7. My favorite Valentine tradition: the annual heart attack! I thought we might be getting too old for this, but we did this again last night and nope, never too old for this activity. Cut out heart, write someone nice for each person in the family, and then read them out loud. By the end, EVERYONE is smiling: Grandpa, Uncle, Dad, teenagers, and pre-teens. Even the dog got a valentine! Hang them on the wall and you’ve got a reminder that you like one another.
Reading gets me through the long month of January. Have any reading goals for 2019? I’m going to read 50 books this year (Lord willing and the river don’t rise). I’ll be keeping track in a leather journal and on Goodreads (why I keep both, I’m not sure). If you’re not on Goodreads, I highly recommend it. It’s easy to navigate and is somewhat like an accountability buddy. Once you finish one book, it sends you an email that says, Congratulations, what’s next? Me and my personality eat up this type of thing.
I’m quite pleased with the number of books I got through in January, though it’s a bit of a cheat as I started the first two in 2018, but never mind, I’m counting it. So here you go, all good books: Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. Even if you’re not writing a screenplay, this a a worthy read for any writer. And who knows, you might be so inspired you become the next Matt Damon/Ben Affleck (of Goodwill Hunting) powerhouse.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang recently won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature – a very prestigious honor! If you like well-written middle grade with a smart and problem-solving protagonist, pick this one up. It’s great!
The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Following an invitation to finish this by the end of the year in 2018, I was a little late and finished in January. I love this book. You can see it’s worn from all the years of reading, marking up, moving, and handling. If you’re interested in religion, Jesus Christ, prophets, and history (think A LOT of bloody wars), here you go. This book has power; it’s changed my life.
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King. Likely the tamest of the tame by King standards, I wanted to read a book that would teach me about suspense without giving me nightmares for twenty years (Hello, The Shining.) This is about a girl who gets lost in the New Hampshire woods for over a week. She gets bitten by a lot of black flies and as the sun sets, hears all the spooky sounds of the unknown… It was pretty good (and no nightmares.)
The Elizas by Sara Shepard (of Pretty Little Liars fame). I was looking for a psychological page turner and The Elizas showed up. Though originally turned off by the premise of a girl who can’t remember large chunks of her past due to drinking large amounts of alcohol (yawn), Shepard went in a different direction (brain tumor!? munscion syndrome!?) It was a page turner even if the ending was completely implausible 🙂
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. This is going to be made into a movie, I’m sure of it. If you like beautifully descriptive nature writing (reminiscent of the incomparable Pat Conroy) paired with love and a whodunnit mystery, here’s your book. I’m not quite finished, but I couldn’t wait to share! (Thanks for the rec, Annie!)
Dream Work by Mary Oliver. Oh Mary, I love her so. If you haven’t read the poetry of Mary Oliver, you simply must. In honor of her recent passing, I had to check this out. What a collection! A great NPR tribute HERE.
One of my favorites, “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver:
Who made the world? Who made the swan, and the black bear? Who made the grasshopper? This grasshopper, I mean- the one who has flung herself out of the grass, the one who is eating sugar out of my hand, who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down- who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes. Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away. I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
And now my friends, what ARE you going to do with your one wild and precious life? Does it include reading?
My Top 12 books include memoir, a literary thriller, middle grade, historical fiction, and even a graphic comic book (an unusual choice for me). Interestingly, only two of the twelve books were written by men.
My 2018 reading goal was 50. I made it to 40. Of the 40 books, nine were written by men, thirty-one by females. (What does this mean and does it matter? Do I need to diversify?) I keep track on Goodreads, which is super fun and a way to stay organized if you like that sort of thing. So here you go, my TOP 12:
Always looking for book recommendations so tell me your 2018 favorites! And do you have any 2019 goals? I’m determined to read more!
When it comes to parenting, by far the biggest battle and discord we have had in our home isn’t drugs, sex, or rock ‘n roll.
I love it, I hate it. I’m always on it, I’m always vowing to cut back.
Our two oldest children had a phone upon entering high school, or soon after that. It was great for communication – and it still is. I text my son every day. I texted Cope every day until she left for her mission to Taiwan (I’ve got to write about THAT!) And I tell you what, I really miss NOT TEXTING her every single day. Or maybe I just miss talking with emojis.
We’ve got lots of tech rules. We’ve had many many discussions about usage. We’re all sick of talking about it. We have a technology contract. Children hand their phones in at night, cannot have it in their rooms without permission, and know that at any time, we, as their parents can access all of their accounts (Yep, we’re fun.)
And still, by far, arguments over technology use ranks #1 over all other issues.
This summer I really began to wonder why we continue to do this to ourselves. Actually, no one is doing this to us. We are doing this to ourselves. We are putting the internet in our children’s pockets, with all its pings and dings and apps and saying – but not too much! Get real.
I greatly dislike the worry and pit in my stomach I get when I see children reading less (Brynne: I WOULD STILL READ!) I worry we are training them to be more distracted as they are drawn into snapchat and social media time sucks. I dislike that we look at a screen first thing in the morning and the last thing at night.
This summer, an epiphany: we’re not giving our ninth grader a phone.
How very revolutionary.
Response: “That’s so unfair!”
Yes, it totally is. But you see, darling, we are evolving. Getting better at this parenting gig. We will change our minds, course correct, and generally do things that are very unfair over the course of your 18 years under this roof.
Brynne, you still love me, right?
Interesting to me, she got over it very quickly. Life went on without anyone disowning us.
She has an iPod and a laptop. She has access to the internet. Thus far, she has always been able to reach us, has never been kidnapped, stuck on the side of the road, shoved in a locker, been swallowed by a whale, or any other worst-case scenario that I, as a mother, regularly envision. (Brynne: uh, NOT YET!)
With an iPod, she can text. She can borrow someone else’s phone when she’s on the road with the team. So far, it’s not been a hassle. (Brynne: uh, not for you!)
I almost caved a couple of weeks ago when Cope left her iPhone behind and we suddenly had a spare. Why not give it to our ninth grader? (Brynne: yeah, why not?) Why not? It’s paid for. For $20/month we could just pass it on down. But you know what? I don’t want my Niner to have a phone. When she asks why, I say, Because I Love You. (Brynne: insert eye roll.)
You’ve likely Googled “phone” and “addiction” (or is that just me?) (Brynne: just you, Mom.) We know they’re addictive, especially for our children’s growing, impulsive frontal lobe brains. This impulsivity has advantages, making our teens bold, creative, risk takers, out of the box thinkers. What do we do to that brain when we put the internet in their pockets? What I see? Eyes glued to screens. Fights with mom. Ugh. So over it.
Caveat: the internet is not bad. It’s great! What a genius invention. I just want to hold off a little longer, knowing full well our teens are already accessing the internet for hours, daily. But do they have to have it in their pocket?
Maybe in a few months we’ll change our minds and my 14-year-old will have a phone in her hands. Maybe I’ll feel differently in a week. Maybe the time will be right.
And parents: take heart. My Niner is not the only one without. I’m seeing the tide turn a bit, in that respect. Other parents are saying no, too. When I see this, I think – YES! And it makes me feel not quite so witchy.
SOLIDARITY is a POWERFUL thing! It has further emboldened me to say – Not Yet. And perhaps you will read this and be emboldened, too.
Bottom line: if you DO want to give your child a phone, it’s OKAY. I won’t throw rocks at your window. It’s a personal, family decision. Great! Good for you!
But also this – if you DON’T want your kid to have a phone – it’s OKAY. It’s a personal and family decision. Great! Good for you!
My girl thinks this post is lame. She would still like to have a phone. (Brynne: it’s not too late!) But I think she also understands. (meh.) And she’s still nice to me.
MUST READ HERE. “When I treat teens struggling with depression, anxiety, and ADHD, I tell them to get off their screens. In the hands of a depressed adolescent, phones can be dangerous. In my view, they are weapons. I wonder how we have gotten to the point in America where young children carry these weapons in their hands to school, soccer, parties, and even bed — and no one sees the danger?”
We don’t tend to like adversity and problems. Yesterday, these trees gave me a different perspective. The day after a wicked cold rain storm that raged through the night, I happened upon these trees sitting in cold flood water. They stood still and strong, with nary a root upturned. Missing leaves and small branches, but completely unmoved. And I thought: Strong winds and strong storms make strong trees.
My friend Kate brought us the most beautiful bouquet of flowers “just because.” Patty sent my daughter a bouquet of flowers when she got her mission call Taiwan. Such a small – but big – gesture that makes me happy every time I enter the house. Happiness tip: Send the Flowers!
Two of my girls are using matching planners from BAM, because, like their mother, they cannot survive life for one day without a physical, hand-written calendar (Google calendar is great for sharing schedules, but I also gotta write!) It makes me a bit giddy to see them planning and organizing their lives. Check.
Also: these pens with the planner. Goodness, I love them.
Wasn’t I going to post books more often? Well, here you go – 8 books I read this summer and into fall as I try to hit 50 reads for the Goodreads Reading Challenge (I’ve always loved reading challenges 🙂 )
Love and Ruin by Paula McClain: Historical fiction. McClain (The Paris Wife) writes the story of Martha Gellhorn and her infamous relationship with Ernest Hemingway. Gellhorn was one of the first and most well-known female war correspondents. RESPECT.
Where There’s Hope by Elizabeth Smart: Nonfiction, adult. I took notes upon notes reading this book. We know Smart’s kidnapping story, but here she offers more: hope moving forward. I’ve become a huge fan of this woman, watching her take control of her life and empowering women of every age. One of the most powerful stories is her father bringing Elizabeth and her little sister into his study to practice, “screaming” after a woman cornered Elizabeth in the bathroom at church (after she was returned from the kidnapping she still didn’t know how to fight back!) Elizabeth froze, not knowing what to do or react. It’s wonderful to be polite and have manners when the occasion calls for it – but do our children (esp our girls!?) know how and when to scream and bite and kick when needed? Really great book.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine: Middle grade, fiction. Take it from Paige: the movie does not do this book justice! Read the book! My girls read it over and over and over, especially when they need to curl up with an old favorite. I loved it, too.
Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin: Middle grade, fiction. Baldwin makes a lovely debut with her middle grade read about Della, the ups and downs of family and farm life, and a mother’s mental illness. Really well done! Just thinking about this book makes my mouth water and my body break out into the damp sweat of summer (that’s a compliment – Cindy brings great voice and language to this story.)
Calypso by David Sedaris: Memoir, adult. I’ve never read memoirist Sedaris before. He’s really funny, even when writing about family tragedy. He’s also extremely irreverent. Geez. You read a sentence and think did he really just write THAT? But no doubt, I get what all the fuss is about. He’s a great writer and I want to learn from him.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone Young Adult, fiction. This was my freshman daughter’s summer reading. She read it fast and said, “you should read this.” I casually picked it up and couldn’t put it back down. Real, sad, important. Justyce, a young black scholar is trying to balance two worlds – his old neighborhood and an elite prep school. It’s present-day, but he writes letters to the great Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, trying to figure out his place in a racist America. Head’s up: language.
It’s officially summer! School’s out, time to play. Yesterday was the longest day of the year. The sun was up around 4:30a.m., helping me rise and shine – along with the birds. SO MANY BIRDS singing in the morning. Now the days will start getting shorter…but never mind about that…
We have already spent many hours at our favorite summertime spot:
This one is actually a mermaid:
It took me days to get “organized” for summer. The rhythm of family life changes so much with the seasons. All the kids are home. Three of them have summer jobs. We have four drivers, two cars, many bikes. Vacations, pick-up soccer, a messier house. Hence the giant calendar and job charts now posted on the fridge. Hey, this mama doesn’t do it all.
I’m very very envious that Gregor bikes to and from work with our girl Cope every day:
In other news, I had my official book launch on June 16th at Morgan Hill Bookstore in New London, New Hampshire. SO grateful to all who came. It was surreal to see Guinevere lined up in a row. I literally felt dizzy.
And then I actually signed a book I wrote. More dizzy.
I want to say a huge ginormous THANK YOU to all of you who have purchased and have read THE UNFORGETTABLE GUINEVERE ST. CLAIR. Years of my life were spent writing, researching, editing, querying. There were many days when I wondered what the heck am I doing? Would I still be querying literary agents twenty years from now? Was this all for nothing? To say it’s a dream come true is a terrible cliche no good writer should use, but…that’s about it.
Thank you, also, for your feedback! Every time I see a review on Goodreads or Amazon, my heart skips a beat. Which leads me to another ask: if you read and enjoyed Guinevere, would you please consider leaving a review at Goodreads and Amazon? Word of mouth is the best way to get a book in someone else hands, so I hope you’ll keep talking 🙂
Some Guinevere official business:
I’ve created an “official amymakechnie.com author website” HERE. It was fun. And challenging. And frustrating. And oh yes, fun. Geez, my learning curve is slow. If you’d like to receive a monthly author newsletter, click HERE.
If you’re not already a maisymak blog subscriber, but you’d like to to be, click HERE.
That wasn’t really the last. Here’s the last: Thank you, dear friends!!!
The other day I asked one of my kids if they knew I loved and was proud of them. It was a rhetorical question, because of course – I DO AND I AM.
But the reaction? There was kindof a shrug. So I pulled over and said, “Wait a second, you DO KNOW THAT, RIGHT?”
Yeah, sure, mom.
It’s been looping inside my mind like a reel: they KNOW I love them, but do they know it’s absolutely unconditional? That NOTHING can separate the love I feel for them? No matter what?
There’s the rub: no matter what
I had a friend who told me that every morning her mom would say, “you’re so pretty.” This was absolutely well-intentioned, but when she went to college, no one said that to her every morning. Am I pretty? began to be a constant, nagging question. It began a serious struggle with worth. Would I still be loved if I weren’t pretty?
Will you still love me if I’m not skinny?
Will you still be proud of me if my best friend makes the team and I don’t?
Will you still love me if I’m attracted to my same gender?
Will youreyes always light up when I walk into a room – no matter what?
Many months ago, when one of my kids was having a hard life stretch, I realized that I really only wanted one thing. I could let go of all the awards, public acclaim, athletic talent, musical ability. The only thing I really really wanted was for my child to rise up every morning and walk out the door feeling truly and utterly loved. What we couldn’t do and overcome!
I am convinced that with this sure knowledge, that even through the hard days, there would still be happiness on the horizon. That’s it. She/He could be ugly, misshapen, failing a class, dumped from a friend group – whatever. I just wanted a child who knew who she was: a child of God. Divine. Created from love. And absolutely and unconditionally LOVED by her parents.
It’s come into sharper focus for me with these school shootings. I see myself standing outside a school, waiting for my child to come out. I can feel the desperation and panic start to rise, just imagining such a scenario. In that very moment, all I would want is for my child to come walking out the door and into my open arms. That’s it. I want them to be alive.
Alive. And running in a field together. That’s all.
I think we sometimes forget what our children need. We are so hell-bent (and I use that word intentionally) on getting them into lessons and schools and teams and social groups that I worry – do they know that without any of those things – we would still love them?
How could they know? When all of our effort, when all of our praise is focused on the accolades?
I’m not advocating false praise, or handing out a trophy every morning – that’s external, materialistic, and meaningless “stuff.” You can love your child and not like them every minute. And true love can be tough love: “you will get a summer job and pay for your own cell phone” because I love you.
I’ve just finished reading the most terrific and heartbreaking book I’ve read in a very long time: EDUCATED by Tara Westover. What she is able to overcome is one of the most inspiring stories I’ve ever read. It also makes me want to weep – Tara is fiercely unique in her ability to get out of a family that is completely dysfunctional and literally crazy. I want to think I would be her, but I doubt my own strength, especially as a sensitive, compliant child. While you read, you can’t help but hurt for all the others left behind.
Amazingly, without ever going to school, Tara studies on her own to learn trigonometry (okay, right there, I’m dead in the water) and takes the ACT, earning a 22. She studies harder and earns a 28. She’d never seen a bubble sheet before.
Remarkably, she is admitted to BYU (where she sees all sorts of heathens showing their knees and ankles 🙂 ). She eventually earns a scholarship to Cambridge (you HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK!)
A professor observes how uncomfortable she is, how she “knows” she doesn’t belong. Dr. Kerry says,
“You act like someone who is impersonating someone else…it has never occurred to you that you might have as much right to be here as anyone….You should trust Professor Steinberg. If he says you’re a scholar – ‘pure gold,’ I heard him say – then you are.”
“This is a magical place,” I said. “Everything shines here.”
“You must stop yourself from thinking like that,” Dr. Kerry said, his voice raised. “You are not fool’s gold, shining only under a particular light. Whomever you become, whatever you make yourself into, that is who you always were. It was always in you. Not in Cambridge. In you. You are gold. And returning to BYU, or even to that mountain you came from, will not change who you are. It may change how others see you, it may even change how you see yourself – even gold appears dull in some lighting – but that is an illusion. And it always was.”
So good. Pure gold.
I am sometimes heartsick to think of all the ways we mess up our kids after they come to us, as small babies, so completely perfect. For all of our good intentions, it sometimes goes horribly awry. But all is not lost. I think it’s actually very very simple. WE JUST LOVE. Tell them their beautiful – but not just on the outside. Tell them their souls are beautiful, that their hearts are kind. Tell them you’re proud of them – but not just when they excel – but also when they fail. Because failing is perhaps the greatest show of courage; they can fail and they will still be forever and unconditionally LOVED. Teach them what goodness and true love is; use words if necessary.
Our kids are in the arena. They are fighting a daily battle. They are warriors just for enduring. I don’t think we know the half of it. And they sometimes forget – because we do – that they are already golden. That gold should SHINE, not dull, by the light in our eyes.
It’s that time of the year, when many many kids are being awarded, graded, applauded. But not everyone is, are they? I don’t begrudge any of the above. Achievement is important and good for our personal growth.
But in all of our effort to make our kids “great again,” let’s not forget that they already are.
Books! Podcasts! Shows and Songs! Here’s what I’ve been loving the last three months.
First: BOOKS. Got book goals? I keep track using a notebook (and pink ball point pen) and the Goodreads Reading Challenge. Haven’t signed up? It’s free, easy, and a great way to track books.
Here’s what I’ve read (and liked!) since January:
1. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes: An inspirational kick-in-the-pants guide to what happens when you say YES to more opportunities. A bold account from a minority woman in show business, self-described introvert, writer (creator of hit shows Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal), and single mother. I went back and forth between, “I need to say yes to more,” and “This is exhausting. Can I have a nap?” But no doubt about it: Shonda Rhimes is a FORCE.
3. IQ by Joe Ide: The lovely literary agent, Zoe Sandler, sent me IQ and the follow-up, RIGHTEOUS, as she also represents Joe Ide. What I liked: A Sherlock Holmes in the hood mystery, and a needed diverse teen figure in literature. What was hard: the language. Like, it ain’t for the faint in heart. I’m kinda faint.
4. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: This one is getting all the feels, and for good reason. I’m a sucker for a great family drama, and Celeste Ng can articulate the great nuances in family life SO WELL.
6. The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn: As a huge “Rear Window” Hitchcock fan, I dove right into this psychological thriller. Does she see what she thinks she sees – or is Anna crazy? A satisfying page-turner.
7. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion: A stunning, unflinching account of Joan Didion’s husband’s death, daughter’s illness, and navigating the world without them. Sad, but heartbreakingly readable. I loved this.
9. A Deadly Wandering by Matt Richtel: Have a phone? Do your children have phones? Do they drive? Read this RIGHT NOW. So sad, so scary. DON’T TOUCH YOUR PHONE WHILE DRIVING. Your brain cannot pay attention to more than one thing at a time. Think you’re the exception? You’re not.
10. How We Die by Sherwin B. Nuland: Nuland writes that most people don’t die with “dignity.” Calm and descriptive, Dr. Nuland breaks death down from the point of view of the body. Fascinating – and also disconcerting. I kinda thought it wouldn’t happen to me. It will. I’ve been thinking about my coronary arteries a lot more.
11. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast: I DO NOT enjoy graphic novels. I LOVED this one. NYTimes Bestselling cartoonist, Roz Chast, wrote a memoir about her parents aging and dying (what’s up with my reading choices?). Honest, funny, poignant. It’s so so good. Highly recommended!
12. The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant: I’ve finally read Anita Diamant! All the girls and the cousins and the moms in my family raved about this book until I finally read. A good coming-of-age novel about a Jewish immigrant becoming a woman in 1900 America.