Category Archives: Life Happenings

The Lucky Spectator

I get to see some crazy, fun, incredible things each day. Life has been especially crazy lately, with lots on the schedule, lots of work to juggle, and the wildness of my little men. In the past few weeks, a few unexpected things have taken place that seem worth mentioning….to give those of you following our journey a bit of a chuckle. Enjoy! And, as always, share your own crazy adventures! I love hearing about your own excitement!

Enjoy! And, as always, share your own crazy adventures! I love hearing about your own excitement!

And, as always, share your own crazy adventures! I love hearing about your exciting lives as well!

1.) He showed Grampie how to work the DVD player, and told him it was ok if he watched Snoopy. LM1 knows very well that we don’t watch movies in the morning. But LM1 also knows to sneak into the guest bedroom to wake up Grandpa before getting Mom or Dad. And he knows that his excellent vocabulary and persuasive tone are likely to receive compliance from an innocent old man who goes by the name “Guppie” when LM1 feels like being especially cute, because he KNOWS how to say Grampie but knows how to work an angle, too.  When accosted about his actions he said, “Well, Grampie didn’t know how to work the…the… thing…(he doesn’t know that it’s called a DVD player but he knows which buttons to push) so I showed him.”

Right. Ok. Keep talkin’, kid.

2.) He peed on the ferry boat. I swear LM2 was only diaperless for thirty seconds….just before bathtime. So, we were in the bathroom, on a tile floor, and clean-up wasn’t that ridiculous.  But if we’re all being honest with ourselves, he aimed with some impressive precision, titled his (insert your own vocabulary word here) up into the plastic ferry boat and defiled it with a rainstorm of canary yellow. The small ship took the brunt of the storm. So, my floors were somewhat spared. But the boat……well…..the boat needed a little more than soap and water.

3.) He asked the mailman not to hit our mailbox. Because the mulch delivery truck did that a few weeks ago. So, in the eyes of LM1, no one else had better do it again. He’s very protective of our property, for some ridiculous reason, which is completely unknown to me. LM1 watches as trucks and cars drive by and he is just waiting for someone to knock the box and/or post over again. Maybe he thrives on action-packed afternoons? Maybe the bending of the post defied his sense of reality, and he wants it bent again. Regardless of his reasons, the shouting at our mailman comes across as a tad bit snarky. Imagine a two-year-old waving and shouting from the driveway, “Don’t hit the mailbox! Be careful! It’s right there!”
#slightlyembarassed

4.) He wiggled his little toes into the mouth of a baby. Can I first comment on this one with a raving, “Yuck!” and then say that it was hilarious after my initial disgust dissipated? LM2 was sitting in his high chair and a beautiful, gentle, curious, wonderful almost-one-year-old toddled up to the legs of the seat. Said toddler saw the toes, LM2 felt something brewing below, and the two halves came together. Do I call it curiosity on the part of both babes? Do I call it a freak accident? How could I have avoided this? I reacted in a way any mother would: I laughed my mommy butt off. #stilllaughingwhennooneislooking

And…speaking of butts….

5.) He asked why I put coupons in my butt. Well, try to get a free minute in the bathroom, Mommies. It’s no easy task. Try to hide the box of tampons. Try to sneak a moment of privacy. And then fail. When this happens, try explaining to your husband why LM1 thinks you put coupons in your butt. So far, his rationale sounds something like this: “Well, Mommy doesn’t have a penis like me and Daddy. So she needs to put coupons in there.” How do I fix this? #epicmomfail #howtoundothis? #WTF

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Real Stuff That Really Happened

Here are some new things that occurred in our day-to-day that really, completely, totally happened…and I’m not exaggerating….not really….not at all. Who can make this stuff up?

Should I get one of these for LM2? Totes.

1.) LM2 crawled into the shower with all of his clothes on. That’s two layers of onesie, fresh socks, diaper, and a cute hat I’d actually gotten to stay on his head. I was heating up the water for a group steam shower (group=party of 2, including LM1 and LM2) to clean out their boogies. LM2 was clearly ready for the shower before I was. He made it inside, got soaked, and for some reason I was scared by this scenario and jumped into the shower. This means I got all wet, too. But nobody drowned, so that was a plus.

2.) LM1 fell out of bed. He doesn’t sleep in a bed. Nor did I lay him down in a bed. Nope. In this scenario, LM1 climbed out of his crib, jumped into the guest bed, fell asleep, and then fell out a few hours later. At 11 p.m., we heard the thud, went running, and learned that he’d taken up residence in a new space. Silly parents. Didn’t we know that he would do that?

3.) LM2 threw my night guard into the toilet. So, I realize now that this is gross to begin with– but I let LM2 hold my night guard case because it makes a clinky noise and it seemed to amuse him. It was a clean night guard. I turned my head to get a hairbrush and then heard the splash. Joke’s on me. Ugh.

4.) LM1 leaned his tunnel on the couch in an attempt to create a tunnel slide. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t yet understand the idea of supports and the fact that his tunnel is made completely out of nylon. He had so much fun trying to construct the tunnel that I didn’t bother to explain the error in his thinking. I figured he would figure it out. False. What we got, instead, was a twenty minute distraction that left everyone laughing.

5.) LM2 slurped the boogies out of his nose and into his mouth, then shuddered. If this weren’t so impressive, it would be more disgusting. Nah, wait a second. It is COMPLETELY disgusting. The saddest part of this story is that I would have missed it had the boogies not been florescent green. I saw the whole thing in slow motion– his tongue feeling up for the boogs, the consideration of moving them, and then the action to follow. It was awful and hilarious. Life, it seems, is always nothing more than one big dichotomous situation, unfolding in front of my eyes.

6.) LM1 is practicing his jumps and simultaneously destroying the house. So, I was cooking dinner for this one. I was at the stove, LM2 was in a high chair munching on some Cheerios. LM1 decided now was the perfect time to work on jumping off his step stool. I told him, naturally, that removing his socks would likely avoid injury. I thought of it as a successful attempt at establishing balance and I told him to “nail the landing.” He did this. Because he is athletic and a good listener. What I failed to recognize was that this little man was jumping whilst holding a pouch of purple carrot puree. SOOOO, when I turned around, clearly after way too much time and too many jumps had passed, the counters, the floor, the step stool and his little brother were all covered in purple carrot. Shame on Mommy. I’m sure I’ll think a little harder next time before agreeing to one of his “great ideas.”

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About This American Life

This_american_lifeMy latest vice is getting an hour at the gym, spinning or crushin’ it on the elliptical machine while I listen to This American LifeIt’s a podcast you can download easily from the website, or from the podcast app on your smart phone. I heard the show on my public radio station when I was driving one day and later checked it out online.

Last week when I tuned in, the show was talking about the birds and the bees. It focused on how to talk to kids about life, death, and racism. It was fascinating and almost distracted me from my workout, which is a real win!

A real highlight for me was learning about The Sharing Placea grief support center for children in Salt Lake City, Utah. It’s a place where families can go when they need to find the words and feelings behind their grief because life has become kind of unbearable. The most common reason for this, at The Sharing Place, is when children lose a parent due to suicide.

Now, I’ve never lost someone super close to me outside of grandparents and an uncle. But those individuals lived long, wonderful lives. For that reason, dealing with the grief felt very manageable. So, I don’t have any experience or perspective on this sort of thing. The podcast explaining things I don’t really understand had me completely transfixed because in The Sharing Place children learn to articulate what happened in their lives and how they feel about it.

“My dad had a disease in his brain called depression. He decided to make his body stop working by shooting himself with a gun,” a seven-year-old said.

So, this is morbid. I know. But it was so powerful. These little kids learned slowly and painfully exactly what had happened in their lives. Then they learned how to explain their feelings between talking, sharing, reflecting, and even shouting or kicking and screaming in a space called “the volcano room.”

All I could think about was how incredible it is to give young  children the tools to recognize their feelings, to put words to them, and to say them out loud. It sounded so healthy, so healing, and so necessary.

It makes perfect sense that a place like this would exist for grief-filled children. But why can’t places like this exist for all kinds of kids with all kinds of concerns? Are there places where kids can be completely themselves, without judgement, and voice their thoughts in a safe way?

“I feel so sad and mad about what happened,” a nine-year-old girl said. “It hurts deep inside my body and I wish I could get it out.”

This podcast made me think about kids suffering from depression. It made me think about kids whose parents are working through a confusing, convoluted divorce. Or kids who don’t fit in and can’t understand why, but feel confused or sad or lost about it.

When I was in school, this was what theater camp was for. Kids went to act out their feelings and became drama nerds with the other weirdos. It was freeing and wonderful. But not everyone wants to memorize lines and pretend to be someone else when she’s hurting or confused. What if there was a Sharing Place for everyone? Would we have healthier relationships? Would we view ourselves differently after experiencing traumatic life events? Would we love each other and ourselves a little more deeply? I kind of think so…

I’ll definitely keep tuning into This American Life. It’s pretty interesting and I’m sure there’s more great reporting to come.  If you listen to the show or have other great ones to suggest, let me know! I’ll be on the elliptical, searching for something else.

 

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The Truth About Marriage

Marriage changes over time. This is no surprise, but, after adding Baby #2 to the mix, there is less time for fun as a couple, but, surprisingly, what constitutes as “fun” or a “date” has changed, too.

Here are a few new truths about marriage from my perspective. Add in your own thoughts, as always! I love to hear your take on these things.

1.) Baking sweets or pastries of any kind is an invitation for sex. My muffin top wants your sweet cinna-buns. It’s that simple. Read between the lines and let’s preheat the oven. And get the Cool-Whip out of the freezer.

2.) A shared frosty in the parking lot of Wendy’s is a date, even if it only lasts for twenty minutes after both kids fall asleep in the car.

3.) If you help to clean the house without being asked (ie-vaccuum, spray the counters, fold laundry the way like it folded, clean the pots without soaking them first (soaking is total bull, and you know it…) ) it will earn you brownie points, but it does not constitute as a gift for birthday, Mother’s Day, or otherwise. Housework is not my job; it’s our job. So you can’t “gift” it to me. But, in the way of brownie points, it will earn you baked goods.

4.) Turn-ons used to consist of sleeveless t’s and sunscreen, sweaty afternoons and a shared shower. Now, it is completely normal for turn-ons to include any or all of the following:

  • remembering to wear long sleeves so no one gets sun-burn
  • remembering the spare bottle of sunscreen and applying it on the kids before we get to the pool
  • giving your spouse as much alone time in the shower as possible
  • adherence to our family schedule, including mealtimes, nap times, bedtimes, or otherwise
  • secretly scheduling a babysitter and a night out for us
  • tossing my favorite yoga pants into the washer machine with the last load of the night so they’ll be fresh by morning
  • cleaning out any of the now disorganized, toy-filled rooms in our house
I may feel like this at the end of the day sometimes.....but my kids aren't REAL dragons....so we've got that going for us.....

I may feel like this at the end of the day sometimes…..but my kids aren’t REAL dragons….so we’ve got that going for us…..

5.) Anything you try to tell me before 10 p.m. will be forgotten, like a dream or a vision I may or may not have had and can’t tell the difference between anyway. But I love you before 10 p.m. I will do anything for you before 10 p.m. You are my favorite person in the world before 10 p.m. And, yes, you guessed it; I’m going to bed right as soon as Game of Thrones is over. That’s why I brushed my teeth before it started…

Share away! Marriage is awesome, but it certainly shifts gears a bit while the wee ones are teeny!

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Sub-Par Wins for the Week

For a mom with a new baby, until the babe starts sleeping a bit, everyday feels like a continuous loop of time, stretched over hell, through a murky bog, and up through piles of poopie diapers. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: it’s at these times, especially, that I try to find the silver lining and smile over the wins for the week. Here are a few seemingly lackluster wins that managed to make my week laughable, enjoyable, and manageable. Enjoy and share some of your own weekly wins!

1.) Both kids passed out before 1 p.m. It was Wednesday and I got both kids fed, semi-clean, and poopie-diaper-free. One diaper may have had a little pee in there, but Baby #1 was asleep already and I had to move on…

2.) The little purple buds on my iris plant popped! I’ve been waiting, unsure if the part of the yard where I planted would work out and BOOM! Flower power. Gorgeous purple has entered the yard. Andddddd….. I sprayed some non-toxic yucko crap that smells like piss everywhere so the deer won’t eat it. Fingers crossed, legs uncrossed (get the joke, ‘cuz it smells like I peed in the yard….)

3.) I found the bananas. My older son approached me with sticky hands on Tuesday and I had NO IDEA what he’d gotten into. The consistency of goo was indeterminable from touch or smell, and I did NOT want to taste it. Then he said it. “Banana.” I searched the floor, behind the couch, under the table, found the smoosh-fest and got it clean before ants found it. #WINNING #wherewerethebananasbeforehegottothem? #canheclimbmycabinets #Ineedtohidethefruitbetter

4.) My son was quiet. Plenty of you folks know I’ve had a hard time feeding Little Man #2. Even though the medication is really helping, he is nearly in month 4 of life and is SUPER distractable. I needed to nurse him and Little Man #1 was up my butt, trying to show me his super awesome, very vibrantly noisy and light-flashing motorcycle (thanks, Grandparents….). I knew that if LM1 pushed any of the noise-triggering buttons on the motorcycle, it would end our nursing session. It could take some time before LM2 wanted to settle in to nurse again. So I kept whispering….”Shhhh, your brother needs to eat! It’s quiet time now. Let’s sit nicely.” And son-of-a-gun, he listened. We got through nursing and everyone was happy. Lesson learned: I need to figure out an organized activity for LM1 during nursing time. It probably shouldn’t be anything messy and it probably shouldn’t be time with the iPad because that makes me sound like a crappy mother.

If only mine looked this good....

If only mine looked this good….

5.) It rained. When the weather is gorgeous, and I get caught up inside with laundry and general baby shenanigans, I feel SO guilty about missing the sunshine. So, when it rained this week, I didn’t mind. I caught up on a few things, read books to the kids, managed to make banana bread, and felt just fine about missing a jog with the stroller. So, I guess sometimes when it rains, you get banana bread…

Question: Did I use the smooshed bananas my son made his mess with for the banana bread?

Answer: LOOK! I added chocolate chips and apple sauce to the recipe! How snazzy……

What were your weekly wins?

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Non-Resolutions for 2016

I was watching Sunday Morning on CBS and found one story about anti-resolutions to be hilarious. The reporter basically made a list of the things he refuses to give up, instead of the things he’s resolving to change about his life. Here’s my own list of the same…..and feel free to add your own in the comments space!

1.) I will continue to dance spontaneously in the living room, bathroom, and grocery store, even if it embarrasses the people I love. It makes someone laugh, and it makes me smile (especially when Pharell comes on the radio).

2.) I will run the heater in our house higher than is necessary, because I hate being cold and love wasting money. Ok, no, I don’t love to waste money, in spite of what my hubs says/thinks. I like feeling warm and comfy– and I’m pretty sure it changes my overall mood and attitude. Yes, I wear slippers. Yes, I wear an undershirt, overshirt, and sweater. Sometimes I’ll wear a scarf in the house, too! But  68 degrees on the thermostat won’t cut it.

3.) I will buy fruit (like blackberries and strawberries, etc) when they are out of season. I will eat fruits imported from Venezuela, Guatemala, Chile, and consume whatever these things were sprayed with to preserve their shelf life for the travel to America. I need my fruits in winter….I can’t go without!

My obsession would look so much cooler if my house had shelving like this......(Read: Santa should start saving!!!)

My obsession would look so much cooler if my house had shelving like this……(Read: Santa should start saving!!!)

4.) I will continue to buy more books than I have time to read in a year’s time. I will add these unread books to my collection, which now sits in the basement, because I have no room for them on my book shelves. And they will sit there, collecting dust, but somehow making me feel smarter, merely by osmosis.

5.) I will buy over-priced gluten-free grocery items because they make me feel better about myself. I know the research shows there’s nothing “wrong” with gluten unless you actually have Celiac’s Disease, which I don’t. But I will feel better knowing that I’m consuming rice instead of wheat, and I’ll tell myself I’m taking care of my family’s nutrition by cooking with such items. Whether it’s true or not….

What are YOU doing in 2016?

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Winter of Fire

uk dancerMy little sister told my dad about a documentary on Netflix this week that sounded interesting. It was called Winter of Fire, and included a breakdown of what occurred in Ukraine from 2013-2014 with regard to the revolution and crisis situation in Kiev. Although my father never lived in Ukraine, both of his parents were born there, and my sister and I were raised by our parents’ dedicated interest in Ukrainian culture and tradition. As kids, my sister and I went to Ukrainian camp at Soyuzivka in the summer to learn the language (loose terms here), eat Ukrainian food, and take up dance classes.

My sister ventured to Ukraine a few years ago and while she didn’t get to see any of the villages where my grandparents were born, her appreciation of where we came from blossomed. She has shared her experiences with me, and we enjoy learning about our culture’s history– which is what led me to watch this documentary.

What struck us (my dad and I) about the events covered was how different it felt in documentary form, versus having following the crisis in real time through media outlets. We were all watching the news as things were unraveling, but none of it was as clear and detailed as seen in the film. You don’t really “get it” through basic news releases. Arguably, no one really “gets it” unless he/she lives a situation entirely. But it was phenomenal to see how much more tense and serious the situation became once we could understand the underpinnings of the entire revolution.

Ukraine had been waiting in anticipation for then president Viktor Yanukovych to sign an agreement to make Ukraine a part of the European Union. Doing this would plausibly help to boost economic failings that Ukraine was not able to sustain on their own. Although Russia is recognized as a federal presidential republic, Ukraine sees them as dictatorial leadership, for reasons I’m sure no one needs to explain. Ukrainian masses were hoping to become a part of Europe, in an effort to align free trade and political cooperation.

My dad commented that the saddest part of watching the standoff in Kiev was that Ukrainian police officials called the “Berkut” were a group of other Ukrainians. “That’s Ukrainians fighting and killing other Ukrainians,” he said.

He was right. But what’s fascinating is the two sides to every story. Police are, in some ways, like any other government official. They work for the government in order to feed their families, behave patriotically, or follow their hearts (probably all three, and maybe for more reasons than those). Those police were doing what they were told and many of them believe it was for the best. While I’m not one who feels violence breeds anything but more violence, there are plenty of people who have and continue to believe otherwise. Who’s to say which side was right, right off the bat?

uk revFurther, how can anyone tell who’s right in any situation? Unfortunately, it seems it took burning a city to get some clarity. Things escalated quickly and then the beautiful city was destroyed in a puff of smoke.

I really recommend watching the film. It was really moving, informative, and telling. It asks us to consider things we, perhaps, haven’t before. When it was over, I asked myself if I would have been freezing in the city streets with my fellow citizens, or if I would have been in a warm bedroom somewhere, hoping the violence would just stop. People were willing to lose their lives over this, and I wonder what I would be willing to lose my life over. Heavy stuff. Interesting stuff. Worth pondering.

Tell me if you’ve watched it! What did you think? Any other great documentaries I should check out over winter break?

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On Instincts

Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes

I was listening to Shonda Rhimes on Fresh Air last week and really enjoyed learning what she had to say. You can listen here, or check it out from the NPR app.

My mother has been a long-time lover of Shona Rhimes because she is fascinated by a woman who committed herself to writing and promised herself she’d make it, come hell or high water. I didn’t know much about Rhimes, myself, but after listening to the podcast, I can tell why she’s become successful. She seems like a no-nonsense woman who knows herself more than anything else, and that has made a huge difference for her.

I really loved when Rhimes spoke on the value of “listening to her instincts.” I more often hear the phrase “go with your gut,” but I don’t know that this phrase means exactly the same thing. Rhimes was talking about sticking to her convictions, listening only to her heart, even when it means going against the grain. While the interview did not quite make this distinction between instinct and gut reactions, Rhimes made me consider things that struck a chord for me.

Maybe I am a woman of my generation, trapped by all the same things my friends often talk about. There is just too much going on to settle my mind and try to think about what my instinctual self wants, needs, or requires in order to feel peaceful, etc. I hear this all the time: “We need time to slow down so that we can hear ourselves think!” At least, that’s why my favorite yoga instructor, Joe, seems to tout all the time. I trust Joe, too, because he has a ponytail and an indistinguishable faded tattoo on his ankle. But the more thought I have given to this, the more I think that instinct is, possibly, something completely different from having the time to clear your head and think.

I have made one decision in my life that I call completely instinctual: marrying my husband and going where ever that would lead us. There was never a doubt in my mind that he was the guy for me and that everything would somehow work out so long as I said “YES!” to loving him unconditionally. What’s possibly the most interesting part about welcoming him into my life is the great move I made to Pennsylvania. It was unexpected, life-changing, and transformative. But the most interesting part is this: I never had to think about it. My instincts knew it was the right decision and that it would always be the right decision. I didn’t have to ponder its effects or outcomes. I didn’t have to build a pro and con list. I just KNEW inside myself that it would lead to my greatest joys, and it has.

So, while I’m sure it will be beneficial to quiet my mind and give myself time to quiet all the NOISE in my life, I am curious to see where and when decisions can present themselves without the need for thought or contemplation at all. I’ve got my eyes open (or I guess my instincts) for the things that naturally fall into place because my heart knows they’re right.

I wonder what will come…

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On Being a Team Player

peace

I have been thinking about growth, development, and change recently, thanks to an interesting meditation experience I’m doing through the Chopra Center for Meditation. I’m listening to 21 days of meditative guidance that seems simple enough, given that there’s plinky-plunky music to help me relax, and Deepak Chopra’s voice– which I’m pretty sure is like listening to the Buddha bell tones, which is therapeutic for many reasons. .

I started the course because I thought a god way to relax while the baby is napping would be to try this out. As we get closer to our due date with baby #2, it’s been harder for me to stop my mind long enough to take a nap myself. Sooooo— Deepak it is, for 15 minutes a day. It’s like the Diet Coke of meditation, without the aspartame.

The particular course I’m taking asks us to consider our beliefs and how these shape who we are. To be honest, I had to dig deep to figure out some of the things in which I believe. The basics felt universal to me: (1) I believe in love (2) I believe family is the most important thing (3) I believe people are fundamentally good.

But after listing these beliefs, I felt a little let down. These beliefs didn’t seem to make me the individual the meditations are telling me I am. How these thoughts make me different from most other people, I couldn’t understand. The point of all this is to learn to know myself, and I seemed to be coming up a little short. So I dug deeper and considered recent experiences that might give me some insight into myself. That’s when I realized it: I don’t believe in being a true team player.

Let me explain….

In the very least least, if I needed to consider myself as a team player, I’d have to say I’m a poor one. I hated group projects in school because I always felt like I was going to do more work than my peers, then they would rob me of my grade. If I didn’t give my all, my grade would suffer. I liked the idea of only having to be accountable for my own work and earning what I felt I earned. As a result of this sort of thinking, in my teaching life, I don’t even ask my students to work in groups all of the time. I know that some students will hate group work and I don’t want to force them into it.

So, I had a belief, and now I needed to learn what it tells me about myself. Then, I need to consider how and why making a change could lead to my own growth.

Super. Thanks, Deepak. Not sure what this is going to accomplish….but I gave it a whirl.

teamworkNot being a good team player is SUPER LAME! How I’ve gotten by for so many years without learning the value of collaboration is stifling! What’s more is that the most important team I am a member of is my marriage. WHOA. STOP IT. WHAT?! Yes. It’s a team! And I realized that if I have been carrying around this knowledge that I am a terrible team player and that I have done nothing to change it, I may be setting myself up for disaster in other areas of my life!team for two

This led me to think about my marriage. Do I include Hubs in everything? Do I consider his point of view seriously and wholly? Do I involve him enough in the planning processes so that he is a leader in our decision making, too?

These are tough questions I’m still answering. I love driving the boat. I love being at the helm. I love taking charge and taking pride in what I’ve accomplished at the end. But maybe I will feel wonderful if I take a more collaborative approach, too. Changing who I am and how I behave is not easy— but change is growth and I want to keep growing.

What are YOUR beliefs? Do any of them surprise you?

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Why I Love Book Club

I had the most revelatory moment at my book club last week and thought to share. First off, I love my book club because I love to read and I love to talk about books. That’s obvious enough, I guess. But, that being said, it’s pretty hard for me to leave any book club night feeling disappointed. The conversation is always engaging, rife with dissent, and jovial by night’s end. I think this has a lot to do with our group leader and the delicious cookies provided, but who knows, maybe we are all just really nice people.

toibinI was so excited to attend last month’s club because we were discussing Colm Toibin’s Nora WebsterIf you’ve never read Toibin (as had been the case with me) you’d be happy to learn he’s quite the accomplished author, with awards and accolades out the wazzoo. The man was also dubbed one of Britain’s top intellectuals in 2011. If that’s not a testament to someone’s importance, I don’t know what is. The guy is smart– brilliant even. He knows his stuff and manages to entertain his readers while making a point. It’s safe to say I loved his book and immediately returned to my fav book shop, Wellington Square Bookstore, for more of his writing. (I picked up The Master.)

I was ecstatic to discuss Toibin’s genius and was shocked to discover I was one of only three women who actually liked the book (I will note that the three of us “loved” the book— so that’s pretty cool). Readers complained that the book didn’t go anywhere. They griped that events did not fuel larger plot points, the protagonist appeared unchanged over time, and the writing style was dry. I saw none of these issues in my reading of the text and found it quite lively and entertaining, poignant and significant. It told the story of Nora, a widow of two young sons, who slowly transforms into her greatest self, standing at the helm of a ship she never hoped to sail alone. For a great review, check out Jennifer Egan’s review in the NY Times here. The novel is delicately nuanced with details that struck me as meaningful, insightful, and frighteningly realistic. I was so impressed with the work I couldn’t stop praising after I’d finished.

But the revelation I mentioned earlier was not in the liking or the hating of the book. I’m often the odd man out in a crowd. I like things that folks don’t– which is probably why I can discount shop (I like the stuff everyone else disregarded long enough for it to go on mega clearance). What struck me was the judgement calls made among readers in our discussion. Many were disappointed in the character’s actions and reactions. Comments were made such as these:

  • “That’s not how a widow acts…”
  • “How could she treat her children that way?”
  • “I would never behave as Nora did! It was so unrealistic!”
  • “I kept waiting for Nora to behave like a real widow and have that breakdown we all have. Where was the breakdown? I didn’t see any of her real emotion!”

I found these comments to be completely fascinating. I asked myself things like: What is a widow supposed to act like? How is she supposed to behave? How is she supposed to treat her children? Why, if someone does not behave the way you would, does this make her actions difficult to believe?

I recognize that in a book club, these are the things that get stirred up. We are asked to examine characters as if they are real people, and come to conclusions and emote feelings about those conclusions. But what I witnessed in book club was a lot of harsh judgement calls. I felt sorry for our poor protagonist! She was getting so much heat, and for what? For grieving the loss of her husband and learning to live a new life without him. Some readers thought Nora Webster was supposed to transform into some super hero who could show us all how it’s done. Instead, Nora was a very real person with a lot of living and learning left in her. And while she didn’t handle all of that with grace, she certainly handled it with dignity, so far as I could tell.

What made me feel especially pensive following our book club was the fact that everyone’s judgments were so well-formed and well-developed. These folks knew how they felt and why they felt such ways. They had reasons and rationales and all kinds of “detailed evidence to support their claims” as we might say in a classroom setting. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, so long as it’s well supported, and this seemed to be the case at book club.

My revelation, however, was simply that we all create and hold expectations for behaviors and actions that are sometimes so set in stone that they lead us away from appreciating other components in any given scenario. Some readers seemed so blinded by the ways in which expectations were unmet that they failed to see some of the more beautiful components of the novel– and the more beautiful pieces of Nora. This made me think of the things that I haven’t liked, or the people I haven’t liked, or the situations that have made me feel bad or upset. I wondered if they were really all that bad, or if my opinions were, in fact, tainted by my expectations and judgments.

So……thank you, book club! You continue to amaze and impress with the conjuring of thought you manage at every turn. And to you book lovers out there— consider Nora Webster for your next read. She may surprised you if you’re willing to give her a chance.

 

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