All the books I read in my sweats in 2019

Yes, it’s that time.  The time of the year that I tell you about all the books I read in the past year!  It’s the moooooost wonderful tiiiiiiiime of the year!  OK, maybe that’s a little “extra”, as the youths say.  But it is fun for us book nerds, yes?

I feel like I did pretty well this year in terms of book enjoyment.  In my 2018 book review, I found myself coming up short on fiction books that I had actually enjoyed that year, despite careful vetting prior to reading.  I usually try to read some non-fiction books every year too for variety and personal growth, and I did try.  Oh, did I try.  But something about the non-fiction books this year….I was unable to keep my eyes open.  Even though I really wanted to know all about the content that was in the books, I just could not stay awake while reading any of them.  I ended up with a lot of partially read non-fiction books.  I think this has more to do with my level of fatigue than with the books themselves.  Because, let me tell you, fatigue level this year (both physical and mental) was pretty “extra”, and I think we can all agree that there is a certain level of concentration required to attend to a non-fiction book for any length of time. Anyhow, maybe in 2020 I will do a better job expanding my non-fiction horizons; 2019 was almost all fiction, plus a couple of much enjoyed memoirs.

All right, let’s get to it, then.  And yes, the books you see below are presented in the order in which I read them.  Obviously.  If you are not wearing comfortable pants while reading this, go change them now, because that’s how we roll here, and you should not read books, or even read about reading books, in uncomfortable pants.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas–John Boyne ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This book was both beautiful and tragic in its simplicity.  Written from the point of view of a little boy, Bruno, who moves to a new, unfamiliar place with his family, full of curiosities but devoid of any playmates.   While exploring, Bruno meets a little boy about his age on the other side of the tall fence.  They find many similarities between them, but neither of them completely understand why each of them is on their respective side of the fence.   A very sad yet poignant book; highly recommend.

 

The Boat People–Sharon Bala ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Boat People is a compassionate look at the refugee crisis, and is thus an extremely timely and compelling work.  When Mahindan and his young son flee their home country of Sri Lanka to escape the violence of a civil war, their boat of refugees land on the shores of British Columbia.  Instead of walking out of the boat and into safety, the “boat people” find themselves in a government detention center and become subject to intense scrutiny, including accusations that they are part of a terrorist group.  As the days and months creep along in the detention center, Mahindan’s hopes for safety and freedom for himself and his son slowly crumble, culminating in his son being taken from him and placed in the foster care system.  The story is also told from the perspective of Mahindan’s lawyer, and the Canadian judge who must face her own blind spots and come to terms with her own family history as she adjudicates Mahindan’s case.

Educated: A Memoir–Tara Westover ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I heard a lot of buzz about this book before I finally picked it up and read it, and I have to say that it really did live up to the hype.  Educated is the true story of a young woman who grew up isolated from much of society.  Her father, prone to violence and conspiracy theories, was opposed to public education, so Tara did not go to school until the age of 17.  This is the story of how she overcame the abuse, brainwashing, and gaslighting of her childhood and made her way into a world that her family had demonized and denied her for her entire life.  Reads like fiction; I loved it.

Becoming–Michelle Obama ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I very much enjoyed reading this memoir from the “woman behind the man”.  In Becoming, we get to read about Michelle’s childhood, her accomplishments, and the early days of her relationship with Barak.  So much of what she writes is incredibly relatable, particularly (for me) her days as a young wife and mother trying to balance it all.  We get an interesting inside look at President Obama, who seems to be as intense and thoughtful in his private life as he is in his public life.  She is crazy smart, and I enjoyed her reading her reflections on life and her time as First Lady.  The book was very well written, with a cohesive narrative and excellent storytelling.  When I read memoirs written by famous people, I always wonder if they use a ghost writer.  It doesn’t say anywhere in the book that she did.  She is obviously extremely smart and well spoken, so I don’t doubt that she could write this book in its entirety.  I just always hear writers talk about how hard it is to write a book, so I imagine it would be even harder for someone who isn’t a writer by trade.  What do we all think?

The Great Alone–Kristen Hannah ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

My sister said she wouldn’t be my friend anymore if I didn’t like this book.  Luckily, it was a good one!  Phew.  Set in the 1970’s, Ernt Allbright moves his wife and daughter to Alaska to live off the grid.  Ernt, having recently served in the Vietnam war, is unstable and paranoid.  Leni and her mother Cora find out that learning to live with Ernt’s demons may be even harder than learning to survive in the harsh Alaskan landscape.  Well paced and suspenseful, it made for a very compelling and entertaining read.

 

 

The Heart’s Invisible Furies–John Boyne ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This was one of my favorites this year.  Set in Ireland, this is the story of Cyril Avery, born in the 1940’s to an unmarried teenage girl and adopted by a wealthy but eccentric couple.  As the story of his life unfolds, we get to watch as Cyril discovers and comes to accept his true identity.  Central to this unfolding is his friendship with rich, charismatic Julian Woodbead, who becomes a touch point for Cyril as he navigates life and comes to terms with the fact that he is homosexual.  I just could not put this down.  It was so good.  Nothing I could say by way of synopsis or praise could ever put into words the richness of this story and its complicated, affecting characters.  Read it.

The Home for Unwanted Girls–Joanna Goodman ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Set in the 1950’s in Quebec, the powerful novel is the story of a young woman, separated from her daughter at birth by the hands of her parents, who are determined to erase all evidence of their teenage daughter’s indiscretions with a poor farm boy and give her a fresh start.

Maggie’s is told that her child, Elodie, has been adopted.  In actuality, Elodie is raised by nuns in the Quebec orphanage system.  As a result of a terrible law enacted in the province, Elodie’s orphanage is converted into mental hospitals in order to continue receiving government funding, and Elodie’s living conditions go from bad to worse as overnight she is suddenly declared a mental patient.

Haunted by her loss, Maggie spends years trying to find her daughter and overcome the shame and pain of her past.  Though the story is fictional, the historical detail about the conversion of Quebec orphanages to psychiatric hospitals in the 1950’s-60’s is true.  A very good read overall, though the ending is perhaps a little unrealistic.

Behold the Dreamers–Imbolo Mbue ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Behold the Dreamers (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel by [Mbue, Imbolo]

In NYC in 2007, Jende and his wife Neni have big dreams.  Recently immigrated from Cameroon, Jende worked for years to save enough money to bring his wife and son to live with him.  While Neni attends school, Jende gets a very lucrative job as a driver for a senior executive at Lehman Brothers.  It seems that all of the pieces start to fall into place for them as Jende’s work gains him the respect and trust of his employer.  However, Jende and Neni’s hopes for a piece of the American dream start to crumble as the recession hits, with Jende’s employer at the center of a financial scandal.  Beautifully done.  Oprah was right again.

 

State of Wonder–Ann Patchett ⭐️⭐️⭐️

State of Wonder: A Novel by [Patchett, Ann]

I came away from this book with mixed feelings.  I truly enjoyed reading it.  Then after it was over, I considered the sheer unbelievability of such a tale and felt less keen to recommend it (I know it’s fiction, but really…).  It was well written, as one would expect from Ann Patchett.  The story is about a young doctor/researcher at a pharmaceutical company, Marina, who travels to the Amazon after her colleague, Anders, dies while on a work assignment. Marina’s journey into the Amazon to find out the truth about Anders’ death unearths some completely unexpected findings.  I would say that it was a good paced read that held my interest.  It’s just that when it was over, I found myself saying, “wait, what?”  If you are OK with the fact that this is a story that is in no way realistic or believable, then you will probably enjoy it for its entertainment value.

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna–Juliet Grames ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna: A Novel by [Grames, Juliet]

In a word:  Whoa.  This book was completely absorbing.  I would say this was another of my favorites this year.  It was also a nice, thick (464 pages!), sink-your-teeth-into-it-on-vacation kind of read.  The book follows the Fortuna family through five generations, starting with the birth of the main character, Stella, in the village of Calabria, Italy.  As Stella comes of age, the family immigrates to America.  Stella is a force to be reckoned with, but life as a woman within the constraints of her patriarchal, Italian family is an uphill battle.  I loved it!  

 

Pachinko–Min Jin Lee ⭐️⭐️

Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist) by [Lee, Min Jin]

I really wanted to love this one, but I just didn’t.  It started out strong, but then it just slogged along.  It was slow.  It was bleak.  And then it got sadder.  And sadder.  I have nothing against sad books, as you can see from my general reading choices.  But this one….I needed my meds adjusted after this.  I can appreciate why this book earned praise, but it just was not my favorite.  I’m not going to give you a synopsis of this one because I’m just glad it’s over and I don’t want to talk about it anymore, OK?

 

 

The Girls–Emma Cline ⭐️

The Girls: A Novel by [Cline, Emma]

Ugh, why did I finish this one?  I don’t know.  I kept hoping it would get better.  I was intrigued by the story line of a young girl from a loveless home who gets caught up with a group of older girls during the summer in the 1960’s.  The girls end up being part of a cult, with a gross skeevy guy, Russell, as the leader.   Evie is obsessed with Suzanne, an older girl who is beautiful and seems mysterious.  As she spends more and more time with “the girls” she starts to lose her grasp on reality.  The description of cult life seemed weak.  I wasn’t really sure what the whole premise of the cult was, other than the fact that Russell was the object of all the girls’ attention.  It wasn’t really clear to me what kind of dogma Russell was peddling, only that all the girls in this commune setting worshiped him in some way, and he had his choice of sexual partners.  It sounded like they didn’t bathe very often, so….yuck.  

The Last Romantics–Tara Conklin ⭐️⭐️

The Last Romantics: A Novel by [Conklin, Tara]

The first half of this novel was solidly enjoyable.  The Skinner siblings grow up mostly by themselves.  Their father dies, and their mother subsequently slips into a deep depression, not leaving her room for months on end.  They are left to fend for themselves most of the time.  This bonds them together and affects each of them in different ways, and as the story progresses, we see how this shared history shaped each of them differently.  The first part of the book where the story focuses on their childhood was quite engaging and I enjoyed it.  The second part of the novel when we see the siblings as adults…..not as good.  The character development takes a strange, unsavory turn, particularly with the main character, Fiona.  

The Only Woman in the Room–Marie Benedict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Only Woman in the Room: A Novel by [Benedict, Marie]

I enjoyed this book very much.  It is a fictional biography, based on the life of film star Hedy Lamarr, who was not only a beautiful screen siren in her day but who also possessed a brilliant mind.  Of (somewhat covert) Jewish descent in war-torn Austria, she married a wealthy and powerful munitions dealer, whose work supported the Nazis during WWII.  Her husband was controlling and abusive, and Hedy was expected to give up her acting career and any thoughts of independence to be his trophy wife.  Within this stifling environment, Hedy found herself in the company of  powerful leaders (e.g. Hitler, Mussolini) who discussed technology and war strategy in her presence during meetings and social dinners, and who obviously assumed that she had fluff for brains and could never understand such topics (science is HARD, right ladies?).  She became a self-taught scientist and used the information she learned from these encounters to develop technology for alternating radio frequencies, which allowed for remote control of torpedoes and was later used against the Nazis.  Her work also laid the groundwork for GPS and cell phone technology, as I understand it.  In reading some of the reviews on the book, it seems that some have suggested that this is a rather watered down version of Hedy’s story, and that later in life she turned into a meth-head and went the way of many troubled Hollywood stars.   The book highlights the fact that she did not receive the recognition she deserved for her inventions . In my opinion, the ending was kind of abrupt, though overall I did enjoy this book.

Where the Crawdads Sing–Delia Owens ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I snuck this last one in just before the New Year, and I’m glad I did.  The author tells us a story about Kya Clark, a girl living on the marshy shores of North Carolina.  Abandoned by her family at a young age, Kya lives a reclusive life in the marsh, fending for herself, and somehow eluding social services.  She never goes to school, but possesses a brilliant mind, and learns as much about science and nature from her natural environment as many spend a lifetime trying to learn from books.  As she comes of age, she meets a boy who teaches her to read and opens whole new worlds for her–one of books and words, and the other of love and connection with another human being, something she had never experienced to that point.  I loved it.  The writing was beautiful, the story compelling, and I blew through it in about 4 days.

So that’s it for this year!  Tell me what you read and what you loved!  Give me your suggestions for this year!  So far I have nothing specific in my roster, so I would love to hear what you have enjoyed.  Happy reading in 2020!

 

 

Dirty laundry

I do not know where it all comes from.

It is voluminous.  It is continuous.  It appears to be contagious, multiplying seemingly out of nowhere, like Gremlins.  It is completely out of proportion for four people.  I had everything completely caught up on Monday night, I swear.  And when I say completely, I mean that everything had been washed, dried, folded, and put away.  That last part is usually where the process stalls, as everyone seems to have no problem with coming downstairs to grab a pair of underwear out of the folded laundry basket sitting in the living room, not bothering to take the rest of their pile with them.  Anyhow, it was all put away, and the only thing left in my laundry chute was one little hand towel.  I felt so accomplished, like I had conquered the world!  Or at least my small corner of it.  And yet, a mere 5 days later, on a Saturday morning, it is back.  All of it.  And it brought friends, I think.

IMG_0256

Some of this is understandable.  My husband and I are very active, so we each have sweaty workout clothes that go in the wash nearly every day.  I always have a big pile of pajamas in my folding pile, due to the fact that I have developed these lovely middle age night sweats that soak me right through and often require one or occasionally two changes of clothes in the middle of the night.  And I have an 11 year old daughter who just joined the swim team, thereby creating a weekly influx of towels and swimsuits.  Oh, and also because– she is frigging lazy.  There is no way that all of the clothes she throws down the laundry chute are dirty.  My frequent requests that she clean up the floor of her room have backfired.  The floor of her room is now in my laundry room, in the never-ending pile.  Mount Washmore…and more…. and more…and more….

IMG_0255

Sometimes, doing the laundry results in some serious questions.  For instance, if I am doing four days’ worth of laundry and one parent has 4 pairs of underwear, and the other parent has 5 pairs of underwear, why does one child have 9 pairs of underwear, and the other child has one pair of underwear?  Solve for x. One pair.  I have obviously failed as a parent.  Also, why do we say a “pair” of underwear?  It is not really a pair, like a pair of socks.  It is not two items, it is one item.  I only wear one at a time. Maybe the person with 9 pairs of underwear in their pile is wearing two at a time?  The child with only one pair of underwear in their pile clearly has taken the concept of wearing one pair of underwear at a time a little too far.

I cry uncle.  My head is hung in defeat.  If I let it go, close the laundry room door and ignore it, it will just be worse tomorrow.  But the last thing I want to do on my Saturday is wash, dry, fold, repeat.

And such is life, yes?  Wake, work, eat, do all the things.  Exercise.  Drink your water. Cook healthy meals that people complain about eating.  Clean up.  Weed the stupid garden.  Answer all the emails.  Sign all the school papers (a part-time job in and of itself!).  Drive your kids here there and everywhere.  Help with homework.  Do “self care” (because a 15 minute bubble bath or 10 minutes of deep breathing is apparently supposed to refresh me after 15 hours of responding to peoples’ needs).  Sleep.  Wake up to another pile of……sheets.  Wash, dry, fold, repeat.

Again, I cry uncle.  Life seems to be piling up faster than I can keep up with.  I am working on gratitude, because Oprah said that developing a gratitude practice changed her life.  BUT.  Oprah has people to change her sheets and cook her meals and take care of her house and tell her what clothes are fashionable and DO HER LAUNDRY, so I think that probably frees up some time for her to perfect her gratitude practice.

Speaking of gratitude, why does this always have to be the key to a joyful, fulfilling life? Why can’t the key be chocolate? If that were the case, I would be the freaking Dalai Lama. And all of you would line up to have me autograph your copy of my NYT bestseller, “The Wisdom of the Peanut Butter Cup”.

Sometimes I try to talk about these things with other moms when I’m out and about, airing my figurative dirty laundry.  Just a little toe out to test the water.  It used to work when my kids were younger.  There seems to be this camaraderie among young moms that I am really missing with older kids.  There is something so universal about the trials of having little kids.  They poop up the backs of their onesies, they have separation anxiety, they won’t take a bottle at day care, they refuse to potty train.  We used to speak of these things easily on park benches, in grocery lines, and while pushing swings.    It was sort of like getting a little sneaky look at the height of someone else’s laundry pile, and feeling less alone because everyone else is buried also.  It’s harder to hide when you have little kids, because your clothes don’t match and you wear two different shoes to work and your child screams through the aisles of the store and then spits up on you at checkout.

I have no interest in hiding.  I am trying to find my people, those moms that love their kids like crazy and don’t want to miss any of their things BUT ALSO would rather be at home doing nothing.  Kind of like how you want your baby to lie down and sleep but once he is sleeping you miss the baby and want to go pick him up?  Remember that ambivalence?  Does anyone else still have theirs?  I will test the waters by saying things like, “It’s crazy, right?  This time of life?  I feel like I’m spread as thin as I was when they were babies, except I sleep through the night”.  I need to hear that someone else can’t keep up with their pile.  I’m desperate for the swing-pushing camaraderie, but not with someone who is keeping up with their pile of sheets.  I needs someone who is knee-deep in sheets.  Within 10 seconds I can tell if I have chosen the wrong person for this experiment, by the furrow of the brow, the look in the eye.  A look of confusion–“Oh, I’m loving it!  I love watching all the soccer games and music concerts and recitals and cheering them on and seeing them become their own little people!”  Oh yes, me too, that’s actually what I meant.  It’s sooooo fun.  Not like I’m not sitting here in the bleachers at 7:30 pm in my scrubs, haven’t been home since 7 am, haven’t eaten since 1 pm, haven’t seen my husband since 2005.  It’s fun!  Every day a new adventure.  What time will I get home tonight?  Will I eat dinner or not?  Will I be able to stand up long enough to shower before I collapse?  Who knows?  Every day is something new!

It’s all fine.  I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet.  I will just fold it and put it away.  Because, laundry pile.

 

Girl drama

My daughter is going into 6th grade this year, which means I will have two—TWO—kids in middle school at the same time.  What a fabulous time to be alive.  I’m putting my therapist is on speed dial.

I remember being that age and how hard it was.  Everything is changing, and it’s scary, embarrassing, confusing, exciting,  weird, all of it.  It is all of the emotions all of the time.  It is angst.  It is change—good and not so good; physical, emotional, circumstantial, social.  Side note:  my mom talked with us very openly about puberty changes from a young age, so though I was mortified by what was happening to my body, I wasn’t surprised.  My mom used to always say, “You’re developing“.  Over and over, I kept hearing that I was developing.  God, I hated that word.  I still do—there’s just something about it, the way it sounds in my ears.  Probably because of the subject matter attached to it.  I guess it’s better than blossoming, or flourishing.  Blech.  I have trouble even using it in other contexts, like a developing news story a developing idea, a developing country.  Anyhow, I think I have mostly been using the words “growing” and “changing” in our little girl talks, but my girl has made it clear that she DOES NOT WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT.   She does this by covering her ears and running away, or sliding down in her chair and escaping under the kitchen table at any mention of the subject.  It’s going well.

Side note number two: Why isn’t anyone around me telling me about what’s happening to my 40-something year old body?  It’s equally weird and alarming. I think I’m developing again.  Or maybe un-developing.  Something like that.

Anyhow, as a parent, I knew that once we crossed the middle school threshold that we were in for a bumpy ride.  I was ready for the fact that there would be girl drama.  We girls know all about it, unfortunately.  What I wasn’t prepared for was that it would start so much earlier than I was anticipating.

Right around the middle of the school year in fifth grade, it began.  Tears as she ran off the bus, telling me about how this friend did that, and then that friend told the other friend about it, and on and on, round and round.  The players changed almost every week; I could hardly keep up.  My emotions would flare as she recounted the details, and I wanted to just go over there and give those girls a piece of my mind….

But wait—she was telling me things that did not compute in my brain.  These interactions were happening with her little group of sweet girls that she had been friends with since early elementary.  I have known them all for years.  They come to my house for sleepovers, birthday parties, and playdates.  They wave happily to me in the hallway whenever I happen to be at school.  I love them.

And yet, she is telling me that sweet little so-and so, who I would have thought could never hurt a fly, is pulling these power plays at school.  Or sometimes it’s not that so-and-so, it’s some other what’s-her-name, and I’m just….horrified. Confused.  Starting to relive my own repressed middle school trauma.  I started to check myself (before I wrecked myself, ’cause I’m bad for your health, I come real stealth, dropping bombs on your moms…).  Sorry Ice Cube, I’ll stop now.

I coach Girls on the Run every spring, and I had an opportunity to watch these situations play out first hand.  It was awful.  These girls that I have coached for years suddenly seemed to have zero interest in participating in the running and character building activities, choosing instead to dissociate themselves from the girls not in their social group and divert their attention to whatever social drama had been playing out during the rest of the school day.  I started to see patterns—one girl showing up as the leader of the pack and the others following.  I didn’t know what to do.  Was I supposed to do something?  Would that even interrupt this emerging (developing!) social order?

So I did what I always do.  I bought a book.  A very brilliant book called Queen Bees and Wannabees by Rosalind Wiseman.  Anyone who remembers the movie Mean Girls from 2004 might be interested to know that the movie was based on this book.  With great insight, the author details the sophisticated nature of cliques that emerge (develop!) during the teen and preteen years, with girls falling into very predictable roles:

The Queen Bee:  As the name suggests, the Queen Bee is the leader of the pack.  The popular one. Not only do the other girls follow her, the Queen continually exerts her power over the other girls to maintain her status and keep the others in line.

The Sidekick:  The second in command and the Queen’s loyal subject.  Though she is the Queen’s bestie, she does not have quite as much power as the Queen, and is still subject to the Queen’s authority.  However, together the Queen and the Sidekick appear to rule the social world.

The Banker:  This girl is a clever one.  She manipulates other girls in a way that gets them to confide in her, and then she uses that information in order to strengthen her own social status and embarrass, cause conflict, or kick other girls down the popularity totem pole.

The Floater:  She seems to be friends with everyone, often floating around to several social groups.  Floaters tend not to engage in the power plays going on in a particular group, but they are well-liked, confident, nice to everyone, and sometimes will stand up to the Queen Bee if needed.

The Torn Bystander:  As the name indicates, this girl wants the social status afforded to her by being in the clique and in the Queen’s good graces, but at the same time has internal conflict about doing the right thing.  She will often get caught in the middle of conflict but is too scared to stand up to the Queen, choosing instead to try to accommodate everyone and try to get everyone to get along.

The Pleaser/Wannabee/Messenger:  Wiseman says that most every girl will fall into this role at some point.  Sometimes she’s in the clique, and sometimes she’s not.  The Queen and the Sidekick will often use her in their power plays, getting her to do things like spread gossip.  She is ever loyal to the Queen in an effort to remain in the clique, but she is easily dropped from the social group, which keeps her motivated to do things that will maintain her social status.

The Target:  The one chosen by the queen to be mocked, excluded, and set up to be the victim.  Targets outside of the clique are what the group considers to be “losers”.  They are the Marty McFlys (McFlies?  McFly’s?  Grammar girl, help me!), the Ronald Millers (oh Patrick Dempsey, you were so super cute in the 80’s!), and the Napoleon Dynamites of the social order.  Targets can also be a girl inside of the clique if it is felt that she needs to be knocked down a peg.

As I read Wiseman’s theory about teenage social order and the different roles that girls play within it, I started to see my daughter’s world with new eyes. The next GOTR practice, I watched.  I saw it.  It was painful.  I began to see who was who.  As tearful stories continued to come home from school, I was able to see them through a different lens. And I started to wonder:

“Where do these girls learn this stuff??”  Not from me.  I hardly even have any friends, let alone enough to form this kind of a complicated social structure.  I also wondered, “What is my daughter’s role in her social group, and what is she doing to others to maintain it?”  She can’t be innocent.  Can’t be.  If all of these not-so-little girls that I have watched grow up are capable of these things, surely so is she.  I mean, she is a delightful cherub and all, but still.

My next questions are:  What do I do??  Can I stop this cycle that has been going on in the world of middle and high school girls since the beginning of time?  How do I know what is really going on when I only hear one side of the story?  When do I intervene, and how?  How do I help her?  What do I say?

I don’t know any of it.  I’m only part way through the book because I started reading it in May, which is the worst time of year to try to read a book because of all the end of school year activities, and then I got distracted by another book.  I am sure that there is no easy answer though.  If there were it wouldn’t keep happening, because none of us want our girls to endure such things.

What I do know is something that I could have never known when it was happening to me.  It is all motivated by fear.  Fear of being an outcast, not fitting in, being ostracized, not having anyone to sit with at lunch or hang out with on the weekends.  Fear of sticking out.  Fear of being different.  Fear of setting boundaries.  Fear of what will happen to their own social status if they stick up for someone else.  Fear of the next move in this crazy chess game disguised as a popularity contest.

I can’t make that fear go away.  The desire for belonging and acceptance in a peer group is a developmental need in this age group, just as urgent as the need for parental connection during infancy and, later, the need for exploration, autonomy, and mastering new skills.

If I hadn’t known them since kindergarten, it would be easy for me to dehumanize these girls and say things like, “Never mind her, she is a b*tch and you should stay away from her”.  But remember, we are talking about sweet little so-and-so or adorable what’s-her-face, girls that I know and love and care about.  So I can’t say that, nor should I.  That’s someone else’s little girl and, just like I would want another parent to be able to see the sweet kid behind the newly estrogenized creature that is my daughter were she to do something mean, I have to try to do the same for her friends, enemies, and frenemies.  As to how successfully I am carrying this out, all I can say is that I’m trying.

A parting thought, from the wise Glennon Doyle (you guys all know she is my favorite):

“Horseshoes are better than circles.  Leave space.  Always leave space.  Horseshoes of friends > circles of friends.  Life can be lonely.  Stand in horseshoes.

I think it can take years for us to unlearn the social hierarchy we find ourselves caught up in during our teen years.   I think some people never unlearn it, and continue to create drama and circles, gossip and outcasts.  If I am to be honest, I think that one of the reasons that I self-identify as an introverted, slightly awkward, party-averse kind of gal is because of some of my own baggage that I carry from growing up and coming of age.  I can tell you that I am all of those things about myself and it protectively excludes me from being subject to any pecking order that some person or group may try to impose on me.

But I like the idea of horseshoes instead of circles, and I am trying to teach this concept to my daughter.  I would join a horseshoe. Maybe not if it was a big horseshoe party because, you know, baby steps.

I don’t know if hearing this message from me will be as powerful as the need to fit in within her peer group, but it’s worth a try.  And maybe, just maybe, if we all do it, do you think it is possible for us to raise a kinder, more inclusive generation of girls?

Maybe. Maybe not. But I’m going to try.

 

 

 

 

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 disciplining 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.

 

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.