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Tune In to a Love of Literature

Two young girls remind me to turn off the TV and turn on to books again – just in time for Read Across America day.

Editor's Note: San Mateo Patch is proud to introduce Jennifer Christgau-Aquino, author of our new Mom Talk column. We hope you enjoy the Mom Talk series, currently slated to run bi-weekly on Tuesdays, where Jennifer will provide a mom's perspective on balancing work and kids, using new technology, getting your daughter to wear a jacket in winter, and other things moms need to know about. A San Mateo resident, Jennifer is an experienced writer and editor who teaches journalism at Notre Dame de Namur University.

Meanwhile, San Mateo Patch is to help us focus our coverage on the topics that moms want to know about. We're also hoping readers will step forward to in our community, so that we can celebrate their successes on this site.

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I was at Crepevine a few days ago with my 3-year-old daughter and 7-year-old niece, eating chocolate-strawberry crepes and trying to explain the extinct sport of rollerskating. I figured we’d hit the park after stuffing ourselves with mounds of chocolate, ice cream and crepes, but both girls, when asked what they wanted to do next, said, “The library!”

“Are you sure?” I asked. The answer was a resounding “Yes!”

They both scurried from their seats and raced ahead of me, straight to the lion-flanked front steps of the . I didn’t expect the trip to last too long, convinced the sugar rush would result in someone using the kids' section couch as a trampoline and another little someone using the puppets as missiles, resulting in comments along the lines of, “Uh, ma’am, while we enjoy children at the library, we don’t enjoy these ones.”

(And if you think a librarian would never say this, think again. It happened to me when I brought my 1-year-old niece to the library. She was so excited to see so many books that she erupted into the loudest screams you’ve ever heard. The librarian said, “My, my, we have a vocal child. This is a library you know.” We went to the park instead.)

Things went better this time, and the girls picked out their books quickly: My niece a neat little book about a zany second-grader and my daughter one about fairies. We all snuggled together on the couch and I began to read my niece’s pick out loud.

To say they were enchanted would be an understatement. They were mesmerized, transfixed, unfalteringly hanging on every detail of the girl’s life. Five minutes ticked by, then 10 and then 30. Curled into the couch with the two girls that day brought back memories of my own childhood literary escapades. It also reminded me that lately I hadn’t been doing much of the thing that I list as my No. 1 hobby.

My dad is a writer, and his own fascination with literature resulted in children with hungry appetites for books and a love of storytelling. As a child I holed up in my room or at the and read for hours on end. Sometimes, I’d come out of a reading session bleary-eyed, stuffy-headed and blinking, just like walking out of a movie theater in the middle of the day.

I kept a diary of every book I read, just like my dad. In college, I read a novel a week. Post-college, I read three to four newspapers a day and, on average, a book a month, in addition to the New Yorker. Those were the days when I had time – you know, B.C. (before children).

Since my daughter was born, my brain has been sucked dry. By the end of a day of negotiating to get my 3-year-old to wear pants and a jacket in 30-degree weather instead of a sundress and sandals, I’m exhausted. These days my book list includes titles such as “The Costume Copycat” and “The Big Red Barn.”

But that recent day in the library, reading to the kids, I became inspired. Especially when my niece hopped off the couch and grabbed the sixth book in the Harry Potter series. Do you know how long that is? It’s more than 800 pages.

“You’ve read the prior five?” I said.

“Yes,” she said. (She’s been so obsessed that apparently she hides in the library during recess to read them.)

I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t read anything that long since my dad convinced me to read “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” I was mightily impressed by my niece.

That night I went home to find an e-mail in my inbox from my child’s school announcing that Read Across America Day is March 2. I thought, it’s time I start reading again.

It's true that my first hint should have been several months earlier, when my daughter picked out a book at called “Too Much TV.” I said to her, “What a good book. Lucky you don’t watch much TV.” She said, “Mommy, it’s for you."

OK, it's true that I have allowed myself to get sucked into the lower echelon of television at night: “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” “The Biggest Loser” and my lowest of lows, “Bridalplasty.” (I can’t believe I just admitted that.)

So, this week, I picked up “A Fine Balance,” a 500-plus-word book that I intend to finish … at some point. Hopefully it will help me recreate those days of bleary-eyed read-a-thons from yesteryear.

But most likely it will result in a letter from my daughter’s school saying a skirt and short-sleeved shirt are not appropriate winter attire.

Aimee Lewis Strain March 02, 2011 at 06:16 AM
Love your humorous take on motherhood, Jen! What a great column.
John Larsen March 02, 2011 at 06:37 PM
Wonderful column, Jen! I have a feeling I'll be following this, even if I'm far from motherhood myself.
Janene Murtha March 02, 2011 at 06:40 PM
This is wonderfully funny! I plan on following it too. Great job.
Rita rubenfeld March 03, 2011 at 12:19 AM
Great job Jen! And I can hear new things about my smart granddaughter and her "sister". Can't wait for your next one.
Phyllis McArthur March 03, 2011 at 12:36 AM
So true, books are like old friends,
Laura Dudnick (Editor) March 03, 2011 at 03:24 AM
What a great story! All of the libraries in San Mateo County are truly wonderful; that's so sweet that your daughter and niece like going too. Classic children's books are possibly some of the best treasures on earth.
Don Frances March 03, 2011 at 06:58 PM
Jen, your column is a hit! Looking forward to more and more... One thing I forgot to mention is that yesterday, Read Across America Day, was also (not coincidentally) Dr. Seuss' birthday. He would have been 107, I believe. My kids came home with their own "Cat in the Hat" hats made out of red and white construction paper.
Eugenia Budman March 13, 2011 at 09:08 PM
I enjoyed your story and looking forward to the next one. Good to hear that todays children enjoy books. Warm regards, E.

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