Everyday Life, Reading

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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Reading

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?

Reading, Reviews

The Secret Keeper

The Secret KeeperI finished The Secret Keeper and now I would like to pick it up and read it again, cover to cover, in one sitting.  Kate Morton not only paints pictures with her words, she pulls you into the room with her characters and even pulls you into the characters themselves. At least that’s what happened to me while I read this book. There’s one scene in particular set in London during the blitz that I really do think made me feel the floor of the crumbling boarding house shake. You must read this book.  I think it’s Morton’s best work yet.

I’m not sure how to summarize the book; it’s so hard to give any details without giving this twisty plot away. The novel is set in England, mostly, and shifts between WWII, 1961, and 2011. There is also a brief chapter set in…well, I can’t tell you. Just like in The Forgotten GardenThe Secret Keeper begins with a daughter searching for answers about her family. Sixteen-year-old Laurel has a lovely family life, though she doesn’t always appreciate it, but when she’s on the brink of plunging into adulthood, she witnesses her mother commit a crime. The crime is completely out of characters and makes no sense to her. Laurel moves on with her life, but the past stays lodged in her mind until she finally decides to seek answers about her mother’s life.

I’m always a bit wary of the type of novel where the plot is unraveled by a present day character discovering the truth through digging up the past. The first book I read that used that format was The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. Written in 1951, it’s a great detective story, but not necessarily a great work of literature. However, Kate Morton is masterful with this format–she knows how to keep the plot moving and seamless enough to keep her readers engaged through the changes in characters, settings, and times. I thoroughly enjoyed how the story line describes each character more fully as the plot thickens so that by the end of the book, you feel as if you really know them (if you’ve read more than one of my posts, you know character development means a lot to me).

Of all the characters in this book, Laurel’s mother is my favorite, and is also now one of my favorite literary heroines. She is the kind of mother I want to be: she plays with her children imaginatively, creates a home for them full of beauty and harmony (to the extent possible in a five-child family), and has a loving relationship with her husband/Laurel’s father. She has an inner strength that inspires and comforts her children. The historical journey Laurel goes on to discover her mother’s roots calls her mother’s entire character into question. Laurel doesn’t know what to think or how to feel about who her mother really is. She asks the question, “Who was my mother before she became my mother?” That question still resonates in my mind. How do mothers stay true to themselves while giving of themselves? Is that possible or even important? The struggle to maintain my identity while becoming the best mother I can possibly be baffles me at times. I used to be athletic, studious, organized…well, all I can say is (1) I stay in shape as best I can, (2) please don’t look in my closets, and (3) I put sleep above studying anything most days.  But I want my children to know who I am beyond their  own personal servant and the prince at every pretend ball. Okay, sometimes I get to be the fairy godmother. But she’s not exactly someone I identify with either. =)

The theme of mother-daughter relationships is very central to Kate Morton’s work. I’d love to sit down with her and ask her why she writes about it so often and what she hopes her readers gain from the relationships in her books. If nothing else, The Secret Keeper (I keep wanting to type The Secret Garden), made me think through setting some clear goals about what my children need to know about me. Even if it seems they don’t care now, it seems like grown daughters crave an anchor in who their mother was at all stages of life, not just the mothering one. I have a way better foundation for that than Laurel did, but there are still questions I should probably ask my mom now that I never thought to ask when I was younger. Kids forget that moms and dads are real people, too. =)

So make haste to grab The Secret Keeper and read it for fun or for perspective on parenting and mother-daughter relationships. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.

By the way, if you’re a fan of Kate Morton you may also enjoy The Thirteenth Tale by Dianne Setterfield. It’s a bit darker, but it’s similar in settings and style.

Happy summer reading!

Everyday Life, Saturday Cooking

Saturday Cooking

I’m still enjoying The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and I’m flirting with The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton (i.e. I read a page or two between reading Huck Finn because I am so eager to really sit down to read it and find it if it’s good like The Forgotten Garden or not so good like The House at Riverton–I’ll let you know soon!). 

But today, I’m not reading a whole lot other than cookbooks, which is really not my preferred genre. Here’s a little known fact: I don’t really like to cook. Bake, yes. But cook, not so much. I can cook and we do eat most of our meals at home. I’m committed to feeding my family of four healthfully and I’m trying to learn how to do that on a consistent budget. But since cooking is not a passion of mine (and I’m definitely not a foodie, either), I struggle to consistently plan and cook well-rounded and/or scrumptious meals. Here’s what I’d eat for every meal if I didn’t have a family:

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Yes, this is really my kitchen.

Dark chocolate, fruit, almonds, granola, and coffee would keep me happy for weeks.

When I hit on a good and easy recipe, I serve it into the ground. Or so it feels to me. So today I spent the morning developing a monthly meal plan with a daily theme, such as Mondays are Asian food, Tuesdays are Mexican, etc. I’ve tried monthly meal plans before, but I generally pick 30 meals and have a hard time sticking to it. So this time I have more like 12 meals that I’m repeating 2-3 times in the month. I’ll let you know how it goes.

The All New Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook: Over 1,250 of Our Best RecipesSince I have cooking on the brain, today I’m sharing my favorite cookbooks of all time. I know, who uses cookbooks when you could just search the internet? Well, I don’t have many cookbooks, but I feel I need them when I’m trying to find dinner ideas–allrecipes.com is great but it overwhelms me. I’ll start with the best cookbook in the world: The All New Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook. My grandmother gave this book to me for Christmas a year after I got married (thanks, Gammy!), and since then I have tried at least forty recipes. They are always perfect or nearly perfect. It’s my go-to idea book when it comes to meal planning. The recipes vary from ridiculously easy to more advanced, but you can generally tell in a glance how hard the recipe will be. If you look into it, definitely try the recipes in the Healthy Eating section. The cake section and the breakfast section are also especially good. One of our favorites is the chicken and bowtie pasta recipe.

Everyday Italian: 125 Simple and Delicious RecipesAnd when I feel like cooking some Italian food, I always look first in Everyday Italian by Giada de Laurentiis. I don’t actually watch any cooking shows, mostly because we choose not to have cable or satellite television (it’s becoming clear how I have time to read, now, isn’t it?), but I think Giada de Laurentiis’s books are awesome.  I’ve had this one since it first came out and it’s literally falling apart. The “Everyday Sauces” section has changed my cooking life. And if you’re a visual cookbook viewer, there’s a photo for almost every recipe.  A photo that will make your mouth start watering before you even read the name of the food.

And lastly, I love this:

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This is the recipe notebook a couple of my bridesmaids gave me and the recipes they had everyone at my wedding shower give me for my book. I’ve added so many more shared recipes since then and it is a treasure in my house. It’s also falling apart and rather covered in muffin batter in places, but it will never be retired.

So what’s for dinner tonight? Here, my husband is grilling chicken (yes, about a third of my menu plan includes my husband grilling, but he likes to grill…I’m pretty sure he likes to grill…) and we’re having Ginger and Honey Glazed Carrots and muffins. Because my kids love muffins and it’s an easy way to add whole wheat flour and wheat germ into their diets. =)

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