Today marks the debut of a new blog series entitled,
Fascinating: A Charming and Captivating Person Who Piques Our Intellectual Curiosity by Making the World a Better and More Beautiful Place.
And today, friends, is a our lucky day (including books to give!)
Fascinating Person #1 is mother and author, Katrina Kenison. Katrina is one of my heroes. She is a wise and deliberate mother who champions living with purpose. Oh, and she can write.
Imagine my extreme delight to discover that not only is Katrina publishing a third book, but also lives in New Hampshire – I had to find her! In between Katrina’s book signings and tour, she said yes to an interview. Yes, I am very honored to have her here.
Katrina is the author of multiple books, including, MITTEN STRINGS FOR GOD: REFLECTIONS FOR MOTHERS IN A HURRY and THE GIFT OF AN ORDINARY DAY: A MOTHER’S MEMOIR.
Katrina’s most recent book, MAGICAL JOURNEY: AN APPRENTICESHIP IN CONTENTMENT recently hit #1 at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, New Hampshire.
Katrina, thanks so much for taking the time to be here today.
Your books are very, very wise. Can you tell us how you went from being an editor (with John Updike!) to an author and champion of motherhood?
I spent many years ushering other writers’ works into the world, and I loved doing it. It wasn’t until I had children, and left my job in publishing to raise them, that I began to write. And really I wrote as a way of working toward becoming the mother I aspired to be: fully present in my life, not rushing, not overscheduled, not so caught up in the “doing” of each day that I missed the simple pleasure of “being.”
Writing was a way to slow down and pay attention. It was also a way to capture the fleetingness of life while we were living it, and the more I wrote the more aware I became of the beauty of each ordinary day. Motherhood gave me my subject, the spiritual work of mothering became both my challenge and my theme, and with each book I’ve become more open, more willing to trust my readers to venture with me even into the dark places.
It must have been very rewarding to have your book, THE GIFT OF AN ORDINARY DAY be so successful and resonate with so many mothers.
I’ve been both honored and humbled by the response. When I was writing, I often wondered if anyone would read it. I feared people would say, “Why does this woman need 300 pages to work through her feelings about her kids growing up and leaving home?” So it was a great surprise to start hearing from readers, many of whom said, “I was sure I was the only one who felt this way.”
I am definitely a word-of-mouth writer. My books make their way in the world because of women who read them and then wish to pass them on to other women. To me, there’s no higher compliment than a reader who buys five or six copies to share; who says to a friend, “Here, I’m sure you’ll like this, too.” And now, with Magical Journey, I am hearing from many women who say, “I’ve been with you all the way, ever since I read Mitten Strings for God when my own children were young.” I never planned it this way, but I’ve written my way through the seasons of a mother’s life – and now there is this body of work, something to speak to a woman whether she is parenting small children, or contemplating her empty nest.
The most rewarding thing of all is realizing that these three books have cleared a space in which women feel safe sharing their own stories and their own feelings. They are popular book group books, and I think that’s because they foster a sense of connection between women. One thing I’ve learned is that even though our lives may look quite different on the outside, inside we are all more alike than different, and we have a lot to share with each other.
Why a memoir versus a “how-to” book for mothers?
I am not comfortable giving advice, or saying, “Do it my way.” And how much better it is to learn to trust our own hearts, to honor that quiet inner voice that resides in each one of us, rather than to constantly seek the wisdom of “experts.”
When I read your books, they feel very “quiet” and yet the message is very bold for this day and age. Is slowing down such a novel idea?
Slowing down can feel extremely radical. Almost counter-cultural in this fast-paced world we live in. It’s not that it’s a novel idea; I don’t think I say anything that hasn’t been said before. We all know, already, that if we race through lfe, we miss it. And yet this seems to be a lesson I need to learn over and over again. Perhaps that’s true for all of us. So we turn to the books that speak the truth we already know.
We commit to practices like yoga and meditation and walks in the woods, to keep us grounded and on the path we wish to travel. We seek friends who support us in our desire to be present. And then, moment to moment, we make our choices. Life can’t always be simple, some days are just crazy busy. But we can build in interludes of quiet, of rest, of reflection and repose. We can learn to take care of our own souls. And in doing so, in taking time to replenish our own depleted reserves, we discover we have more to offer our loved ones, too.
There is absolutely nothing to be gained by running ourselves into the ground. And so much to be gained by claiming time that is just for us, time to stretch and wonder and rest and heal.
On Motherhood: When you had children at home, was there one moment when you realized you needed to enjoy the “ordinary” or was it more of an overall gut feeling?
It was really my dear friend’s cancer diagnosis that served as a wake-up call for me. My friend once said, “My greatest wish is to wake up one morning and not have the first thought that comes into my head be the fact that I have cancer.”
Those words seared themselves into my heart. Because of course, I suddenly realized that I took for granted the very thing she wished for more than anything.
I couldn’t write about my friend’s journey in The Gift of an Ordinary Day, because she was in the midst of it as I wrote that book, but the title came directly from that realization that every day is a gift. Each morning we are lucky enough to wake up and swing our legs over the side of the bed and put our own two feet on the floor is cause for gratitude.
When my friend realized she wasn’t going to have her miracle after all, and that she wouldn’t see her daughter graduate from high school, or her children get married, or ever meet her grandchildren, I resolved to live my own life from the awareness that it could all turn on a dime.
Suddenly, even a task like folding the laundry became infused with grace, because I realized that any one of us might be next, and that life’s great tragedy is not death but the fact that we so rarely appreciate what we have until it’s taken away from us.
Did you act on that instinct right away or are many of the lessons in your books something you wish you had done but didn’t?
Awareness isn’t something that we can nail once and for all. Like gratitude, it is a practice, something we can choose to cultivate in our lives. So the answer is, I learn it, and then I forget it — over and over again.
But I keep coming back: to that choice of being present, being grateful, living in the moment, rather than regretting what’s over or worrying about what might happen next.
You strike me as a mother who never loses her patience ☺ I find it’s definitely easier to be patient when I’m less hurried and “Busy.” Did you have that experience?
Of course! I have definitely had my parenting “lows” – just ask my kids. We all lose it sometimes. Fortunately, our children are resilient, and willing to forgive our transgressions as readily as we forgive theirs. There’s a great opportunity, as parents, to model the beauty of a heartfelt apology, to use words like: “I’m sorry. I lost my temper. Let’s start again.”
Feeling overwhelmed and being impatient go hand in hand. So, yes, we have a much better shot at being the kind of parent we aspire to be when we aren’t overscheduled, when we are rested, when we have taken good care of ourselves and meet our own needs. Everyone benefits!
Many mothers (including myself) recognize the need to SLOW DOWN, but we still don’t do it. Why do you think that is?
Fear? I think it’s easy to fall victim to a nagging fear of falling behind in some great nameless, pointless race. “The race to nowhere” is a phrase that comes to mind. We set a pace and then we start running, afraid that if we jump off the treadmill, the world will just pass us by. Well, of course, I think the opposite is true. But it takes a certain amount of faith and courage to say “stop” when everyone else is saying “go.”
Did you always work part or full-time when you had children at home?
I did. I had a great job I loved, editing The Best American Short Stories series, which I did for 16 years, all through my sons’ growing up years. It was part-time and flexible and a way for me to have a steady income and a professional identity while still making motherhood my top priority.
I was incredibly lucky and I knew it.
And then, out of the blue, I lost that job, during a time of reorganizing and budget cutting at the publishers. It was devastating. But I don’t think I would have written these books if I hadn’t suddenly found myself out of work.
So now I can look back and say it was all for the best.
Would you do anything differently?
I would have worried less.
When your kids were younger, you made a conscience decision to cut out a lot (birthday parties, extravagant crafts, even TV!) How did you say no?
My husband and I were a team on this, and what we were attempting was not to say “no” so much as to create a way of life that felt good and sustainable and joyful to us. We chose to do the things that gave us true pleasure, rather than the things that everyone else was doing.
And I read enough about the negative effects of TV and media on young, developing imaginations to make that one a no-brainer. There is a wealth of information about the impact of media on children; it all made sense to me. I felt that the greatest gift I could give my children when they were young was to build protective walls around their early childhood; to give them time to play and time to get bored, time to develop their own inner resources. It was a challenge, but I knew I’d rather have my sons playing in the backyard or putting on a puppet show, then sitting in front of a computer screen or the TV.
We weren’t fundamentalist or punitive about it, we just worked hard to create a life that was rich and full without those things, knowing of course that the time would come when we wouldn’t be making those choices for them anymore.
Quote: “Ours is a society that places high value on achievement and acquisition. The subtle rewards of contemplation, quiet, and deep connection with another human being are held in low esteem…as a result, mothers are constantly pulled in two directions:”
The idea that we can have or do it all is a fallacy. I love, instead, the notion that what we have is enough. That who we are is enough. That our children are enough. That our lives are enough. The best thing we can do for our kids is figure out how to be content ourselves. For some moms that means a career outside the house. For others, it is staying home with children. And for some it’s a juggling act of both. Well, there is no one right way. There is a way that’s right for YOU. And so, again, this is where listening to your own heart comes in. I am a homebody by nature, so being home was deeply satisfying for me. I’m not saying it was better, it was just better for ME.
A note about why Katrina wrote, MAGICAL JOURNEY: An APPRENTICESHIP IN CONTENTMENT.
I began this memoir as a way to wrestle with some of my “what now?” questions as my sons Henry and Jack came of age and I left home. I missed them terribly and, even more, I missed the day-in, day-out tasks of motherhood that had given shape to my days for decades. Writing was a way for me to meet all sorts of midlife challenges – grief at the death of a dear friend, changes in my marriage, even the realization that although old dreams and roles may be outlived, new ones can be slow to take shape. My hope, of course, is that by sharing some of my story, I’m also giving voice to others’ experiences.
“No longer indispensable, no longer assured of our old carefully crafted identities, no longer beautiful in the way we were at twenty or thirty or forty, we are hungry and searching nonetheless.”
Thank you so much, Katrina! You are a beautiful and wise writer and I’ve learned so much from you.
Giveaway! Please leave a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of Katrina’s newest book, Magical Journey. Two winners announced FRIDAY morning, March 15th.
Will you share the Katrina love with me? Authors share their words through us, the readers. Word of mouth is the most effective way to help an author. Thank you!
The other day one of my children had to do the dishes. One of the duties of dishes is cleaning out the sink. It’s a gross job, after all the dishes have been rinsed and loaded, and all that’s left in the sink is the slop pooling in the dish drainer.
“Don’t forget to clean the sink,” I said. We were hurrying to get out of the house to go somewhere. We did not have extra time to talk or do anything other than hustle. Well, this child looked into the sink and said, “No! I can’t do it, Mom. I’ll do everything else, but I will not stick my hand in there.”
“It’s part of the job, now get it done,” I said as I helped tie some shoes and scurried to get the car bag packed.
Child shook her head, looked down at the sink and said, “No, I’m not doing it!” Then she turned around and folded her arms in a most resolved fashion.
Well, what do you do with that? Too often, my response depends on my mood. Which I don’t like, but there it is. Sometimes I am instantly enraged. I snap and speak louder, sometimes I order it done, sometimes I take the bait and begin arguing and negotiating. I can guarantee, the child might do it, but the situation will escalate. Then there is crying, raised voices, and hurt feelings. And it makes me feel pretty lousy when I reflect on it later.
So, there she stood, arms folded. A defiant “NO!” was right in front of me. No is actually a rare thing for my children to say. They are pretty obedient, but there are occasions like this where I think, Oh crap, now what am I supposed to do???! I decided to apply some John Rosemond parenting style (Author of two of my favorite parenting books, The Six Point Plan to Raising Happy, Healthy Children and Making the Terrible Twos Terrific.)
I decided to say nothing. We left the house and by the look on my child’s face, she was pretty sure she had gotten out of cleaning the sink. I kept thinking, please let an opportunity present itself quickly.
An teaching opportunity came that very night. (Of course it did. There is always something our children want.) We ran into our wonderful Grandma and my daughter excitedly asked, “Can I ride home with Grandma, please, please, please?” Riding home with Grandma, getting her undivided attention, and maybe a shamrock shake on the way home…well, it’s a pretty special thing! Bingo. The opportunity had come.
“Sorry,” I said. “You didn’t clean your sink.”
What followed after that was wailing, crying, begging. The worst thing I could have done was say, “Okay, go ahead but next time…” No, no, no. I had to follow-through! I wanted to say yes. Frankly, our car ride would have been much more peaceful. But I had to be strong even though she was very sincere, quite repentant, and used some very convincing bartering.
Child drove home with us, sniffling the entire way in the back seat. I did feel bad, but mostly I felt triumphant. That sounds smug. But I was happy because I had not yelled or argued. I did not hurt our relationship and she didn’t even think I was mean. What I hoped was happening was a child seeing that there is agency and there are consequences for every single choice.
What happened when we got home? She went right to the sink and cleaned it without one word from me. And the next time she had the dishes? She did the sink too. She got it and she got it quickly.
I’ve thought about this several times since it happened. Especially as our children get older, we cannot “make” them do anything. If we try to force, we are going to do damage. But there has to be consequences. Permissiveness can hurt our children just as much as being overly harsh.
But maybe, I thought, I just need to shut my yap and let the natural consequence present itself. Didn’t clean your room? Bummer. Now there isn’t movie night. You didn’t eat your dinner? That’s too bad, we made brownies for dessert. A tantrum in the supermarket? Drat. Guess we’ll just have to go sit in the car until you are done. I vow to do better.
This situation was followed up with Gregor and I watching the documentary, Buck. Oh, it’s such great stuff! Buck is what the late psychologist, Carlfred Broderick, would call a “a transitional character.” Instead of passing on the abuse he endured as a child, he rejected it.
Buck is the original Horse Whisperer, the inspiration behind the bestselling book that I must now read.
I was very taken with this whole concept. He works magic in minutes with horses, using nothing but some flags, body language, and a very soft voice. It is immediate, how this transcends to how we work with people, especially our children.
There is no bribery (it doesn’t work in any long-term scenario, he says), no manipulation, no hurting, hitting, no yelling or even the hint of a raised voice. I’m sure Buck gets frustrated and annoyed, but he always approaches from a place of humility and compassion. He’s no pushover. He’s firm and he’s strict and he means business. The horse knows it! The horse learns to follow, respect, and love the guy. Buck is teaching horses with people problems. He’s also teaching people with people problems. He sure taught me.
Buck Brannaman says, “Your horse is a mirror to your soul, and sometimes you may not like what you see
It’s like that with our children, don’t you think?
Every morning my alarm goes off at 6:33 a.m. Some days it goes off earlier so I can run around the block. Then I shower, and while getting dressed, the alarm sounds for the second time. Every morning at 6:33. I have had this alarm clock since college. Gregor hates the way it looks (very 80’s) and keeps saying we need a new sleeker one, but I look at it fondly, and think of all the days it woke me (and my roommates…sorry) up at 5:30 for a military conditioning class, a 7:00 Spanish class, 6:00 to wash my hair. Now I keep it across the room, on the dresser, so I can see the glowing lights, but can’t reach over to whack it for ten more minutes of sleep.
The alarm is not set to that annoying beep, rather, the news. It is often the only news report I get during the day. Sometimes I am barely conscious, slipping in and out of dreamland as the BBC reports on Syria, an author interview, or the latest middle east peace talks. Other times I wake immediately, curious to hear The Book of Mormon musical review, Obama’s speech on tax cuts, Mitt Romney’s latest problem, Whitney Houston. If it makes it to the weather I know we’re in trouble. The weather report means it’s 7 and the quiet napping house turns into a hullabaloo as we have to jump out of bed, shove something that’s called breakfast in our mouths, and hurry children out to the door for school. We all too often hear the weather.
Today I listened to sad news. New York Times journalist and pulitzer prize winning photographer, Anthony Shadid, 43, died as he was carried over the border into Turkey by one of his colleagues. They were out on assignment. Shadid died of an asthma attack and couldn’t be revived. Sad, that they were on their way out. Sad that is was asthma and he may have been saved had he had medical care. Sad for the world, as he wasn’t one of those celebrity-chasing paparazzi. He was brilliant, poetic, and truth-seeking. He was shot in the shoulder on one assignment, captured and abused in Libya, then later rescued by British forces. Out he went, again and again, all over the world on assignment. I love that phrase, “Out on assignment.” It’s scary business. So completely admirable.
I often dream of traveling to foreign lands to report and write a story. I even looked at an opening last month, a job posting for a foreign correspondant intern. You’d live on nothing, in a dingy apartment, reporting on the volatile mideast, staying up all night waiting the latest scoop, in fear for your life. And yet, so appealing! But I could never leave my children to do that. I’m doing the job I wanted most. For now, I can only read about others doing it for us, and subscribe to National Geographic, thanking those journalists and photographers that show me Sudan, Egypt, and France.
There are some people, I believe, who were born to do something very specific. Like Marie Curie, Einstein, Motzart, Lincoln. Most of us though, can choose to do any number of things, pulled in directions that highlight our talents, our obsessions, and especially our weaknesses.
I am reading about the butterfly effect, a scientific theory, and an oft-used fiction device. In Stephen King’s latest novel, 11/22/63, Jake goes back in time to stop the assassination of President Kennedy. But it’s incredibly difficult. The past, he says, is obdurate: stubbornly persistant, resistant to change. If he changes one thing, or if he changes the past too early, even if he thinks it’s for the good, how does that change the future? Will his good intentions actually make things worse? If President Kennedy had lived, would we have had Vietnam? How does one single person change history? We all do it.
Do you ever wonder who you are raising? Will your little toddler grow up to be the homeless man on the corner? The neurosurgeon? The lawyer? Teacher? An absent or devoted father? Mother? Artist? Will your children be depressed? Organized? Hyper? If we had better mothers and fathers, we wouldn’t need journalists covering wars. The little things really are the big things.
From Wikipedia: “In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions; where a small change at one place in a nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state. The name of the effect, coined by Edward Lorenz, is derived from the theoretical example of a hurricane’s formation being contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks before.”
Fate versus agency. What is “meant to be,” and what is completely determined by our own choices? I believe in accidents but I also believe God intervenes. But not all the time. Is anyone ever taken before it’s time for them to go?
I did not know Anthony Shadid, did not know if he was a good husband or father, but he was a great journalist and I look forward to reading his memoir that comes out next month, House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East. A great title. Home. Family. The most important stuff. NPR has a great article here.
Flap your wings, your little butterfly wings. And change the world.