The worst part of parenting (so far)

I just found out what the absolute worst part of parenting is.

It’s not the lack of sleep, picking up your crying baby every 90 minutes and just praying to God that this child would sleep for more than 2 hours (though that’s terrible, no question).

It’s not the terrible twos, (or more often, the terrible threes), complete with tantrums and potty training.

It’s not being home with two kids in diapers and feeling like all you do is change them, feed them, watch annoying TV shows, and try to get them down for naps so you can have a break or take a shower.

It’s not being at work and worrying about whether your child is doing OK at daycare, and feeling sad about all the milestones and precious moments you may be missing.

It’s not discipling your child over and over for the same thing, wondering what you’re doing wrong.

It’s not sweating over 5th grade math homework or being a chauffeur 24/7 to all your kids’ activities; being the warm body that seems to be there only to fulfill everyone’s desires for food, clean laundry, entertainment, and transportation.

No, it’s none of those things. The absolute worst part of parenting is that first time your kid pushes you away.  The first time you go in for a kiss on the cheek and he turns his head.  Or the time you ask for a hug and, for the first time in his entire life, he says “no”.  And you know the little boy who used to run to you when you came in the door, or cried when you left the house, or kept stalling bedtime for just “one more hug” is gone.  The little one who needed me to “put kisses in his pockets” so he had them if he needed them at school is no more. The sweet kid that always wanted to be within arm’s reach has vanished into his bedroom, the door closed.

Now I’m a nag.  I’m annoying,  My silly jokes and songs are no longer needed or appreciated.  I don’t get to sing him to sleep, give him a bath, or hold his hand (though admittedly, how weird would that be to still be doing that with your thirteen year old?). When was the last time I washed his hair? When did he last sit in my lap? What was the last bedtime story I read to him? 

I know he loves me.  I know it’s just different now.  I know that I’m still needed, even if that doesn’t look the same as it used to.  I know I just need to ride it out, let him come to me, and be a constant source of love and encouragement in the background, even as he pulls away.  He needs to pull away.  He needs to become his own person, figure out this strange new world he’s in, become independent, and be with his friends.  We all did it, I know.  I know.

But today I didn’t get a hug.  And it was the worst.

 

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May madness

Is is possible to die from parenting during the months of May and June? Because I think I’m on my deathbed.  You will soon see my obituary:  Tracy W., 1975-2019.  Died from an accumulation of band concerts, field trips, doctor’s appointments, laundry, and yard work.  Survived by her equally haggard husband and two cranky, overstimulated children.

I am a zombie.  A mombie.  I am the walking dead.  I am broke.  I am a victim of noise pollution.  My body hurts.  I fall asleep the moment I am horizontal.  I want to eat things but I don’t want to have to make things to eat.  People keep saying words to me and it’s just too much.  I can’t be expected to listen to all the words.  All talking should cease after 7 pm so that the swelling in my brain can recede before morning.

My mind is a swirling tornado of information, mental to-do’s, plans for tomorrow/next week/next month, shopping lists, and fantasies of spending a whole day on the couch doing nothing.  I am physically unable to be in all of the places that I am required to be.

Last week my husband had to go to a training on Wednesday night.  Now, Wednesday night is our run-around night.  My daughter has dance from 6:30-7:30 pm, and my son has karate from 5:30-7:30 pm.  Usually the hubs and I divide and conquer, but last week I was on my own.  So, no biggie, it’s just one week, I got this.  Jeff was able to take Nate to karate on the way to his training, so I took Leah to dance, and my plan was to hang around during her lesson and then swing around and pick Nate up on our way home.  WELL.  They put a new Home Goods store right next door to the dance studio!  I had brought my computer and planned to get some bills and banking done, but then I said to myself, “Self, here is an opportunity for self care.  Let us go browse in Home Goods and we will declare this activity to be self care“.

So I had just passed the ottomans and was looking at the drapes when my phone rang.  It was Nate.

“Mom, my blue belt graduation ceremony is happening right now.

“What??  I had that on the calendar for tomorrow!”

“No, it’s happening NOW!”

“Oh, ok, well……let me check to see if one of the other moms can bring Leah home or, I don’t know…ummm, gahh….”

“Mom, it’s OK.  It’s OK if you can’t come.” (this was sweet of him, but that almost made me feel worse about potentially missing it)

“I’ll see what I can do.  I’ll try my best to get there!”

So I sent a few texts to my fellow moms, but finding a last minute ride for Leah wasn’t happening.  There I sat in the parking lot, feeling terrible, frustrated with myself for writing down the wrong date, impatient for Leah’s class to be over so we could zip over and maybe catch the end of the ceremony.

We blew into the dojo at 7:45 pm.  My heart sank when I saw the almost empty parking lot–we most definitely had missed it.  We ran in the door, and there sat Nate, looking calm, cool, and collected.

“We’re so sorry honey!  I tried so hard to get here but…”

“Oh, it’s OK mom, you were right, it is tomorrow.  Sorry.”  He shrugged nonchalantly, completely oblivious to the stomach ulcer that had been forming within me for the past 45 minutes.

My face is still clenchy from that.  Or maybe it’s not from that, specifically.  Who can know these things, really?  I looked at my calendar, and during May and June we have:

  • 11 Girls on the Run practices
  • 7 dance practices
  • 1 dance rehearsal
  • 1 dance recital
  • 1 DARE graduation (we asked Leah, “What did you learn in DARE?” and she said, “um, I don’t know, I think be nice to people.”  “Didn’t you learn anything about drugs?”  we inquired.  “Oh, yeah, don’t do drugs!”)
  • 1 parade in which all of the DARE graduates wave at the crowd from a float, even though most of them can’t remember what they learned or what DARE stands for
  • 1 moving up ceremony
  • 2 5K runs
  • 2 plays
  • 2 band concerts
  • 3 field trips
  • 2 orthodontist appointments
  • 1 dentist appointment
  • 2 eye doctor appointments
  • 3 haircuts
  • 1 bikini wax (self care!)
  • 3 graduation parties
  • 1 van repair after the automatic door blew a gasket
  • 1 central A/C replacement after the old unit crapped the bed (preceded by 2 appointments for estimates)
  • 1 driveway sealing appointment
  • 1 roof tear-off/replacement
  • one husband who is going back to school full time and has a full summer course load
  • Our 20th anniversary (Honey, I got you a new van door, a central A/C unit, and a roof! You’re welcome!)

And a partridge in a pear tree.

The end.

If you need me, I will be in a padded room.

 

American Eagle, Steve Jobs, and the denim belt

I went spring shopping with my tween son the other week.  I still call him a tween, but in reality he is just a few months away from stepping over the threshold and becoming a full-fledged teen.  He kindly reminds me of this on the regular, and every single time all I can see is a picture in my mind’s eye of his sweet little baby face staring at his mommy in complete adoration.  It makes me want to weep.  Also I am pretty sure I can actually hear my ovaries drying up on their slow journey toward becoming shriveled little raisins.

One of the great things about babies is that you can dress them however you want.  I used to dress my son so cute when he was small.  Most people seem to think that all of the frilly baby girl clothes are the most fun to buy, but after a while the closet just looks like someone vomited Pepto-Bismol onto a bunch of plastic hangers.   Moms of little boys,  I’m here to tell you that shopping for baby boy’s clothes is where it’s at.

Shopping for big boy clothes is decidedly much more complicated.  First of all, there are all these rules.  Probably every boy has a different set of rules, but there is always some kind of code or formula that turns the whole thing into some sort of scavenger hunt.  In order to pass the test when shopping for my son, all clothing must adhere to the following guidelines:

-must be quick dry fabric.  But not the scratchy quick dry fabric, the smooth kind.

-no itchy tags. Even better–no tags at all.

-funeral colors only.  Black, dark black, light black, grey, or a mixture of these are permitted.  Blue is sometimes acceptable.  Neon yellow was acceptable last year but now is eschewed.  Please keep up.

-if there is some kind of visible athletic logo, only Nike is acceptable.  Under Armor–NO.  Adidas–that would be a hard no.

-pants must not have ankle cuffs of any kind.  It doesn’t matter that those cute jogger pants are everywhere and it is difficult to even find pants without ankle cuffs.  No. Cuffs.

Me:  What do you have against jogger pants with cuffs?

Son:  I don’t like them.

Me:  Well, obviously.  But what is it about them that you don’t you like?

Son:  They make me feel trapped.

Me:  They make you feel trapped?

Son:  Yes.

Me:  Trapped….in your pants?

Son:  Yes.

Me:

Son:

With that all sorted out, we set off on our quest to find quick-dry athletic clothing with no tags and no cuffs in drab colors, that would also somehow fit a man-sized boy who is all arms and legs and sharp angles with a waist size that would make a Victorian woman in a double corset jealous.

Shopping this year turned out to be even more challenging than usual, because the boy is in this awkward in-between phase where he’s too tall for the boys section, but hasn’t filled out enough for the men’s section.  Glorious.  I sat in the fitting room waiting area as my son paraded out before me about four different styles of black and grey hoodies, despite the fact that our original intent was to find clothes for spring and summer.  I suppose the black and grey hoodie that he has been wearing every single day since the beginning of the school year needed a refresh.  (Side note to say that if you are one of my son’s teachers or one of his friend’s moms, I promise you I wash the sweatshirt in question regularly, and he has a few different pairs of the same/similar black pants.  So I know it looks like he never changes his clothes, but it’s not so much of a poor hygiene situation as it is a Steve Jobs situation).

Anyhow, during the American Eagle parade of hoodies, one of the other dressing room doors opened and out walked an adorable teenage girl with long, colt-like arms and legs.  She turned to her (very youthful looking) grandma and said, “Do you think this looks too big?”

If I were a cartoon character, my eyeballs would have fallen out of their sockets at that point and I would be groping around uselessly trying to retrieve them so I could pop them back in.  I am telling you:  if the denim miniskirt this girl was trying on were any smaller, it would be a belt.  You could tell this wasn’t grandma’s first go-round with a teenage girl because, instead of answering the question, she very cautiously said, “You’re going to wear shorts underneath that, right?”  Like she knew that the inevitability of an automatic sale would shoot up if she were to respond by saying, “That is ridiculously short.  There is no way you’re wearing that!” The girl didn’t answer grandma’s question about the shorts either, crafty as she was,  but instead surveyed her reflection wearing the tiny little skirt from all angles before disappearing again into the dressing room.

This is where grandma and I locked eyes and, without a word spoken, had a moment of sisterhood.  I could see how she had blazed the path that lay before me, come out the other side, and had now brought the wisdom of our foremothers to this moment.  As my boy came out in another black hoodie, she gave an almost imperceptible nod that seemed to say, “I know.  He wears the same thing all the time.  Boys are like that. Don’t worry.”  I, in turn, lifted up a quick prayer asking for strength for the girl’s mother, who I am certain would rue the day she allowed grandma to take her daughter shopping for spring clothes, only to find that she came home with a denim belt.

 

Middle school: The purgatory of parenting

January is really the most un-wonderful time of the year.  The weather stinks, I’m still tired from the holidays, AND it’s that very awkward and terrible time when all of the Reese’s peanut butter trees are no longer in the store, but it’s too early for the Reese’s peanut butter eggs to come out.  I sat in the parking lot outside of a Five Below last week and wondered–where do all the trees go?  Because all of my local chocolate peanut butter tree selling retailers seemed like they had an abundant supply of them the week before Christmas.  Now there are none.  I can’t figure out the math on that.  Why no leftovers, Five Below?  You didn’t put them back in the stock room for next Christmas, did you?  ‘Cause that’s not fair.  I’m not sure how I will live until the retail stores decide it’s almost Easter.

Speaking of things I may not live through, it occurred to me just this week that in approximately 8 months, I will have two middle schoolers in my home.  TWO MIDDLE SCHOOLERS.  Can’t. Breathe. Must. Eat. Reese’s. Peanut. Butter. Chocolate. Trees.

I know some of you have younger kids, and aren’t there yet.  You are still in the thick of diapers and preschool and early morning wake up calls, and can’t imagine a day when you will sleep past 6 am on a weekend.  Or some of you more experienced parents are far enough away from it that you forget what it’s like, and the pain has dulled with time.  Some things are difficult to fully convey in words, but let me see if I can paint you a picture of these special, special years.

Having a middle schooler is like picking up your mail, casually opening it just like every other day, and then realizing that one of the envelopes had white powder with anthrax in it and now you have a huge crisis on your hands and also probably you are going to die.  And then 10 minutes later everything’s “fine” and the person who laced the envelope with anthrax is sitting on your couch with a headset on, happily playing a video game, while you continue working on your newest hobby which happens to be deep breathing and growing new grey hairs.

Having a middle schooler means that there are lots of tall-ish people with long limbs, big shoes, and questionable hygiene in your house, and you have to feed them pancakes a lot.  And they eat your pancakes but they don’t make eye contact with you.  And they wear a hood for extra protection indoors in case of leaking ceilings or splattering pancake syrup, I am assuming.

Having a middle schooler means that you are no longer funny.  You used to be very funny, maybe let’s say, just last year or the year before.   In fact, you used to be able to make certain people laugh hysterically just by playing peek-a-boo!  But now you’re not funny.  And every time you try to use any humor of any kind, someone in a hoodie yells, “STOP!”.

Having a middle schooler means that you question the very foundations of your education, as you stare mutely at your 7th-grader’s homework on algebraic expressions or some such, hoping to forestall the meltdown that will inevitably ensue should you be unable to not only figure out how to do it, but also figure out how to show your work using a simple 13 step process that, in your day, was a two step process.

Having a middle schooler means that you will sometimes have your sweet baby, who now weighs 100+ lbs instead of 10 lbs, come over to snuggle with you like a fully grown St. Bernard who thinks he is a lap dog.  And you love every second of it, even if his knee is in your spleen.  You don’t even care about your spleen right now, because you know that once the magic passes, your sweet, oversized baby will disappear underneath his hoodie for an indeterminate amount of time.

Having a middle schooler means that you have lots of toys, but no one plays with them.  But they also won’t let you get rid of them yet.  And they are unfortunately old enough that they notice when you try to sneak the toys out of the house to take to Goodwill.  Ah, how you miss the days when they didn’t have object permanence, or even those good times when you could trick them into thinking that if they couldn’t find a certain toy it was because they probably lost it, so maybe they should take better care of their stuff next time.

Having a middle schooler means that instead of dealing with diapers, field trips, potty training, preschool, and playdates, you now must face “crushes”, sex talks, friend drama, eye rolling, snarky comments, and poorly developed sarcasm skills.  You may really want to help them with this sarcasm piece since you know that you are so much better at it, but this is not advisable.

Having a middle schooler means that all important problems, questions, and/or feelings will absolutely need to be discussed at 9:30 PM, when you really thought you were crossing the finish line for the day.

Having a middle schooler means that your child will come home and tell you the things that happened at school, and you realize you have to relive all of the horrible things that happened to you in middle school.  Except now it’s worse, because it is happening to your tall-ish, constantly hungry, hoodie-clad baby.

Having a middle schooler means that you kind of want to call your mom and dad to complain, but you don’t because you’re pretty sure that they will laugh maniacally at you.

Having a middle schooler means that all of the above can happen to you in the span of one day, and just when you feel completely beaten down, you still get to be the soft place to land.

Having a middle schooler means that as bad as it seems for you, you know it’s worse for them.

Having a middle schooler means that you will need lots of Reese’s chocolate peanut butter trees.

 

 

All the books I read in my sweats in 2018

It is that time of the year again! The time of year when I tell you my honest review on all of the books that I read this year.  I have to be honest, this has been my favorite post to write every year.  Even though this is only the third year.  Whatever.  As always, the books are listed in the order that I read them, because to do otherwise would be to surrender to complete anarchy and I might as well not write anything and we all go home and go to bed, goodnight.

Unfortunately, I had a few books this year that I really disliked for one reason or another.  Usually when I don’t like a book, I abandon it after 50 pages or so.   But there were a couple that I read to the end, either hoping they would get better or too lazy to go to the library for something else, or both.  In response to this situation, I have added a poop emoji to my five-star scoring system.  Because I couldn’t warrant giving even one star.  Not even one.  Just poop.

Let me know if you have read any of these picks, and what’s on your list for next year!

Claire of the Sea Light–Edwidge Danticat ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2

Ever since I went to Haiti, I have been so interested in reading Danticat’s works (who is a Haitian-American author).  As I mentioned in my review of Breath, Eyes, Memory last year, this author excels at painting a picture of the culture that the characters inhabit, which is of great interest to me..  The story is interesting in that it introduces many different characters of different classes, and weaves their individual stories together in a way that leads back to Claire.  The story starts and ends with her, on her birthday, and the conflicting joy and pain that is present on that yearly anniversary.    However, at the end of the book I felt a little unsatisfied.  Just as I was getting to know each character, the story ended.  I felt like the opportunity for a deep dive was lost because there were so many characters who needed attention.  I did like it, and I still want to read more of Danticat’s works, as her voice is unique.

 Little Fires Everywhere–Celeste Ng ⭐️⭐️

This is the story of a mysterious single mother and her teenage daughter who move into an idyllic neighborhood, disrupting the seemingly perfect facade of a family with whom they become friends. I give this one a “meh”.  I could take it or leave it.  I know that there are many who would like this book, and there isn’t necessarily something majorly wrong with it, it’s just not my taste.  Maybe a beach read for someone who enjoys this type of fiction.

 

 

 

 

Goodbye Lupus: How a medical doctor healed herself naturally with supermarket foods — Dr. Brooke Goldner ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I read this book very early in the year and I am glad that I did!  This book is written by a doctor (yes, she is a real doctor) who was diagnosed with severe lupus in her teens.  She was on chemo and in and out of the hospital for many years.  She was able to fulfill her dream of becoming a doctor, despite suffering several mini-strokes during her residency, among other things.  She met the love of her life during her residency who happened to be a personal trainer, and they decided to get married, even though her doctors told her that she probably wouldn’t live past the age of thirty due to the severity of her illness.  She asked her fiancé to help her get in shape for their wedding, and he put her on a whole food plant based diet with tons of greens.  She had previously been a vegetarian but he had her cut out all processed foods and animal products (she described herself as a “cheesetarian” prior to that).  Several months in, she was not only looking great but her lupus markers had disappeared when she visited her doctor for routine followup and blood work.  They had stumbled upon something that actually has put her into full remission and given her excellent health.  She now has been able to help many people with a variety of autoimmune disorders (lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.) greatly improve or completely heal their conditions.  I have psoriasis (which is autoimmune) and have had a smattering of strange autoimmune things come and go over my lifetime (iritis when I was in elementary school, anti-thyroid and anti-cardiolipin antibodies when I was pregnant) and a family history of multiple sclerosis. I have always been concerned about developing psoriatic arthritis.  I decided to give her program a try.  I was already on a plant-based diet so I added the green smoothies and omega-3’s as she suggested (and tried to eliminate my cheats–tortilla chips, chocolate–still working on that!), and my psoriasis is 80% clear!  Sure, I am now the weird crunchy granola hippie that everyone likes to make fun of, and I get a few looks when I carry my huge green smoothie into work, but I don’t care.  For me, it’s better than the alternative.  If you have any kind of autoimmune disease, you may want to check it out!  She is not selling any gimmicks, just using ordinary supermarket foods.  Shout out to the Ian Cramer podcast, which is where I first learned about Dr. Goldner.  You can listen to that episode here.

Lilac Girls–Martha Hall Kelly  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This book is insanely popular for good reason.  There are so many  novels written around the events of WWII that this specific brand of historical fiction has almost become a genre unto itself.   I almost did not want to read it for this reason.  But I saw it in the library before I went on vacation, and it was a really thick book.  I love really thick books.  I feel so accomplished after reading them!  Anyhow, I am so glad I did read it.  Set within the context of Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939,  the author tells the stories of three women–a young Polish girl sent to a German concentration camp after being caught assisting the Polish underground resistance, an ambitious German doctor who ends up working in the same concentration camp, and a French socialite living in New York City who finds her own personal and professional life forever altered after the Germans move through Poland and invade France.  The story is beautifully written, each character well developed, and the weaving together of their stories is thoughtful while also appearing to be organic.  Highly recommend.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness–Michelle Alexander  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The New Jim Crow is an incredibly insightful, well researched, and important book for our time that I think should be required reading.  It discusses in great detail the evolution of civil rights in America, and argues quite effectively that we have not come as far as a society as some would like to think we have in regard to racial equality.  The author looks at the history of segregation in America, and how African Americans have gone from being sold as slaves, to experiencing segregation in the era of Jim Crow laws, to our current time where the criminal justice system perpetuates racial caste by with its disproportionate incarceration of African Americans.   She discusses how so many of our systems are set up to target and discriminate against people of color, and how the “War on Drugs” declared in the 1980’s has facilitated the mass incarceration of African Americans and the school to prison pipeline.  Eye-opening.  It reads like a text book, so though the info is excellent, it’s not a huge page turner in the way a novel would be. So while it is a must-read, do not read when drowsy.

Behind Closed Doors–B.A. Paris  💩

I don’t like to be too harsh with my criticism toward any book, because I imagine that behind every book is an author who labored to bring the story into the world.  However, with no disrespect toward the author, I really hated this book.  I’m not even sure why I finished it.  I guess I was hoping it would redeem itself toward the end with some sort of interesting twist.  (Spoiler alert–it didn’t).  The story is about a woman who unsuspectingly marries a sociopath after he swiftly works his way into her heart by showering both her and her special needs sister with affection.  The moment they say “I do”, he flips his sociopath switch on and locks her away, abuses her in various ways, and keeps her isolated from the outside world, threatening harm to her sister if she tries to tell anyone or escape.  There was absolutely no mystery or nuance in this book.  The antagonist just blurts out his motives when explaining to his wife/captive the reasons for his new behavior (He likes the smell of fear.  Eyeroll!).  He turns out to be a completely one-dimensional and predictable character.  The plot and resolution were also predictable and, at times, just too cheesy for words.  It was like one of those melodramatic movies on the Lifetime channel that you are not enjoying but also can’t look away from.  I half expected Valerie Bertinelli to jump out of the pages as the protagonist.  Thumbs down.

My Name is Lucy Barton–Elizabeth Strout  ⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is an interesting book in that it doesn’t seem to have much of a plot.  The book centers around a series of conversations between Lucy Barton and her estranged mother, who comes to visit her when Lucy is stuck in the hospital for an extended period of time.  Watching their relationship shift through these conversations within the context of her illness was interesting.  Moves kind of slow.  I give it a so-so.

 

 

 

 

The Polygamist’s Daughter–Anna LeBaron  ⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is a memoir written by Anna LeBaron, the daughter of the infamous polygamist Ervil Lebaron.  She details the horrors of her life growing up in a polygamist cult and her subsequent escape at the age of thirteen.  It is a haunting to read, but also an eye-opening look into the world of a radical Mormon cult.  Interesting factoid–Anna is related to Ruth Wariner, the author of  The Sound of Gravel, which was one of my favorite books from last year.  But they never met each other until after they both published books about their lives in the same cult!  Their fathers were brothers, and Ervil, Anna’s father, ordered the hit the lead to the subsequent murder of his brother, who was Ruth’s father.

 

This is How it Always Is –Laurie Frankel  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

THIS BOOK IS AMAZING!  This is my pick of the year!  The story is about an absolutely normal and completely endearing family with three boys.  Their youngest son, Claude, identifies as a transgender female very early in his childhood.  The story follows the family as they learn to love, accept, and navigate the complications and family dynamics that come about as Claude grows up.  This book is beautiful, funny, smart, sensitive, and I loved it.  A must read!

 

 

 

 

The Distance Between Us: A Memoir–Reyna Grande ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is a fascinating memoir about family, poverty, illegal immigration, and generational trauma.  The author, who grew up in Mexico, recounts in vivid detail the instability and poverty of her childhood.  Her father crosses the border illegally to make money so that he can build his family their dream home, promising to come back soon.  Reyna is left with her cruel and abusive extended family, sustained by the hope of her father’s promises that he will return.  When she finally does get the opportunity to cross the border into the U.S. (illegally), she faces a whole new set of challenges, a different kind of poverty, and the continuation of a painfully abusive legacy in her family.  This is a difficult yet beautifully written and timely memoir.  Required reading for our time.

 

The Alice Network –Kate Quinn  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I almost didn’t want to read this one because it was a Reese Witherspoon book pick.  No offense, Reese, but it just seemed to me like you stole that whole idea from Oprah and I’m not down with that.  Anyhow, this was again another situation in which I had nothing to read and this book was lying around, another hand-me-down from my mom.  I really liked it, so it turns out Reese has good taste and now maybe I will cautiously trust her judgement with future book recommendations.  Anyhow, The Alice Network has two story lines, the first of which is based on a true story of a network of female spies who were instrumental in providing intelligence about the Germans during WWI.  The other story line, set in England in 1947, revolves around Charley, a young woman from a wealthy and reputable family who becomes pregnant out of wedlock and is sent away to London to “take care of her little problem”.  In an act of rebellion she skips out on her “appointment” and romps around to try to find her missing cousin, Rose.  As she begins to uncover what happened to Rose, she crosses paths with Eve, one of the former members of the Alice Network.  As the truth about Rose emerges, Eve has to come to terms with her painful history as a spy in WWI.  I loved Eve’s story line from the WWI era.  Charley’s story seemed like more of a filler that served to advance Eve’s story.  Overall a good book, though I didn’t care for the Charley story line as much.

An American Marriage–Tayari Jones ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This book could be considered the fictional equivalent of The New Jim Crow, reviewed above.  A successful, professional African-American man, in the wrong place at the wrong time, is accused for a crime he did not commit and subsequently goes to prison.  His wife is left behind to deal with the emotional turmoil and loneliness left in the wake of his conviction.  Years pass, and he gets out of prison to find that not only has life has gone on without him, but he has suffered loss upon loss.  Loss of his old life, of his reputation, his friends, even the ones he thought would be most faithful.  This book is about racial injustice in America, but also about marriage, loyalty, and love.  Not an uplifting story, as you can imagine, but an important one.  Very well done.

Stay With Me–Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀  ⭐️⭐️⭐️

This book is about Akin and Yejide, a young, educated, married Nigerian couple who are very much in love.  When they have a difficult time conceiving a child, they not only suffer all of the heartbreak that comes from infertility, but they also have to deal with Akin’s meddling family, who are very invested in Akin producing an heir.  Akin gets strong-armed into taking a second wife (or, you could argue that he just needed to grow a pair and stand up to his mother), in spite of the fact that the couple had previously agreed that they would not practice polygamy, a common practice in their culture.  What ensues is a series of lies, deceptions, and tragedies.  Lots of twists, but pretty dark.  Even for me.  Stay with Me got a lot of five-star reviews on Goodreads, but I’m not sure I agree.  It wasn’t my favorite.

There There–Tommy Orange  ⭐️⭐️⭐️

I have never read a book like this before.  This is a story the revolves around multiple characters within a Native American community.  As their individual stories intersect, culminating in a tragic event at a local Powwow, the author weaves for us a bleak picture of the social and relational issues that plague this community.  This was the third book in a row of very bleak, sad, dark books that I read over the summer.  So though I appreciated the issues that the book addressed, I felt utterly depressed afterward (though I think that may have been the point of the book).  I do not recommend reading this trio of books (An American Marriage, Stay with Me, and There There) in succession as I did.  I was so bummed out at the end that I was almost ready to pick up something by Nicholas Sparks just to lighten the mood.  Luckily, I came to my senses and stopped myself.  Phew!

The Flight Attendant–Chris Bohjalian  💩

My mom read this one first and passed it along to me.  I had nothing to read one day, so I picked it up.  The time I spent reading this book– I will never get back.  If I was in prison and this is the only book that was available to read, I would rather do endless push-ups or accept solitary confinement.  In brief, this book is about a woman who is a binge-drinking alcoholic who works as a flight attendant (comforting thought!).  She wakes up one day with a dead man in her bed, but can’t remember much from the night before because she blacked out after drinking.  In an attempt at self-preservation, she flees the scene and tries to piece together what happened, while simultaneously trying to weave together a series of lies about her whereabouts that night.  I have enjoyed this author’s other works in the past, namely Midwives, which I read in 1999 and loved.  This one, not so much.

The Sacred Enneagram–Christopher L. Heuertz  ⭐️⭐️

I really wanted to like this book, since I am a little obsessed with the Enneagram. I had high hopes, based on the title and description, that this book would enhance my understanding of Enneagram principles and discuss practical application in the areas of spiritual growth and personal development.  However, I found this book really difficult to slog through (read: boring).  Usually I am fascinated by this stuff, so I am not sure if it was the organization of the book or the writing itself–it just didn’t hold my attention.  There were some gems of wisdom here and there, but the book was also really heavy on the history of the Enneagram, with lots of name dropping.  I have heard this author speak on a podcast in the past and was completely transfixed by his knowledge and depth of insight.  I think he comes off better as a speaker than as a writer.  If you are interested in the Enneagram, I suggest starting with The Road Back to You by Suzanne Stabile and Ian Cron.

Small Great ThingsJodi Picoult  ⭐️⭐️⭐️

This book that explores the subject of racial injustice and privilege in America.  This seemed to be the theme for the books I read this year, though it was unplanned.  The main character, Ruth, is an experienced labor and delivery nurse who is good at what she does and takes pride in her work.  She also happens to be the only African American in her workplace.  On a seemingly routine shift, Ruth finds herself taking care of a white supremacist and his wife, who promptly speak to her supervisor to request that she not be allowed to care for them or touch their baby for the duration of their stay.  When a tragedy ensues, Ruth finds herself facing a court trial and possible jail sentence.  I enjoyed this book.  It was well paced and kept me engaged the whole time.  Ruth is a character who is easy to sympathize with.  Interestingly, the author was able to make the white supremacist in the book very human as well.  In spite of the serious subject matter, this has a little bit more of a chick-lit feel than a literary one.   However, it was a page turner and I would recommend it if you are keen on this genre.

The Middle Place –Kelly Corrigan  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Middle Place is a smart, funny, and beautifully written memoir which is at once a tribute to the author’s beloved father, and a chronicle through her diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer in her late 30’s.  Kelly shares childhood memories and lets us in on her special relationship with her dad, who also happens to be an unfailing optimist, her biggest cheerleader, and her soft place to land.  As Kelly is in the thick of her cancer treatment, her father is diagnosed with cancer as well.  She subsequently struggles with the possibility that her father won’t always be there for her, and the strangeness of being in “the middle place”–the middle of life where she is at once a daughter and a wife/mother, a patient and a caretaker, both grieving and grasping on to joy where it presents itself.  I loved this book.  It is honest and raw, and Kelly unapologetically says all of the things that I have felt in times of pain and suffering, without any of the platitudes, cheesy advice, or false assurances.  Just her honest journey.  She is also wickedly funny with a little bit of an edge, which just made me love her more.  Highly recommend.

 Half of a Yellow Sun–Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ⭐️⭐️⭐️

This book is a very interesting historical fiction novel set in the late 1960’s in Africa during Nigeria’s Biafran war.  If you are like me, you perhaps have never heard of the State of Biafra, which was birthed in 1967 when the minority Igbo people (who were significantly outnumbered by the Hausa people) declared independence from Nigeria.  What ensued was a bloody 2.5 year war that left the country devastated and completely obliterated Biafra.  The story is set around fraternal twin sisters from a wealthy family who, for various reasons, have never been terribly close.  Olanna (the pretty one) is attached (but not married) to a University professor and Biafran revolutionary, Odenigbo.  Her twin sister Kainene (the gritty, cynical one) is involved with Richard, a white British author who moves to Nigeria to write a book.  The cast of characters seems to be held together by Ugwu, Odenigbo’s houseboy, who comes of age as the political conflict escalates and progresses through the war.  I liked this book in that it brought my attention to a time in history that I would not have known about otherwise.  The first two-thirds of the book really dragged for me, and I had trouble slogging through.  However, in the last third the pace picked up and the pieces started to come together.  Not an uplifting tale.  A few of the characters irritated me, particularly Olanna, who we were told over and over was beautiful, smart, and kind, and yet didn’t seem to have enough self-respect to leave her cheating, lying, live-in boyfriend.  Don’t get me started on that.  Really the only likable character for me was Ugwu.  Cast of characters aside, it gets 3 stars, mainly for the historical subject matter.

Sharp Objects–Gillian Flynn ⭐️⭐️

I closed out the year with this psychological thriller by Gillian Flynn.  I read Gone Girl a few years back and it blew. my. mind.   Sharp Objects was her first novel, and it was a decent escape from reality for a few days and kept me turning the pages.  It didn’t have the same kind of unexpected twists, turns, and breath holding moments like Gone Girl, and I was able to guess the ending about half-way through the book.  I have heard that the HBO series is really good, so I am a little interested in seeing that, but I give the book a “meh”.

 

 

 

So what’s on my list for next year? Here are a few I have my eye on.  Let me know what you plan to read, or any of your favorites from this year that you recommend!

Pachinko–Min Jin Lee

Educated: A memoir–Tara Westover

Becoming–Michelle Obama

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas–John Boyne

The Heart’s Invisible Furies–John Boyne

The Orphan’s Tale–Pam Jenoff

The Tattooist of Auschwitz–Heather Morris

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma–Bessel A. van der Kolk

Braving the Wilderness–Brene Brown

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith–Barbara Brown Taylor

The Boat People–Sharon Bala

Thanks to my sister who filled me in on her favorite books from last year so that I could compile some of my 2019 list. I have about 50+ books that I have gradually collected on my Goodreads “want to read” list, and I get lost in indecision every time I look at it!

Ok, your turn! Tell me your hits and misses, and happy reading in 2019!