children’s books at home, I went to my father’s bookcase and read almost all of his collections. Books that I didn’t understand😅.

Me and my brothers grew up and together we got to know a person who opened a community library in his house. I was very thirsty to read, I read all the books they had in the library, comics, novels, all kinds of story books I could find there, except books with adult conflicts and explicit gestures 🙈(I was still in my elementary school, hehe)

I got to know Japanese mangas and read most of them when I entered junior high school, and since then I began to read less and less ‘real’ books. I still read a lot of novels when I was living in Singapore, but almost no serious books.

Being relocated to a place where I hardly had actual physical friends drove me to be more active in social media in order to connect with my friends and families who live far from me. Later, for many personal reasons I decided to stop posting and occasionally deactivate my facebook account and shifting my focus to something else.

Reflecting on my own longtime-built habit, I learn that social media has taken a big part in the lives of many. It provides information, entertainment, release from boredom, as well as the datas and personal information of others that can conveniently be used for gossiping and people-analyzing. In a way, staring at the telephone might replace the needs of other means of information. The headlines of articles shared by people in my friendlist could easily provide me with the updated information about many things. Who needs newspapers when you can draw the conclusions from the shared headlines and photos? Who needs book when you have Facebook? 😀

I believe the shift from reading an actual writing on papers to displays on the screens are experienced not only by me, but also by a lot of people, including children. In the report I watched on television a few days ago, an UK based actor Stephen Fry is actually leading a campaign to improve children’s literacy by urging the big media companies like Netflix and Youtube to automatically show subtitles on children’s programming. This way, children who spend more time with their eyes on the screens and not on books might develop their reading ability faster.

This kind of campaign does surprise me, while I myself have turned on the subtitles options on the television many years earlier, in order to let myself learn the Dutch language faster. But (I thought in my head as I watched the news), who on earth let their children LEARN to read only on TV instead from books? Apparently, the report stated that in the UK, there exist families who don’t have any single books in their house.

I’m not always a book lover. In fact, I’m not a book lover. I am currently learning to read again. Read books. Not Facebook.

A few years ago when we were dealing with the struggle of  the learning delay of my son, we had this discussion with one of the school principals and he asked me this question, “Do you read a lot for your son?” (my son was 4 years old back then.)

“No, actually not much. I do try to read for him but I can’t manage to do it everyday because I was sick, bla bla bla (read: excuses, excuses).”

“You know, reading for your children is very important,” he talked further, “children get many things from us reading for them, like language, and it should be done around age 2 to 6. Later than that, basically there’s no point to do it anymore.”

Thanks to this straightforward no nonsense Dutch man, I finally woke up from my sleep. Yesssss I did have many reasons (read: excuses) to not read daily for my kids. I wasn’t even able to talk clearly as a side effect of my surgery. If I couldn’t even talk without feeling the pain, how could I read to two never-stopped-talking monkeys?

Nevertheless, I started to force myself more and more to read for my kids. While I still do not manage to do it daily, I bought and borrowed many books and read them more faithfully. It was a great struggle, to read in such condition, and to read in a language I don’t master yet. But slowly but surely, I got the hang of it, the children started to enjoy the reading time (started with months of threats and warnings to keep them still seated for 20 minutes), I saw many improvements in my son’s language skill, and two years later a very fast reading skills development.

But still, aside from reading many children’s tales, social media was still my greatest fun. As my children grow and get more access to screen times, I noticed that their actions are a lot reflections of mine. My son who was for the whole year indulged himself in books started to hold the phone longer and longer. And from long story books, he now prefers to only read comics.

Code Oranje! Unless I force myself to sit in front of them reading books instead of staring nonstop at my phone, they would surely continue to love the books less! 

In my observation and discussion with one of the teachers of my children, I learned that the Netherlands’s education system emphasizes a lot on the development of language skill in the first years of a child’s education. The children were exposed to many books at school, and instead of being bombarded by many mathematics problems, they are being read by the teachers with a lot of story books. And when I say a lot, I mean A LOT!

So having my children reluctant to read is a big no no, especially they need the reading because Dutch is not our first language and reading is one big means to get more vocabularies and upgrade their language skills.

With this new awakening I decided I too, have to shift my way from the screens to books. I started to read my own books in the living room, on the dining table, in the bed. I started to limit the usage of phones in front of them (not always successful, but a mom deserves to try), and instead having something else in hand to read: a local newspaper, a travel magazine. And having a kindle reader helps a lot as I can read while I’m accompanying my daughter until she falls asleep. A kindle reader provides an excuse; “See? This is not a ‘real’ screen, I’m actually reading a book, not playing games with this device. Go to sleep, I will be reading while waiting for you.”

Reading good books has been one of my “new year resolutions” in this 2021. It’s been only 2 months passed through this year and I would say I haven’t read consistently enough. But I’m glad I did start because I did find many wonders that I have long forgotten in reading books. I learned that I actually don’t know much about many things – reading again has opened my eyes to many insightful knowledge, for example on how to be a better mom to my children, or many other knowledge that’s useful for my personal learning. And reading again has also triggered the coming back of my love to write – because as I read and read, I gain more insight and thought that I don’t want to forget – hence this blog exists.

One of the ways that encourages me in reading is a moms study group where me and two other ladies living in the neighbourhood read one book together and meet every week to discuss the book and the lessons we get from it. The book we use is quite difficult for us – a group of moms who only read Facebook. We even jokingly call it a book of sorrow, because it does create more sorrow than release (haha). But we learn a lot from it, and reading together makes it so much bearable than reading alone.

I do hope this new habit last forever. I’m eager to learn more and more from reading (and writing), together with my children discovering new things through reading.

With this I end my long and winding babbling. This is my story about how I learn to read again. 

Note: I’m writing this as my first attempt to join a writing challenge with the theme of ‘Women and Literacy’.

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