Camping With Kids

My family and I spent this past weekend camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We had a great time splashing in cold mountain streams, hiking on little trails near our campsite, taking long walks to the bath house, and sleeping on our sleeping bags side by side in our tent. I didn’t carry my camera with me much, but I did take lots of mental pictures that I hope to carry always: three tired heads sleeping on their pillows in the early dawn light; my son cuddled in a hammock with an uncle or aunt (my kids have lots of great uncles and aunts); the warmth of campfire reflecting on happy, tired faces; and my four-year-old, usually very girly daughter in her pink jeans, pink shoes, and pink shirt intently learning to swing a baseball bat. Turns out she’s pretty coordinated and is crazy about baseball now, thanks to some really thoughtful friends who brought a new toy for our children. My son kind of tries to hit the ball with a golf-like swing, but he’ll get it right someday. Or maybe he’ll just stick to golf.

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The kids and I enjoying the icy cold stream near our campsite.

We had a lot of fun even if we didn’t sit around the campfire relaxing nearly as much as we used to before we had children. I always take lots of books with me when I go to the mountains. I took three books with me on this trip, but I only read a quarter of one. But here’s what I did read quite a lot of before we left:

The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids: How to Plan Memorable Family Adventures and Connect Kids to Nature

The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids

Laugh if you will. I am the type of person who always find a book to read on whatever topic I feel unprepared for. Childbirth? Read at least five different books on it. Parenting? Still reading books, and I’ve lost count on how many I’ve read so far. Preparing for job interviews? Two books (they didn’t help much). Cooking for children? Three books. You see? I buy into the theory that knowledge is power. So, yes, I read a book on how to camp with kids. And it was fairly helpful. I probably would have thought of a lot of the tips without reading that book (for instance, keep your children away from open fires), but there were some helpful hints. One of the ideas was to take some monster truck toys with you so your children can make trails at the campsite or on hikes. That idea was genius. I will probably read The Guide again when my children are older and I can do more of the games and activities suggested in the book. It’s a great book if you’re like me, and need a book to prepare you for life’s major hurdles, such as camping with children in the mountains.

We also love the book We’re Going to the Mountains by Steve Kemp. My husband and I bought it on a trip to Ashevillle, NC when our daughter was just a baby. Both of our children love that it’s a poem with pictures. It’s so lyrical, it’s one of those books that’s easy to memorize after you’ve read it a few times. We recited bits of it several times throughout our trip. I like how it sets some expectations for small children of what people usually do when they go to the mountains. The illustrations are gorgeous, too. I’ve only seen it sold at Mast General Stores, or Amazon, but if you’re going to camp with children, I highly recommend getting a copy somehow.

And Goldilocks and the Three Bears is a fun one to read in the mountains. It kind of takes the fear out of the fact that there may be bears around. This is my favorite version of the story because it’s the one my family had when I was little. My parents now have it in their living room for the grandkids to read when they come over, and I still think that this version has the cutest Baby Bear ever. Jan Brett has done a version that is breathtaking visually, but may be a bit too wordy for very young readers/listeners.

So that’s what I learned about camping with children. What books and ideas have been your favorite when camping with kids? We had a great time and plan to go again, so bring on all the suggestions you can think of!

The Wednesday Sisters and Thoughts on How to Focus

This morning, my two-year-old son woke up at 5:50. I heard him whimpering a bit in his bed, but held my breath for a few seconds, hoping he’d go back to sleep. He did. I, however, did not. Instead, I  promptly rolled over and reached for my Nook, because I was dying to finish The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton. By 6:30, I was done. It was such a great book, but for some different reasons than the ones I usually like books for.

The Wednesday SistersThe book was written from the point of view of Frankie O’Mara, wife of a technological genius, who has moved to Palo Alto, California in 1967 to pursue what would later be known as the Silicon Valley computer boom. Frankie meets “The Wednesday Sisters” in the neighborhood park. They are, of course, really not sisters, but a group of women who live in the same neighborhood and have secret literary ambitions. Or at least, most of them do and the others join in because they are talked into it. The group of women is diverse in a way that makes you think “this could only happen in a book.” Somehow, that aspect didn’t ruin the book for me because it was crucial to the story. I gained some insight about that time period in the late ’60’s when so much about the American culture was changing. Sure, I learned about the feminist movement at the women’s liberal arts college I went to, where we were required to take an entire class on feminism. This book, though, made me realize what it was like to be a woman watching all of these changes happen around her.

The Wednesday Sisters are not openly feminists. Besides Linda, the activist of the group, they are slightly fearful of the women protesters they see on TV. But as the book goes on, the characters in the book, and I as the reader, came to understand a little bit more about why changes were inevitable and some of them very necessary. For example, women’s healthcare was downright scary. Breast cancer was not understood very well and even survivors were crippled after treatment. Infertility was a huge mystery. Premature babies didn’t live very long. Besides the healthcare issue, there were many other ideas that I’m glad changed, such as the one that particularly bothered me, the idea that women who participated in sports were unfeminine.

Politically, I’m not a true feminist in the current day. For starters, I’m pro-life. I may agree with some “feminist” stances, but mostly, no. But I live in a culture that smiles on a stay-at-home mom typing out a manuscript in her spare time, and that claps for women who run marathons, and that really doesn’t take Miss America pageants very seriously anymore (if you do, forgive me, but most people I know don’t). I played sports in high school. I cut my hair short without anyone blinking an eye. These are some freedoms that I take for granted. I have a few opinions about some bad effects the feminist movement had on America. For example, while no one frowns on me for having literary aspirations, many frown on me for choosing to stay at home with my beloved children instead of pursuing a career and “using my education.” That’s an opposite extreme we’re dealing with now. But that’s not what The Wednesday Sisters made me realize. It helped me appreciate some good things about 1960s feminism, even if I have mixed emotions and thoughts about the evolution of feminism and what it is today.

A few things I didn’t enjoy about the book were the descriptions of some marital relations between husbands and wives. I could’ve done without that. I understand the author intended to portray some important ideas about men’s and women’s marriage roles in that time period. I just don’t like that kind of stuff to be in books. There’s a Victorian lady hiding somewhere inside of me, I think. So if you, too, could do without that sort of thing, skip over those pages, but know that it is only a tiny part of the book.

Even with all these historical revelations, the thing about this book that hit me the hardest was something that was not very central to the story. It was this: typewriters.

These women were full time mothers and they didn’t have dishwashers or clothes dryers or all sorts of luxuries we have now, yet they churned out short stories and novels. How did they do that? The answer is focus. They were focused on their goals. Here’s what Frankie says,

I suppose what we did was park our butts down and write any moment and any place our children were otherwise occupied. We got up early and wrote while our households slept. We carried journals and pens and even manuscripts in our purses, and if the children fell asleep in the car on the way to the grocery store, we sat with our writing propped up against the steering wheel, scribbling quietly, careful not to inadvertently honk the horn. We grabbed every minute we could, hoping it might turn out to be five minutes or ten, or maybe an hour if we were lucky. And even when it was frustrating and we didn’t like what we wrote, even when we were just jotting down thoughts about a day that had not gone well, there was joy in it…”

I write like that, I guess, but here’s what I also do: sit down on the computer and write a sentence or two, and then check Facebook. Or I start working on a proofreading project for a while, but then I check the weather. And my e-mail account. And my RSS feed. And then, before I know it, 30 minutes have gone by and I have only written two sentences or only proofread half a page. But it’s a whole different matter when I sit down with my journal. I can write pages and pages there and not realize how fast the time has gone. I know I can’t blame all my focus problems on my trusty laptop, but the distractions are hard to ignore.

Earlier today, I was thinking about how distracted I am in comparison to Frankie and the other Wednesday Sisters. I was wishing for a typewriter like Frankie had–a tool with nothing on it but letters to punch into pages of words. So I determined that I would open the proofreading project I’m working on and focus solely on it for 30 minutes straight. The difficulty of that task is a sad commentary on the state of my mind. After five minutes, I became kind of twitchy, my fingers itching to pick up my i-phone or click over to my web browser. At ten minutes, I had to grit my teeth. Fifteen minutes into it, I was actually feeling kind of panicky. Panicky! But after a few deep breaths (ridiculous!), I got into a groove and the proofreading came pretty easily for the next fifteen minutes. And when I did check my e-mail, Facebook, whatever else, I had missed absolutely nothing. Not one thing.

The Wednesday Sisters helped me think in a new way about the 1960s in America, but what I really appreciate is the insight into how distracted and unfocused I am. I can’t go back to a less media-infiltrated time, but I can make choices. For me, it’s going to come down to practice. I plan to determine times when I will and won’t check e-mail, Facebook, etc. I need to keep it separate. I know the technology available to me is helpful in many ways, but I have to work on how distracted I am by it. I’m looking forward to reading  Sarah Mae’s The Unwired Mom for some more perspective on being a more focused person. It’s free right now on her website, if you want to pop over there and sign up for it. And read The Wednesday Sisters, too! Then come back and tell me what you liked or didn’t like or learned from it.

June Reading

How’s your summer reading going? Just as promised, my list is already not really a list anymore. I read The Light Between Oceans and really enjoyed it. I wrote about it in this post. I started The Homecoming of Samuel Lake but I don’t think I’m going to keep reading it. It’s one of those Southern Lit books that has characters in it who make me want to wring their collective neck. Oh, the backwoods, stubborn men that are so often featured in Southern Literature. They just make me mad. And I don’t read books to get mad. Who needs another reason to get mad? So I’ll give it another few pages later on today but then it’s probably going back to the library. 

The Fault in Our StarsI didn’t have The Fault In Our Stars by John Green on my original summer reading list, but I picked it up because Barnes and Noble basically hit me over the head with posters and displays that told me it was the only book that absolutely had to be read this summer. And that all the cool people are reading it. I don’t aspire to be a cool person, but I’d like to stay “relevant.” (On a side note, I really don’t like the word “relevant.” It’s overused so much, it hardly has a real meaning anymore. Oh the irony.) I’ve got to say, for a book featuring so many sentences that start with “Kind of” and “It was, like, you know…” it was pretty, like, deep. It was a strange combination of “teenager” talk and impossibly hard questions and circumstances.

The book is about Hazel, who is living with cancer. Her diagnosis is and always has been terminal, but her treatments are working miraculously well and she just keeps on living. The life she’s living is more of a half-life, however, until she meets Augustus Waters. He is witty and gorgeous and the book becomes a story of young love with the “interesting” twist of cancer.

At this point in the review, you’re probably wondering, “Why would I put myself through reading this book?” That is a very valid question. I read the book, because, you know, relevancy. Really, I do feel a burden to read the books that are shaping the minds of my generation and the generations younger than me. I would like to think that I could have a conversation with a teenager and actually have something to talk about. But I’m not sure this book will help me with that.  Here’s what I learned: teenagers are inherently and unavoidably self-centered. I was no exception. In fact, considering how I behaved in my teenage years when my grandmother and dad had cancer, I was exceptionally self-centered, even by teenage standards. The teens in The Fault In Our Stars are not exceptions either, cancer or no. Yes, they feel sorry for themselves. Yes, they feel separate from healthy kids. Mostly, they are struggling with the fact that they are young and haven’t done anything worth doing yet and they are awash in wanting their lives to have some kind of meaning. You learn through the book that each character has some ideal that keeps him or her fighting for life on earth. They feel if they don’t attain their one important goal, their lives won’t mean anything. One character’s ideal is that everybody deserves true love. He fights on because he wants to experience that one true love. Another’s ideal is that everybody has got to die, but it should be for a worthy, heroic reason, and cancer just doesn’t cut it. And Hazel’s is that the universe deserves to be  noticed and she is on the planet to notice it. Yeah, that one is a bit vague. I think it has something to do with the human need to worship. So each main character is figuring out how to reconcile their lives with cancer to the ideas they have on why they should live.

It was a very thoughtful book, but also confusing. There are no absolutes. Most of the characters think there is Something (God) and that there is Somewhere they go after they die. Or maybe they just haunt the earth. They’re not really sure. That sort of uncertainty is depressing to me.

If you liked My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Piccoult, you’ll appreciate The Fault In Our Stars. I can’t deny that it is a fairly heart wrenching story that has some pretty funny parts. But heart wrenching cancer stories are just too much for me. I didn’t really give myself up to be emotionally involved with the story or liking or relating to the characters. That’s a reflection on me, not the characters. I haven’t had cancer, but it’s hit pretty close to home so far in my life, just as it has for many people. Cancer is our black plague, our cholera, or “consumption” (tuberculosis in the 1800s). No one is untouched by it, but it’s a hard topic to address. Still, I know many people think The Fault In Our Stars is the best book of the summer.

Next up on my list is The Wednesday Sisters. I’m about 30 pages in and so far, it seems pretty similar to The Help in theme and setting. I’m not saying it’s anywhere near as awesome as The Help. But I think there’s potential. I’ll let you know in a few days. =)

Happy Reading!

A Glimpse Into Pain and Why It Matters

There are times when I feel I’m not fit to claim the label “intellectual” because I honestly want every book I read to end happily. Books that end tragically, that make me cry, they are often strangely beautiful and stirring, but I don’t go in for “tear jerkers” as a rule. I live a very happy life and I am so thankful for this moment in which I can honestly say that. But I know that books or movies that open a window into someone else’s life and pain also open windows in my heart to simply feel, whether its through my own story or someone else’s. We all can attest to the fact that days pass by and string into apathy if we let them, if we don’t actively seek out the joy existing inside or the pain that needs healing in the people around us.

HousekeepingThe truth is, I can easily become the person who will judge instead of try to understand. I first realized that about myself when I read Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. It’s the story of two sisters, Ruth and Lucille, whose mother is gone and who are raised by various family members in a rather haphazard fashion. They finally end up with their Aunt Sylvie, who has a history of transience. I had to look up “transience,” but I learned through the book it basically means that she often chose to be homeless. The book was a hard read for me, a woman who was raised in a cheery and loving home and who is very much a homebody. How much I learned, though! I saw into the struggle of “housekeeping” in a person’s mind who is unsettled about so many things. I learned that when I see a homeless person in my city, it’s not a given that they are suffering from addictions or poverty, but that they could be suffering something much harder to define. Kindness of heart and of actions should not be so hard to muster for people I don’t understand, yet it’s true that’s easier now I have some understanding of a mindset totally foreign to me. Someone once told my husband “There’s plenty of work to be had if you want it. No one has to be homeless if they don’t want to.” I had no idea how he could say that until I read Housekeeping. On top of the amount of insight I gained, the novel is a classic in its stark beauty and detail. It was bleak, it was at times depressing, but it is an important book to me.

The Language of FlowersI found the same insights in the more recent The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. I wasn’t expecting to be so confronted with a person’s inner turmoil in a book about flowers. The book is centered on Victoria Jones, an orphan who has aged out of the foster care system and is thrust into the world utterly alone. Her past is all pain that she doesn’t want to confront, but the future demands it. The wording of each chapter and the acute descriptions of childhood pain and loss and the pangs that never seem to end afterwards completely engrossed me even when I wanted to stop reading. My heart was broken for children born to mothers with the capacity to love who haven’t the capacity to act on that love due to the wounds still unhealed on their hearts. I know I’m bordering on gushy metaphysical hodgepodge, but I’m not sure how to explain this book without telling too much. The Language of the Flowers is one of the many books and experiences that led me to reflect on the blessings I have and what I’m supposed to do with them. I can’t say I’ve gotten very far with that question, but it’s one that I’m still working on and that was brought to the forefront of my mind by this book.

The Light Between OceansAnd just today, I finished The Light Between Oceans. The premise of the book is that a couple, Tom and Isabel Sherbourne, who live on a lonely lighthouse island off the coast of Western Australia, are longing for the family they can’t seem to have when one day a baby blows up onto their shore. They keep her, and their decision that they think will bring healing only adds links in a long chain of devastation. That description sounds totally hopeless, but there is a hopeful tone in the book, just as you would expect in a story centered on a lighthouse. I was conflicted about who to relate to in this book the whole time I was reading it. Of course, I’d never sympathize with kidnappers. Never, ever. But can I try to understand a mind unhinged by pain? Well, I guess I can try. The hero of the book, Tom, certainly did. His ability to forgive is humbling. In the end, I can and can’t relate to everyone in this book. But I can say that the words of Plato (or Ian MacLaren? The jury is still out), “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle” came to mind many times as I read the book. I enjoyed this book more than the other two I’ve mentioned in this post. It was more adventurous and less focused on the psychology of the characters, though that did make up a good part of the book. Stedman’s characters go through hard times, and I found them to be often infuriating and always endearing.  She created a world on Janus Rock, the lighthouse post, that will be alive in my mind for a long time yet. I want to visit there, if it actually does exist. =)

There are some books that aren’t entirely “fun” to read but that grip you with ideas and the people the book creates and make you cry or laugh or just sit and contemplate “What if? What if that were me?” I want everyone to be happy (hang being intellectual!) and I would choose all books to end at least mostly happy, but there are some books who mix the bitter and the sweet to show the reality of what life is for some people. I wish that I had the courage or even the awareness to look people in the face and try to understand what life is like for them more often. These books I’ve mentioned are a few of the books that, though fiction, have pushed me into attempting to put myself in the shoes of people who seem wholly different from me. I could think of more, but I’d love to hear which books have done the same for you.

If The Hunger Games Left Them Hungry

We were catching up over coffee at a bookstore when my friend from before the dawn of my clear memories pointed to a book display and said, “Have you read The Hunger Games?”

“No,” I responded.

“I’m buying it for you right now.”

I was pretty surprised. Growing up, I was the bookworm of the two of us, but here my friend was practically forcing a book on me. So I asked her, “When did you become such a reader?

“You mean such a nerd.”

“Okay, when did you become a nerd like me?”

And she told me she first started to love reading when she picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The Harry Potter books are her favorite and she also loves The Hunger Games.

So I read The Hunger Games. And then I read the two sequels because who can stop at the first book? And while the series ended on a gory and startling note that made me wonder what the point was for Katniss, I have to admit they were gripping, addictive books. The truth is, that’s what the majority of young readers are looking for in books. It’s got to be fun and enthralling to compete with all the other media available. And I can’t deny that I enjoy being so completely caught up in a book/series, as well.

But I also can’t deny that when I look at book display geared towards young adult girls, I cringe a little, because here’s what most of the books consist of : zombies, vampires, werewolves, witches and wizards, and all kind of “paranormal” characters. Aliens seem almost tame  in comparison. I’m pretty sure that fifteen years ago when I was a young teenager devouring books, that wasn’t the case. And I’m not saying that all these books are bad. But I can’t believe that a complete immersion into this “paranormal” literature is good for anyone, young or old.

However, I know how important it is for teenagers (and everybody) to be reading something. It may seem like a victory to pick any book over movies, magazines, or games. I can’t speak much towards the teenage boy audience, but if you have (or if you are) a teenager girl, here are some books that I think are just as fun but not as dark.

Princess of the Midnight Ball (Princess #1)Princess of Glass (Princess #2)Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George is a fun re-write of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, and Princess of Glass was just as good.  I love reading fairy tales to my four-year-old daughter, but when you read them as an adult, you realize just how many plot holes there are. Last November I picked up a few novels that re-wrote some fairy tales, and thought they were so fun and inventive, even though they were based on stories from long ago. What’s especially nice about Jessica Day George is that her books are “safe” for girls who are ready to read longer books but aren’t ready for darker themes.  I think they’re fun for anyone who, like me, is a bit of a little girl at heart who loves fairy tales still. I haven’t read the third book in the series, but I hope to sometime when I’m in the mood for something light and simply fun.

Spindle's EndAlong the fairy tale retelling lines, Robin McKinley is my favorite fairy tale novelist. I read her book, Beauty, for the first time last winter and just loved it. Her more recent book, The Spindle’s End, is also a great yarn. The ending is a little crazy, but that’s how it goes with fantasy literature, I’ve discovered. But what’s even better than McKinley’s fairy tales are her novels The Blue Sword (Damar, #1)The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown. The Blue Sword is one of my favorite books, as of last October. It begins with Harry Crewe, a girl who has moved far from her native England to live near her brother after her father’s death. She is tall and strong in spirit and body, but she doesn’t know just how set apart she is until she comes in contact with the Hillfolk. Their legends become her reality as she learns more than she ever thought she’d want to know about Damar and its people. The Hero and the Crown is the prequel to The Blue Sword, and tells how the Blue Sword became a symbol and a legend in itself.  I appreciated the strong heroines who were also genuine and noble. I read Graceling by Kristen Cashores and wasn’t all that impressed by the characters; though they were kind of  intriguing they were also rather one-dimensional. The sexual tensions in that book were a bit much for a good Young Adult book, too. But I think girls who enjoy the heroines like the one in Graceling will like The Blue Sword a lot. Unfortunately, it’s not available on Kindles, but most libraries have it. If you decide to read Robin McKinley, I don’t recommend Chalice.  I haven’t read Sunshine as it’s about vampires and I’m not into vampires, but if that’s your thing, you may enjoy it

ArenaArena by Karen Hancock came out in 2002 but the story line is very similar to that of The Hunger Games. The main character, Callie, signs up for what she thinks is a psychology experiment but turns out to be very real and very dangerous. With a few friends (or enemies?) and some cryptic words, Callie tries to figure her way through the Arena to survive and maybe even thrive.

Classic Fun

While the above books are fun, these are really the ones I loved as a girl that played a part in shaping my reading tastes and my worldviews. The plots aren’t as action-packed as the first books I listed, but the stories and characters are timeless.

Emily of New Moon (Emily of New Moon, #1)Emily of New Moon is an oft-ignored series by L. M. Montgomery, but some of my friends have told me that Emily is actually more easy to relate to than Anne in Anne of Green Gables. I will always love Anne the best, but I think the Emily books are wonderful, too. If you enjoyed the Anne of Green Gables series, you should definitely read Emily of New Moon.

A Girl of the LimberlostGene Stratton Porter’s Girl of the Limberlost is about a girl who lives in the swamp with her mother. Her mother is a blighted woman inside and can’t seem to remember how to love her bright, ambitious daughter, Elnora. Elnora fights to give herself an education and to become a lady despite her harsh setting, while her mother learns to let go of the past. The book has been made into films several times, most recently by Wonderworks in 1990, but this is definitely a case where a movie can’t do the book justice. If I recall correctly, the movie leaves out the entire second half of the book. I loved the movie when I was a little girl, and one day at a family friend’s house, I found the book on her bookshelf. She found me reading it a little while later and gave me her 1944 copy on the spot. It sits in a place of honor on my bookshelf now.

Jacob Have I LovedJacob Have I Loved is by the same author as Bridge to Terabithia, but it doesn’t end up on the required reading list nearly as much. It’s a powerful story about sisters and finding an identity you can live with. This book makes me want to live on the coast and learn how to dig for clams. But hey, I always want to live on the coast. =)

Every list for kids and teenagers includes The Chronicles of Narnia. And so does this one. They’re a must read for every reader. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

I hope you’re able to find some great books this summer that will engage your imagination and give you a love of reading all kinds of books.

Your Kids Have a Crush On You

“Where’s Mommy?”

“Where’d Daddy go?”

These are questions my two-year-old son asks at least once an hour.  He and his four-year-old sister have a Mommy and Daddy Radar. It beeps urgently when they realize they don’t know exactly where Mommy and Daddy are. If you have children, you know what I’m talking about. And you definitely know what I’m talking about if this scenario sounds familiar: It’s 4:30 in the afternoon, during the witching hours of the day.  You’re more than ready for a break, but really, your work has just begun. There’s dinner to cook, dishes to wash, and kids to bathe and put to bed and try your best to keep in bed until they finally, finally succumb to sleep. And then you have a few more miles to go in the form of piles of laundry or work you didn’t quite wrap up at the office, or maybe a phone call to return that you’ve been dreading all day. Not to mention that workout you had to put off all day/week. No, if you’re a mom or dad, 4:30 isn’t even close to quitting time.

Around 4:30 is when I desperately think, “I just need five minutes alone.” So I creep to the bathroom. And I’m in there about ten, maybe twenty seconds before I hear “Where’d Mommy go? Mommy!!”

I’m in here. Hiding.

4:30 is also about when my children get desperate for me to read books to them. “I wan’ read a boooook!” my always enthusiastic son proclaims, as he lugs a book beyond his age level to me when I walk into his room to see, again, why he’s yelling for me. Quiet, dancing Ella then says, “I want to read, too,” and I’m left with no choice, because how can I put silly things like sustenance and cleanliness ahead of the love of reading I and my children share? So we smush together on the couch and open up a book and let the rice boil over while we read about brave knights or dancing princesses. And I struggle to explain why the rice is dry again, but my husband doesn’t even ask why, because he knows. He knows how our children hit me at my weak spot and get me to hold to hold them in my lap when I think I need to be doing other things. He knows that frustration between wanting to say “yes” but always feeling guilty about whatever it is you said “no” to. He and I both struggle to figure out our “yes’s” and our “no’s”. Maybe you do to.

My kids aren’t trying to frustrate me, but I get weary of how unsettled they become when I’m focusing on something other than them. I can’t get mad at them (okay, I can, but I shouldn’t) because the truth is they want me to be present with them because they’re crazy about me. Me. The woman wearing the sweat pants that likely have snot (theirs) on them. The woman who really should’ve washed her hair this morning and who feels a little boring around other adults and who can’t remember to change the oven from “broil” to “bake” and serves her family crunchy cookies. The woman who forgets at least one thing on her grocery list every stinkin’ shopping trip. The woman who sometimes (often) loses her cool and speaks in harsh tones when she’s upset and clearly never, ever has it all together. That’s the woman they’re crazy about.

That’s why they act like a seventh grader with crush on someone. Remember those days? (Don’t pretend you weren’t like that!) You craved that person’s attention. You were envious of the people your crush talked to when he or she wasn’t with you. You performed crazy, nonsensical antics to get his/her attention. You thought about where they were when they were not around (yes, you did). You hoped the person would see past your imperfections and fall completely in love with everything about you that is good and unique and found nowhere else on earth but in you. Really, don’t we all still want that from the people we love? Isn’t that what our kids want from us? Here we are with our kids constantly wanting our attention, acting out when we’re trying to talk on the phone, and driving us crazy when all we want to do is get the dishes washed or the bills paid…and all they want is to simply be with us. Whether we’re having a bad hair/face/work/everything day or not. Yes, it’s true. Your kids have a huge crush on you.

And in all the books, movies, love songs, and all other forms of human expression, what’s sadder than unrequited love?

But of course, we all love our kids, more deeply than we can say. Our children’s love is not unrequited. I know there are parents out there who aren’t very loving, but I personally don’t know any. The parents I know are too crazy about their children to put it into words. But no matter how much I love my children, I’m going to get frustrated. I’m going to be tired of being needed. I may mess up and make them feel like I don’t appreciate their desire to be with me. But it helps to remember why they’re constantly seeking me out. It helps to remember it’s because they love me and they know I love and care for their every need. And though I tell my kids “I love you,” if I want them to believe me, I need to meet their love at the only place they know how to give and receive it–in spending time together. I need to gather them in my arms and laugh at their silly jokes. I need to read books and go with them on their flights of imagination. I need to make sure they know I love every single thing about them: the questions my four-year-old daughter asks, the exuberance my toddler son maintains every single day, the colors in their eyes and hair and skin, the absolute freedom they feel to snuggle with me no matter what. There are no barriers between us now, and I need to realize it’s not always going to be that way. Someday, I’m going to call out, “Hey, let’s read this book!” and I’ll get a groan for a response, or no response at all.  But for now, reading a book together is exactly the excuse they’re looking for to be near me. So I’m going to revel in the crush they have on me and I on them. There will always be days when I feel like reading by myself instead of gathering them up in my arms and reading Farmer John’s Tractor for the eighteenth time. Still, I hope to remember how much my arms and my attention mean to them, and I’ll try not to hide from them. At least not until after bedtime.

Communicating unconditional love through the sacrifice of time is my goal. Yes, I’m setting myself up for failure. But trying is still accomplishing goals as long as you’re still trying the next day. It just may mean those goals will take a lifetime.

God bless all of you on this Father’s Day. I hope you get the chance to spend lots of time with your loved ones and maybe even a little time to yourself. And be sure to tell the children in your life that yes, you will read them that book. =)

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Winter is for reading. But here’s my Summer Reading List.

I realized today that though I write a book blog, I am remiss in that I have not posted my summer reading list. My excuse is that I don’t have a reason in this era of my life to view summer as any different from other seasons when it comes to reading. In fact, if I had to pick a season during which I spend the most time reading, it would definitely be winter. I despise cold weather, and we had a particularly wet winter this past year. I loathed it, but I did get a lot of reading in. However, I love all the ideas floating around about what one should read during the summer. Some readers use the summer months to take a break from deep thinking and pick up lighter fiction. Some readers use the extra time to really dig deep into some breathtakingly impressive classic by Trollope like The  Way We Live Now. I don’t really have a summer reading philosophy, except to read what I think I’ll love reading. I also read, and sometimes even enjoy, a few non-fiction books in the summer because I do actually care about shaping my mind and character and all that.

So here’s what’s on my  list:

Redfield Farm: A Novel of the Underground RailroadRedfield Farm: A Novel of the Underground Railroad – The rave reviews of this book are killing me because I want to read it so badly but none of my local libraries even have it on order. I’ll have to break down and buy it.

The Wednesday Sisters – Books about writers always intrigue me.

Islanders – As I wrote in this post about Helen Hull’s Heat Lightning, I would like to read everything by Hull now that I’ve gotten started. One of my readers said I would probably like Islanders so I’m hoping to get a hold of it in the next few weeks.

The Light Between Oceans – Some of my favorite bloggers have really enjoyed this book, so I’m looking forward to The Light Between Oceansfinding out what all the love is about. The plot sounds kind of like a short story by L.M. Montgomery I read a long time ago. So it has that going for it.

The Princess and the Goblin – I’ve never read anything by George MacDonald, but I have read a lot by C.S. Lewis and the fact that MacDonald had a huge impact on Lewis is enough for me to know that I need to read at least some of his work. I’ve been told to start with The Princess and the Goblin but if you have other advice, please let me know!

Educating the Wholehearted Child – I am a little unsure of what a “wholehearted” child is but it sounds like a noble goal and I love Sally Clarkson’s book The Mission of Motherhood. I’m pretty sure we’ll be starting some homeschooling this fall with Ella, my four-year-old, so I think it’s important to start thinking through some long term goals for my children’s education.

The Hiding Place – I realized this year that I read an abridged version of this as a child but I haven’t ever read the real thing. With my recent and unintentional literary focus on WWII, I would be a terrible former history minor if I didn’t read this book, too. Also, the copy of the book we have is signed by the author. Trust me, I don’t have many books signed by the author.

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake – I don’t always love Southern Literature, even though I’ve lived here all my life. But that doesn’t The Homecoming of Samuel Lakereally mean anything–who can say they love all of a certain genre? I picked this book up at the library last week and read a few pages and I think it has potential. I hate how often reviewers of Southern Lit books say something along the lines of “Fans of  To Kill a Mockingbird will love this book,” because that seems like some kind of literary heresy, but I have to admit that statements like that do get my attention.

And that’s pretty much my list for the next few months. I will definitely read other books that are not on this list and I will probably not finish all of these books. Reading lists are more like guidelines in my world right now. Also,  I’m a quitter when it comes to reading for pleasure. If I don’t like it or can’t find some good reason for finishing a book, I simply don’t finish it. There is not enough time in the world to read bad books. Or even good books that I don’t like. But I like having  a list and I like seeing other people’s reading lists, too. So what’s on your list this summer?