Summer is so wonderful. We love to go to the beach, the mountains, the library, the zoo, the park. Summer energizes this family and makes us want to go, go, go. But this summer, everything (including my reading pace), has been slow. Here’s why:
Lydia is sweetheart, we can’t resist her and her kissable cheeks, but we also can’t predict her. Her only pattern at 3-months-old is a good morning nap, and the rest is anyone’s guess. Sometimes she naps four times a day, sometimes we can’t get her to sleep from noon til midnight and we think we must be the worst parents in the world. Whoever says fourth babies just roll with it and are totally laid back…well, they haven’t met Lydia. Some days she’s completely blissful, some days she cries her head off. She’s not colicky but she’s not the classic happy baby. She’s just Lydia. And we love her.
Spending so much time trying to soothe a baby or catch up on all you haven’t been able to do while trying to soothe a baby (hello, dishes from yesterday) makes the summer surprisingly slow. The blessing in it is we don’t get tempted to dash off to a hundred parks and play dates. I pace and hold Lydia and listen to Ella, Isaac, and Violet play with cars, with Legos, and everything between. There are forts of sheets and chairs in the living room, there are paper crowns taped onto baby dolls’ heads, there are chores actually being done, there is an eight-year-old with a book on the couch on a rainy summer’s day….there are all sorts of beautiful, everyday things to soak in when you’re just holding a baby, and all kinds of opportunities for kids to just be and play and learn with no rush and hurry.
Would I like Lydia to have a more predictable schedule and to be happy all the time? Yes. Absolutely. But she is as unpredictable as she is cute (very). She’s a gift and she is unintentionally giving us the gift of a slow summer. I look forward to adventures with big kids, day trips to the beach and the mountains, a meal out without a meltdown, but for now…I’ll take the slow summer.
Whether your summer is full of slow days in the sun or jam packed with on-the-go fun, I hope you’re enjoying it fully and soaking it up.
Photos by Wenzel Photography (in a very casual, short photo shoot in the middle of a playdate! Aunts are awesome).
Our littlest girly arrived two weeks ago. Meet Lydia Blythe.
She came six days after her due date, at seven pounds and fourteen ounces, with a head full of hair and a good appetite for sleep (most nights). We are rejoicing. And we think she’s pretty cute, too.
Everyone is smitten, but nobody more than her big brother.
For the first two days after we brought Lydia home, I couldn’t get him to do anything but hover around her, begging to hold her. Never let anyone tell you that sisters are the only nurturing ones…this big brother is full of attentive care for his little sisters and cousins. Lydia’s two big sisters ask for their share of holding time, too.
The transition from three to four children has been much easier than the transition from two to three, but that’s largely due to Daddy being around way more, thanks to a much more flexible work schedule. It already feels like Lydia’s newborn days are flying by. We snuggle with her as much as we can, because we know she won’t be this small for more than a nanosecond.
So that’s what has been going on here! Aside from softball almost every night of the week for two of our family members, and racking up a $25 library fine in the past two weeks. Somehow, I forgot about not being able to drive for a couple of weeks after having a baby…should’ve returned those videos sooner. We’re off to the ATM and the library this morning to refresh our book selection! I’m hoping to post a Spring TBR list soon. Until then, Happy Springtime!
The kitchen is cleaned, right down to a de-scaled coffee pot (as of last night).
The bassinet sits next to my bed, waiting, like the rest of us.
Even the laundry is folded and put away.
Come on, baby, I can’t keep this nesting up forever!
We’re three days past the due date of our fourth baby, and trying our best to be patient, but every day feels so full of uncertainty, it’s getting more and more difficult. And so…I read.
What have I read during the waiting?
Baby Catcher – I picked this one up when I couldn’t wrap my brain around preparing myself for another labor and delivery. Written in a light-hearted yet honest way, I thoroughly enjoyed Peggy Vincent’s account of her career. She started out at a time when twilight drugs were still used on women in labor and became a successful home birth midwife by the end. I almost wish I were having a home birth after reading it. Almost.
Mended – I love how Angie Smith writes about the love of God and how it has changed her. I loved her memoir, Chasing God. Mended reads more like a devotional, and I am really enjoying it, as well.
A Study in Charlotte – The ancestors of Sherlock and Watson meet again at a high school boarding school in the present day, and solve a mystery together. It could have worked out to be a great book…but it really didn’t. The mystery was long and convoluted, the characters as normalized teenagers lost their appeal long before the novel ended, and the teenage culture presented was just plain scary. If this is what teenagers are dealing with these days, I am locking my children in a Rapunzel castle. Or at least not sending them to boarding school.
Right now, I’m wanting another book like A Gentleman in Moscow. Any suggestions? Because who knows how much more waiting we have to go…
Have you ever been to a favorite things party? I’ve been to just one. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a party where each guest brings a certain number of one of their favorite things. This is usually just a $5 item or less, like a favorite candy bar or gift card to a great coffee shop. Then everyone swaps with other guests, and you leave with five or so of your friends’ favorite things. Last spring I went to this party, and I sat enthralled as each of the women in that living room went around and explained what favorite thing they brought and why she liked it so much. Each item was a tiny window into that person’s personality and life. People brought everything from dry shampoo to cups full of limeade (yesss) to a sweet syrup brought all the way from Germany. It was fun, but I was sad. Why? Because I had no ideas about what to bring to that party. How sad that I couldn’t think of any small thing I really liked! What was wrong with me?
Since that night, when I brought an assortment of not-very-special notecards from the dollar bin at Michael’s to a favorite things party, I’ve been keeping tiny lists around me–in journals, on my phone–of my current favorite things. Because if it’s the little things in life that mean so much, I should probably be aware of those little things. I’m happy to tell you, I recently got to ten items on that favorite things list! Success! That’s when I saw that Modern Mrs. Darcy is hosting a Things That Are Saving My Life blog post link up related to all the things that are getting us through this winter. The timing…wow. Plus, I royally hate winter. Now is the time I can finally share those things on my list! And they are absolutely all saving my life this winter.
Method Grapefruit All Purpose Cleaner – My favorite all purpose cleaner ever. I discovered it when we were cleaning the house we are currently living in after buying it in sad shape. We’re talking pets-gone-wild sad shape, with a side of wild-animal-infestation to boot. Everything that didn’t get ripped out of the house got a coat of new paint or got sprayed with this. It smells so good and cleans/de-greases quite nicely. I am both happy and sad to report that I still use it daily. Happy, because I really do love it. Sad, because it means the potty training of our youngest isn’t going quite as smoothly as we would like…
Mary Kay Shea Butter Satin Lips Balm + Blistex Orange Mango Blast – I just discovered the shea butter balm four days ago, and it is awesome. I put it on in the morning, and don’t feel the need to apply any kind of lip balm ’til the evening. Yes, it lasts that long. However! I couldn’t give up the citrus smell of the Blistex Orange Mango Blas. The citrus smell of this chapstick right under my nose eases pregnancy-related nausea a good bit. That nausea has kicked in again even though I’m in my third trimester because of heavy doses of iron supplements and prenatal vitamins. So this is my one-two chapped lips + nausea punch. If that doesn’t make sense, just go for the shea butter. It really is lovely.
Neutrogena Grapefruit Cleanser – Are you sensing a theme here? I promise, not all of my favorite things are citrus related. I’ve been using this cleanser for about 10 months and it’s awesome for my skin, which is neither oily nor dry but prone to break outs. I don’t use it as directed, though. Instead of wetting my face first, I rub a dime size blob onto my dry face, brush my teeth, and then wet my face and scrub it around a little bit before washing it off. (I learned to do this and why in the very informative book The Acne Cure.) While I still have a blemish or two occasionally, I do not get “breakouts” or dry skin. And this cleanser does smell nice.
The Bunny Clock” – This gadget has been saving my life for the last three years. You could take all of the other items on this list from me, but not this one. I would weep. When our second born was almost two, he would get out of bed as early as 5:30 in the morning, and be up for the day. As Dame Judi Dench announces in Pride and Prejudice, “This is not to be borne!” So we found this thing (I can’t remember how), ordered it off of Amazon even though it was a whopping $50 at the time, and never regretted it one iota. It is worth its weight in platinum. If you have a small child that you’re struggling to teach to stay in bed until a decent hour in the morning, I cannot recommend this clock more.
Blendtec Classic 570 – I’ve never had a blender before that costs more than $40. When our third cheapo one in ten years died, I decided it was time to do some research. My husband and I found reviews stating that Blendtec blenders work very well, almost comparably to a Vitamix or one of those $400-600 ones, but for about half the price. Then my very savvy husband also found a thread on slickdeals.net informing shoppers that TJ Maxx had recently been selling them for $150, brand new. Hello, bright red Blendtec on my counter, and thank you very much TJ Maxx! The smoothies I’ve been making since getting this blender are ten times better than any I’ve made before, which of course means I’m gulping down more fruits and veggies than ever before. If that isn’t a good winter blues beater, I don’t know what is! And my favorite smoothie recipes can be found on Monica Swanson’s site. They are delicious.
Rooibos Tea – Two months ago, I would have told you I hate to drink tea. Unless my throat felt like it had been rubbed with rough grade sand paper. Then I might force myself to drink some lemon tea or something herbal and fruity like that. Then my sister brought a friend home from South Africa over Christmas who told us about Rooibos Tea. I found some at World Market and promptly fell in love. It is so delicious. Apparently there are a zillion-and-one health benefits, too, but I don’t even care. I “take my tea” with a bit of honey and a splash of milk. It’s like warm, liquid silk. I drink a cup or two on cold days. (Hey, it’s caffeine free and good for me!)(P.S. Thanks, Anika!)
Sunbeam electric throw – My very thoughtful husband bought this for me for Christmas. I loooove it. It gets me out of bed early in the morning and onto the couch with my coffee, my journal, Bible, and notebook. Which brings me to number 8…
Spiral Notebooks – I adore spiral notebooks. I have been scribbling in them for over fifteen years. I write to-do lists, schedules, project plans, reminders, blog ideas…everything. Yes, I know there’s an app for that. But I am a pen to paper girl, despite writing a blog, and I can’t do without the process of putting my thoughts through my pen with my own hand. It transfers them from obscure to concrete.
My Treadmill (which is no longer in production) – Got my treadmill eleven years ago with my first paycheck after college. Loved it. Left it. Or, I should say, had to give it away because we downsized homes five years ago. As blessed providence would have it, right when we were moving into a larger house, our friends we gave it to were downsizing themselves. It is mine again! I know it may seem fake to say you love your treadmill (Hey, you’re being unreal! No one loves a treadmill!), but I really do. I love walking or running (when I’m not pregnant) on it and listening to audio books on Overdrive or podcasts on Stitcher. I love feeling my body working hard. I love that I can use it at night after the kids are in bed. Do I prefer the outdoors? Most days, yes. But being able to take a good, uphill walk without leaving the house is invaluable at this stage of life. I am a much happier mother and wife when I am getting exercise. I guess you could say this thing is saving my whole family’s life this winter.
The Book Depository – You knew I couldn’t stay away from being bookish for long! Books absolutely keep me sane during the winter, and especially older books. A friend told me about this site a long time ago, but I totally forgot to check it out, and then another friend told me about it again, so I finally pulled it up on my computer and my bank account has been suffering ever since. Just kidding, I only bought two books (The Baker’s Daughter and The Blue Castle) but I don’t see my relationship with The Book Depository ending any time soon. Free shipping and old books! Winter is redeemed. (Also, if I hadn’t been so out of touch with my favorite things last spring, everyone would have received a copy of The Blue Castle at that party.)
Of course, there are three “things” always saving my life that I felt too obvious to name: coffee, library, husband. And it doesn’t hurt that we’ve had a slew of 70-degree days this past month. (Now’s the time when readers everywhere say, “You have no right to hate winter! No right!”). But 50-degree highs and rain are coming back this weekend, and I will be relying on all these things to see me through February.
I mentioned in my quick-lit reviews that I was loving the book A Gentleman in Moscowbut wasn’t finished with it yet. Well, I am finished, and I wholeheartedly endorse it as a great novel. It’s so much better than Rules of Civility by the same author. I couldn’t stop highlighting parts on my kindle; there were so many great quotes. One, in particular, struck me as just perfect for this time of year when everyone wants to declutter but may have lost some steam along the way, so I thought I’d share it with you today.
For eventually, we come to hold our dearest possessions more closely than we hold our friends. We carry them from place to place, often at considerable expense and inconvenience; we dust and polish their surfaces and reprimand children for playing too roughly in their vicinity–all the while, allowing memories to invest them with greater and greater importance. This armoire, we are prone to recall, is the very one in which we hid as a boy; and it was these silver candalabra that lined our table on Christmas Eve; and it was with this handkerchief that she once dried her tears, et cetera, et cetera. Until we imagine that these carefully preserved possessions might give us genuine solace in the face of a lost companion.
But, of course, a thing is just a thing.
-Armor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow
Yes, things are just things. So if you started out with a passion for decluttering this New Year that eventually waned, may this propel you forward to further minimalist greatness. Or, simply ease our guilt about not dusting enough. Those things are just things, right?
I don’t write about our homeschooling journey very much. There are so many homeschool blogs available out there, who needs one more? But I have had several different friends and blogging buddies ask me about how we do homeschooling, and I always find it impossible to put it into words at the moment when I’m asked. Our philosophy and curriculum choice is a mishmash of Charlotte Mason ideas and traditional curriculum. The overarching idea is that we want our children to learn how to cultivate their skills in the things they’re good at and discipline themselves in the things they’re not. When it is all said and done, we want them to love to learn and know how to keep on learning when their school days are over. We also want to set their eyes on things that are beautiful and worthy of our attention. But how does that translate into every day life and curriculum choices, how much time we do or don’t spend on work books, what subjects we do or don’t do?
I firmly believe schooling in the early years should be simple. “Those things you learn without joy you will easily forget,” is a big part of my homeschooling philosophy. What it all boils down to in the day to day is really very simple, but I have a hard time telling people about it. So maybe I can just show you? With that hope, here is a day in the life of our homeschooling family.
Our Homeschool Day in 2nd Grade, Kindergarten, and Toddlerhood
6:00 – I get up to have some coffee and some quiet time. I love this morning time alone, but it will probably disappear in the next few months when Baby #4 arrives and I clutch every minute of sleep I can get. And please, do not let my early starting ways turn you off to homeschooling! This is just how I do things in this season of life. Lots of homeschool parents start their days later and it works just fine for them.
7:00 – The kids get up, we all eat breakfast, get dressed, do a few small chores like gathering dirty clothes and making beds.
8:00 – We start math. My husband’s work schedule allows him to be our math teacher about three days a week, which saves my life and the life of my children. That’s the main reason we start with math every day, not because I am a stickler for math before other subjects. We have used Horizons math curriculum from K-2nd grade. Our oldest two have done very well with it so far.
Break – After math, everyone takes a little break. I run a load of laundry, and do the breakfast dishes if I wasn’t able to do them earlier.
9:00 – Reading/Writing/Grammar/Spelling is all bound up in our Sing, Spell, Read and Write curriculum. It also includes handwriting. I love this program. Next year we’ll have to switch to something else with Ella (2nd grade) as it only goes through 2nd grade.
Break – Time to play a little, give Violet (age 2) some attention, switch the clothes from the washer to the dryer, etc.
10:00 – We all sit down at the kitchen table with a snack and I read aloud. If you are familiar with the morning time concept, this is where it fits in with us. And this is also the area of our schooling where the mishmash comes in. We always have Abeka history and science books going (I read from the 2nd grade level for both these subjects to Ella and Isaac(who is in kindergarten)), but we also have a natural science book (like this or this) and a read aloud based on the historical time period we are in. We also have a chapter book that I read aloud for literature, usually based on the wonderful Charlotte Mason curriculum, A Gentle Feast. We alternate science and history each day. Some days we will just read the Abeka book and do the craft or experiment that goes with it, some days we’ll only read our natural science book and do some sketching or artwork along with it, or some days we’ll just do our history read-aloud. Example: We just finished the Colonial Period in our Abeka history book and we read Felicity Learns A Lesson along with it. Now we are entering The Pioneers section and we are reading aloud The Cabin Faced West. When Ella was in first grade, we read The Story of the World instead of an Abeka history book, and both kids enjoyed that, too.
11:00 – Play time. I believe so strongly that playing imaginatively is equally, if not more, important than work books and curricula in the early years. My children need to move their bodies and engage their imaginations throughout the day. There’s nothing that will set them up for success in life like a cultivated imagination, and nothing that will take away their joy more than a lost imagination. As you can see, we work in a lot of breaks. While the kids play, I do some housework, check email, maybe prep dinner if I’m really on top of things.
12:00 – Lunch, then outside time if it’s a nice day. A few times a week, I’ll read to the kids from our literature book while we eat lunch. (See list of read alouds we’ve done below!) We may have to do an errand or two on some days in this time slot, and once a week we have gymnastics at noon. In the spring, we’ll get involved in t-ball/softball again.
1:00 – Rest time – Our toddler naps and the bigger kids stay quiet in the schoolroom for an hour on their own. Ella does unfinished math or writing from the morning during this time, or reads her own book to herself. Isaac almost always plays with Legos, colors, or looks at books.
2:00 – The older two are headed outside again! If the weather is bad, they’ll usually watch a short video.
3:00 – Snack time and literature read-aloud time if we haven’t worked it in earlier.
Our school day is over!
There are a few subjects I would like to put in to our days more often, like music or art or foreign language. Right now, though, a simple approach is all we need and it’s working well for us. I know my world is about to get rocked adding a newborn in the middle of the spring semester! Our schedule will definitely change, but I’m glad we have some sort of structure in place. Maybe (fingers crossed!) it will help my children know what’s expected of them when I can’t be as present for every single part of their school day.
I’m still figuring this homeschooling life out and will probably be doing so forever, but if you do have any questions you’d like to ask me, feel free to in the comments! I’ll do my best to answer them.
Below is a list of some of the read-aloud chapter books we’ve done since starting homeschooling. They would be great fun for any family, whether you homeschool or not! We also do lots of picture books.
Welcome to the 2016 Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year. We in the Northern Hemisphere are tilted as far away from the sun today as we ever get. In the past, I have dreaded this time of year, the dreary days of winter. Last winter was especially dreary. My husband and I spent all of our time from December to February in a drafty, smelly fixer upper, cold and cheerless. This year, we live in that fixer upper. It’s not drafty or smelly anymore–in fact, we feel it’s quite homey now–but as our first Christmas season in it approached, my feelings about it were kind of dim. After Thanksgiving, I started to look at this big white box of a house and think, “It’s so drab. How can we make look like Christmas?” I didn’t know where to start. We began our advent calendar tradition and pulled all our decorations down from the attic. Boxes of forlorn Christmas garlands and wrinkled red bows spilled over the living room and dining room, but none of it looked merry or bright. It all looked like an uninspired jumble.
The first few days of December came and went like that. The neighbors’ houses were decorated, the pictures of friends’ beautiful holiday houses on social media flooded my news feed, the weather was cold, and I was a holiday sloth. “Maybe I’ll just hang a wreath and call it done.” I couldn’t find our wreath. But then we put up our Christmas tree. We found a beautiful one at the un-cool location of Home Depot and when we put it up, the lights shining through the deep green branches shed clarity on it all. Light.
We put lights up at Christmas because our souls need light in the winter darkness.
Two trips to Hobby Lobby later, our front porches had garlands laced with lights and new red, cheerful bows on them. A few days and ten extension cords later, our windows had candles in them to light the night, and sometimes the rainy days. Our advent calendar ornament for that night, when all the lighting up of the house was done, was a candle.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”
This is why stringing up all these unruly strands of lights is worth it and why lights brighten our holiday spirits without fail- The Light of the World came into the darkness. And he stayed and dwelt among us. Christmas lights will come and go, but The Light in the dark days of winter remains.
Am I excited about winter now? Not at all. I hate winter. But I’m pulling out all the candles in the candle box I seldom open, and throwing wide curtains on sunny days. As Meg Ryan says in You’ve Got Mail, “It will all shake out. Meanwhile, I am putting up more twinkle lights.” Her friend Birdie calls that “a fine idea,” and it is. Candles, twinkle lights, lamps in every corner, whatever it takes, we will have light this winter. Light will remind us that the deep darkness in our souls is no more, that The Light has come and He has stayed.
May your Christmas and your winter be merry and bright, full of lights and flooded by The Light.
There’s Ovaltine in my kitchen cabinet. That can only mean one thing. It means I’m waking up like this:
(That image actually scares me a little bit).
Or! It could mean one other thing. I’m pregnant. Twenty-four weeks pregnant, in fact, with our fourth child. We are thrilled! But you know what I’m discovering? When you’re pregnant with your second and especially your third or fourth (or beyond, I’m guessing), all those tips in the pregnancy books about how to take care of yourself just sound like mean jokes.
“Get plenty of sleep.”
“Eat lots of leafy vegetables that you have to wash and chop and then somehow keep down through nausea in the beginning and heartburn for the rest of the pregnancy, all while refereeing toddlers and preschoolers.”
Thanks for those tips, thanks a lot.
You want a really useful tip for your fourth pregnancy? Ovaltine. Okay, so yes, these ads probably aren’t founded on very scientific data and could be at fault for false advertising. I’m guessing “false advertisement” wasn’t a thing in 1950. But even though I still wake up looking like a druggy instead of Vivien Leigh, when I am pregnant, Ovaltine becomes a staple in our pantry. I drink it about every other night because, believe it or not, it cures my restless leg syndrome that only flares up when I’m pregnant. It really does. Maybe I’m actually treating myself with the proverbial sugar water, but if tastes like chocolate and has calcium in it? I don’t really mind that I’m psyching myself out.
So, while Ovaltine isn’t giving me one red cent for saying this, Ovaltine is my only true pregnancy tip for the world in a fourth pregnancy. Oh, and maybe some water with lemon. But Ovaltine tastes way better.
I’m don’t know about you, but I’m so glad to see September. Summer is my favorite, I adore summer…but I didn’t love this summer. It was a hard summer, and that came as a surprise. I thought it would be great. Remember myquest for less outside inspiration and more original thought? It began in early May, when I quit Facebook. I thought my mind would be less clouded by outside influences and I would find my own voice and get down to reading good books, writing, and creating. It was a lovely plan. What happened?
Somehow, I assumed my own original thoughts would be, well, nice. Maybe beautiful, or enlightening, or empowering. Maybe hopeful and kind and worthy of sharing with others. Strange that I thought that was the obvious direction my brain would go if I were to stop taking in so much on the internet and start living more present in my own mind. It turns out, my own mind on its own wasn’t so friendly.
I muddled through most of the summer and made very little headway. To make a long, uninteresting story short, the more present I became, the more connected with my own thoughts, the more I stared contempt in the face. You know contempt? “The feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn?” As I wrote, as I talked, as I pursued my own thoughts, all I found was negativity, and I didn’t like it. I was full of disdain for all sorts of things. It was ridiculous and never ending. What I began to understand is that contempt is almost always a message of self-contempt at my core.
Self-contempt is pretty easy to define: take that definition above of “contempt,” and point it at yourself. It’s feeling like you, yourself, are beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn. Yeah, not a fun feeling. Even less fun when it’s become a theme in your thought processes without your realizing it. How did I discover that outward contempt is usually a cover up for inward contempt? I was getting a lot of hints.
When I tried over and over to write a blog post about our homeschooling curriculum choices, I kept deleting everything I wrote because it all ended up sounding so defensive and a bit mean-spirited. Hint to self: I was insecure about my curriculum choices.
When I reviewed books, I criticized too harshly. Hint to self: I don’t like what I’m reading because I’m jealous that I’m not the one writing books.
When I searched on Pinterest for ideas on various things, I felt loathing form firmly in my mind towards those Internet People who have Freezer Cooking and Capsule Wardrobes and Healthy School Lunches all figured out. And let’s not talk about people with pretty laundry areas or delightful school rooms. Hint to self: I’m not so pleased with the job I’m doing at home.
Just like jealousy is a truth teller about your own desires, contempt is a an arrow pointing right back to something about you. “It’s so dumb to put all that effort into getting your hair highlighted just right” actually means, “I wish I had a fresh hair cut. Why don’t I ever get my hair done? I’m just not good at making myself pretty.” When I think, “What a waste of time to paint a sign that says, “Laundry” to put in your laundry area. Thank you, Captain Obvious,” what I am thinking at a deeper level is, “I am a wretched homemaker. My living room doesn’t even look as nice as that laundry area does.”
You can’t produce good things when you’re hating yourself. You can’t be a good spouse, a good mother, a good friend, or the kind of writer who can give people ideas that empower and encourage others in life when you’re full of negativity towards yourself. The reality behind this quiet summer: my thoughts were not beautiful. They were unkind towards myself and as a result, towards many things. It spilled over into everything.
I don’t want to be a negative person anymore. I don’t want to be a bully in my own thoughts, always trying to make myself feel better about myself. So I’m focusing on kindness. It’ll have to start with kindness to myself. How can a self-directed mean spirit be so ingrained in a girl? Our culture makes it pretty easy, but I’m done blaming culture. It doesn’t get me anywhere. I know I can’t just suddenly be kind to myself. It’ll be a process. I’ve got some starting points, though, and things are already getting lighter. I’m not sharing this process because I want people to tell me I’m great, because trust me, that won’t help. As Anne Lamott says, “this will have to be an inside job.” I’m sharing this summer’s journey because I suspect a lot of us need to stop running away from our own thoughts and stand to fight them. Yes, it’s easier to find a Scary Mommy post on the very thing you feel insecure about, and sometimes that’s healing to find camaraderie, but it’s a frail fix to what’s really going on inside. We forget this fact too often: we are valuable simply because we are people. Not perfect people in any way, just people. We are created and we are loved and we must stop thinking our worth lies in anything else. This summer was hard, but if I can get that in my head and give that message back to the people around me, it will all be worth it.
There have been many people in the past ten or so years who have either implied or straight out said that they think reading fiction is a waste of time. I don’t think they were exactly condemning fiction, just letting me know that they felt a certain level of guilt when they spent time or brain energy reading a novel. As a to-do list lover, I understand that feeling to some extent. Even so, I still confidently say, “Literature and stories have changed my life for the better.” It could take hours to fully flesh out this statement. I think there’s plenty of research to show how valuable reading quality novels is (like this article about readers being empathetic or this one about reading fiction to improve brain function), but I’m not going to argue on that kind of scholarly level today. Instead, I’m going to give some concrete examples of wisdom I’ve gathered from literature. These are pieces of wisdom I’ve gleaned recently and long ago that I’m actually putting into practice in my everyday life right now.
1. Hungry boys need bread and butter.
I have a five-year-old boy. I am not lying when I say he is always hungry. I’m not sure what I would think about this as a mom, having only grown up with girls in the house, if this conversation fromAnne of Avonlea between Anne and Davy (who is six) hadn’t stuck with me:
“Anne, I’m awful hungry. You’ve no idea.”
“I’ll get you some bread and butter in a minute.
“But I ain’t bread and butter hungry, “said Davy in a disgusted tone. “I’m plum cake hungry.”
“Oh,” laughed Anne, laying down her letter and putting her arm about Davy to give him a squeeze, “that’s a kind of hunger that can be endured very comfortably, Davy-boy. You know that it’s one of Marilla’s rules that you can’t have anything but bread and butter between meals.”
Well, if even Marilla can admit that little boys must have something to eat between meals, then I guess it’s a fact. Let them eat bread and butter! (or something equally wholesome).
2. Get your work done in the morning.
D.E. Stevens has many practical and plucky characters in her books (and I like or love them all). I read The House on the Cliff a couple of weeks ago, which featured as a side character the delightful Mrs. Chowne (whom I have irreparably paired in my mind with Mrs. Patmore). At one point in the book, the main character finds Mrs. Chowne up very early and asks her why, and Mrs. Chowne replies, “I like getting up early on a nice bright morning. The work gets done much quicker if it’s done early.” So true. Anytime I make a to-do list, if I don’t get the majority of it done before lunch, it typically doesn’t get done, or if it does, it takes a dreadful amount of time. I don’t know how to explain this, except that Mrs. Chowne is simply right.
3. A little time away from children can help you love them more.
There’s nothing like feeling completely smothered from morning til, well, morning, that makes me grumpier. Especially in those years when there’s a newborn needing me all night and a toddler or two adding to the neediness all day, I feel like something in me is going to crack. But once everyone is (mostly) sleeping through the night, sanity returns. As Kelly Corrigan writes in The Middle Place, “I wake up with Georgia just inches from my nose, urgently notifying me that Claire is ready to get up. I always love them best first thing in the morning, having forgotten something critical about them in the night, something gorgeous and utterly lovable.” After a good night’s sleep when nobody wakes me up, my children’s eyes seem more beautiful, their skin more exquisite, their voices like music. That’s the light at the end of the tunnel during the all night-neediness years.
4. Tidying up a sickroom will make the sick person feel better.
Near the beginning of Little Women, Jo goes to visit Laurie for the first time. He has been housebound with a bad cold for a week and needs some cheering up. When Jo comes in, she looks around and sees that the room Laurie has been confined to during his sickness is nice, but definitely in need of her help. She says to Laurie,
“I’ll right it up in two minutes, for it only needs to have the hearth brushed, so,–and the things made straight on the mantel-piece,so–and the books put here, and the bottles there, and your sofa turned from the light, and the pillows plumped up a bit. Now, then, you’re fixed.” And so he was; for, as she laughed and talked, Jo had whisked things into place, and given quite a different air to the room.
Having been under the weather myself for the last three weeks, I can tell you that this made up piece of fiction is absolute gold. Even if you are the sick person and you can only make your bed before you get back into it, just doing that will lift your mood. A few days ago, I undertook to clear all the junk out of the corners and along the walls of my bedroom in a burst of energy. Even though I had to spend more time resting later, I felt a peace about me that wasn’t there when the room was cluttered. Something to remember for the next time you or a loved one is sick. (On the other hand—I have certain loved ones who would be straight up annoyed if I came to visit and started cleaning the bedroom. Know your sick person…though sometimes it’s a risk I’m willing to take…).
5. Don’t Think Too Hard At Night
This one might be the best. It’s from a children’s book with a not-so-wise-sounding title: Bing Bong Bang and Fiddle Dee Dee. There’s a lot of good stuff in it, though, for kids and grown ups. Here’s the part I hope to remember until my dying day:
“The morning is wiser than the evening. And the light is better, too.”
How many times have you been lying awake with a problem or worry running circles in your mind, and it’s actually gotten better thanks to your nighttime thinking? Or have you had an argument at night that didn’t only get worse the more you talked? Personally, this has never happened. Problems or disagreements stretch at night like scary black shadows, but in the morning, they are once again just the size of the thing they really are and they can actually be dealt with. Maybe you’re getting the idea that I’m a morning person, but I think this is pretty much universal–problem solving and argument resolving are daytime events.
Have I made my point yet? Sure, this wisdom is always true, whether it’s put down in black and white nonfiction or told in a story. When it’s in a story, though, it has a way of etching deeper into my mind and proving its worth. That’s why I don’t think fiction can ever be called a waste of time.