Children's Books, Friday Favorites - Children's Books

Friday Favorites, Black Friday Edition

Have you had enough holiday advertising yet? I have, and it’s not even December. I feel sad for our American children. It’s so easy for them to be the richest in the world in possessions and the poorest in gratitude. I want my children to know it isn’t the stuff that truly makes us rich. Gratitude is what truly enriches. And it’s an uphill climb to helping our children understand how to be grateful, even though gratitude is pretty simple at a young age: realizing we have good things and thanking God for them.

Elizabeti's DollIf you feel this way, too, check out Elizabeti’s Doll. It’s a story of a little girl somewhere in Africa who doesn’t have a doll. Her mama has a new baby, and she wants a baby to care for, too. She gets creative, and shows that love and imagination can transform anything. The illustrations are lovely and calming, the story is sweet, and the opportunities to discuss another culture are plentiful. If you had the privilege of participating in Operation Christmas Child this year, you can use this book to help your children understand how excited the child who receives the shoe box you filled might be. “How excited do you think Elizabeti would be if she got the box we packed for a little girl?”

This book and the book called Ida’s Doll I read as a girl, combined with how much I loved my dolls, has me always making sure to include a doll in any shoe box we pack for a girl.

What books do you love to read with your children when you want to remind them how much they have to be grateful for?

Reading, Reviews

Gilead

When friends ask me if I have read any good books lately, I drop everything, look them straight in the eye, and fervently say one word: “Gilead.”

Seriously. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson is my new favorite book. It’s taken me forever to discover it, I think because when it first came to my attention the year it was published (2006), I read the plot synopsis and wasn’t immediately drawn to it. Add the quiet plot to the fact that Housekeeping by Robinson had left me feeling blue, even if it was insightful and poignant, and you have a moment when I put Gilead back on the shelf and though, “Maybe another day.”

GileadI could call that moment a mistake, but I think it probably wasn’t. I probably wasn’t ready for this book at age twenty. While I’m still not much older than I was and certainly not much wiser, I adore this book now in a way I don’t think I could have then. It’s written as a letter to the son of the narrator. The narrator is an elderly pastor in the small town of Gilead who has married late in life and has a little boy. The pastor’s health is not good, and he knows he won’t be there when his boy reaches adulthood, so he writes him a letter that contains some background of his family history (fascinating), and some lessons learned (deeply insightful), and even the unraveling of a scandal that happens during the writing of the letter. This plot may not draw you, but I’m begging you, read it anyway. It is masterful.

Here’s one of my favorite paragraphs, when the narrator speaks of a hardship in his life and concludes:

” I don’t know what to say except that the worst misfortune isn’t only misfortune–and even as I write these words, I have that infant Rebecca [his daughter who died in infancy] in my mind, the way she looked while I held her, which I seem to remember, because every single time I have christened a baby I have thought of her again. That feeling of a baby brow against the palm of your hand — how I have loved this life. Boughton had christened her, as I said, but I laid my hand on her just to bless her, and I could feel her pulse, her warmth, the damp of her hair.”

I choke up even now when I think of how exactly true these words are, how that is just what the forehead of a baby feels like against my hand. The whole book is a tribute to how achingly beautiful this earthly life is, and how pain can be redeemed. It is written from the firm viewpoint that Heaven and eternity are absolute and God is good and His goodness is here even on this broken earth. Even so, it is not preachy. (It won a Pulitzer, so you know it’s not preachy!) But it is wonderful, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I’m so thankful that Edie at Life in Grace put it on her reading list for the year, which reminded me that I had always meant to read it. It’s definitely the best book on My Fall Reading List so far.

See other favorite books here!

Everyday Life, Parenting

Seize the Nanosecond!

It’s 3:45 p.m. I’ve needed a shower for approximately 1.5 days. Finally, Baby and Big Boy (3) are asleep and Little Miss (5) is happily coloring. For a blessed slice of this day, there are no urgent needs or tasks — no mess to wipe up, no crying baby, no squabbles to settle, no tummies to fill, just a tiny piece of silence.

“Seize the day!” I think. Except for it’s more like “Seize the nanosecond!”

Jump in the shower, jump out of the shower while nap time lasts! Grab the chicken to defrost before it’s too late in the day! It’s 6:30 a.m. and the baby is crying, hop out of bed and throw some clothes on before she wakes the big kids! Quick!

It’s craziness all the time, but when a minute of downtime comes my way, this fast and furious mindset doesn’t go away. I don’t breathe a sigh of relief and sit down. Instead, I think “seize the nanosecond!” Figure out what’s for dinner. Put the clothes in the dryer. Answer an email. Get something, anything done.

Why do I run around my house at a frantic and frenzied pace on most days of the week? How are there are one thousand items on my mental to-do list and all of them seem like they need to be done right now? I really don’t know how this happens, because I’m here at home more often than I’m not, and still feeling like it’s a gargantuan effort to get the breakfast dishes washed before dinner time.

It baffles me that Hectic lives right here at home with us. 

It baffles my husband, too. Sometimes when he’s home, he watches me and asks, “Why the big rush?” I don’t know how to explain that I’m running behind on laundry and dishes and dinners and it’s all a great big boa constrictor that’s got me up to my knees and is still swallowing. (Thank Shel Silverstein for that one).

It’s like what we tell that kicker on Saturdays: “You have one job! Make field goals!” Except it’s more like, “You have one job! Take care of everything!”

(Fact: I do not take care of everything around here, because I have the best husband in the universe. We both “take care of everything,” just not often at the same time).

I know where the problem lies. I start the day responding to needs and they keep coming all day long. That’s the nature of life with Littles. So when an opportunity to actually get something tangible accomplished presents itself, I’m all over it like ants on a melted popsicle. I’m grabbing that vacuum cleaner faster than you can say “dirt,” and no crying baby or coloring book is going to stop me, because the rugs are overdue for a cleaning by about three weeks.

“Seize the nanosecond!” is the mantra in my head on any given day.  I think I’m through with it, though. This frenetic way I go about the day is (a) exhausting and (b) basically ineffective. I get to the end of the day and ask myself if I actually got one thing done. If the answer is a surprising “yes,” that “something done” usually doesn’t involve the things I think are most important, like playing with my children or calling a friend. I don’t need a mantra, I need a method. And, much to my chagrin, I know what the method should be. It’s called Get-Up-Before-The-Kids.

Sigh.

When your nights are full of lots of things besides sleep — put the covers back on this kid, take this one to the bathroom, give this one some water so she can stop coughing, feed this one, soothe this one after a nightmare, give this one some Tylenol for ::fill in the blank:: — getting up before you absolutely have to is rough, right?

But spending all day getting swallowed by a boa constrictor is rough, too.

So I’m laying down my “seize the nanosecond!” mantra and setting my alarm instead. The experiment for this week is to get up just a bit earlier than my kids and get just three things done:

1. Shower/dress

2. Read and pray

3. Make a short to-do list

I know I should add a few other things, like exercise or prepare all our  meals for the day or lay out the kids’ clothes, and all that good stuff. But I need this to actually work, so I’m starting off with what I can fit in just twenty minutes. I know from experience that it’s a long road from having a baby to getting back into a morning routine. I’m just setting my feet on the path and hoping for the best.

If the Seize the Nanosecond mindset sounds familiar to you, maybe you would like to join me on my Twenty Minute Morning experiment? Or maybe you’d like to see if it actually works first? Check back next week and I’ll let you know. I doubt I’ll have defeated the boa constrictor for good, but maybe he’ll be only up to my ankles instead of my knees.

One can only hope.

Everyday Life, Parenting

Put Down The Scissors

It’s inevitable. About the time when a child learns to use scissors, age three around here, something disastrous happens. I know, I know, why am I surprised? You’re right, I was kind of prepared for this, the dread fascination with cutting things just by moving your fingers.

What I wasn’t prepared for is what would get cut. A shirt they don’t really like maybe. An important document, sure. A doll’s hair, or even their own hair. Everyone does the hair thing, right?

But I am baffled by my children. At age three, they inevitably take scissors to the thing they love most in the world.

When Ella was three, we got a tip that a local thrift store had some great deals on really nice shirts. I marvel at how easy it was to just get in the car and go, because that’s what we did. Sadly, we didn’t find any shirts. The trip was worth it, though, because Ella spotted an adorable dress. If you have little girls, you know princess dresses are everywhere and that most are poorly made. This one was not by Disney, though. It was cotton on top, with a full length tulle skirt, and laced up in the back. We were both  smitten by it, and it was only five dollars. Sold.

2013iPhonephotos 017On the way home, Ella said, “Why don’t we go somewhere fancy tonight?” So we did. Dinner at a pizza place is fancy if you have the right dress. This dress made every day fancy, and Ella loved it.

Then one morning I was getting ready to do some errands and walked in Ella’s bedroom to hear “snip, snip, snip.”  I was aghast. “Ella, why are you cutting your dress?!?”

“I don’t know.” She looked at me, her face red, scared of the trouble she was in.

“You love that dress!”

No answer.

The two top layers of the tulle were in tatters, but Aunt Destiny came to the rescue and made it look decent again, thought it will never be the same. And Ella never showed the least bit of remorse for the (bad) alterations she made to her favorite possession. “It looks like a fairy!” She was optimistic, and I was way more upset than she was.

And she never cut anything she wasn’t supposed to cut again.

But then it was Isaac’s turn. All week, Isaac brought his helicopter with him everywhere. It is a rescue helicopter with a line and a hook that can actually pull things up into the cockpit. My husband saw it one night in a bookstore and it was so clearly perfect for Isaac, he bought it right there and then. Isaac has loved this toy for months and his attachment to it was at an all time high this week. So I was a little surprised to hear Ella ask him on Saturday morning, “Isaac! did you cut the hook off your helicopter?”

Isaac denied it.

80367C0B-F663-4032-BA32-70613E48EE21“Mommy, did you cut the hook off of Isaac’s helicopter?”

“What? I would never cut the hook of his helicopter!” I was horrified.

Isaac quickly picked up on that line. “No, I would never cut the hook of my helicopter.”

Then we found the scissor and the hook in his room.

Stunned again. A favorite toy, destroyed at the hands of its owner for no apparent reason other than the desire to cut something. But why the favorite thing? And once again, no remorse! Boy, I was mad.

I wasn’t upset about the money these items cost. I wasn’t even mad that the scissors were used inappropriately. I was sad and mad for my children’s sake. Their beloved objects were ruined by their own hands. Surely they would feel the effects. They must be just hiding the guilt and heartbroken pangs.

But then. Then it was my turn.

I didn’t have any scissors. I’m not three years old. But I did the exact same thing. In fact, I do it all the time.

I tell my exuberant, cheery, affectionate boy, “Would you please calm down and stop jumping on me!” when really he just wants to lavish hugs on his mother and be hugged in return.

I tell my precise, careful, beauty-loving daughter, “It’s okay if the butterfly’s wings are not the same size on your drawing. It’s pretty and we don’t have time to fix it right now,” when all she really wants is to do her very best and create a beautiful card for her great, great aunt.

I whisper to my three-month-old baby girl, “Please, would you just fall asleep without me holding you for half an hour tonight?” when she just needs the comfort of her mama because her dadgum first tooth will just not come through and be done with it, and anyway, who does not want a snugly baby?

I take my scissors and I try to change my favorite, favorite, favoritest things in the world: my children.

There are plenty of areas I need to train my children in, plenty of ways I need to mold and shape and sand down some rough edges. We are all flawed and need saving from ourselves. But the beautiful things in their nature that God wants me to foster and cherish should not be the things I try to squelch or cut out willy nilly when some part of these characteristics is inconvenient for me. I need to put down my scissors.

Maybe I wouldn’t have ever even noticed my tendency to do this if I hadn’t agonized over why my children cut their favorite things. I should probably thank them for being small packages of pure human nature that I get to learn from every day. I am thankful for what they unknowingly teach me.

But my goodness, I’m still going to hide their scissors! And it’s time to hide my own scissors, too.

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