Good Reads 2012 (Months 1-5)

I love to read and I love to write. Unfortunately, life often gets in the way and I don’t spend enough time on the things I love to do. I set a goal for myself around Christmastime 2011 to make sure, despite my work obligations, motherly goings-on and wifely duties, to finish reading at least one book each month throughout 2012. Additionally, I have begun brainstorming the best course of action for the summer when I have more free time to write. At bare minimum, I need a few hours a week to devote to writing query letters, posting blogs, researching, and finishing my young adult novel. I may attempt an hour a day, or chunk it into one 6-7 hour Starbucks sitting on a Sunday, depending on my husband’s flexibility. Either way, I have promised myself not to set unrealistic goals, but to carve out some time to do things that are just for me.

I am proud to say that I did complete my goal thus far. I haven’t even flipped the calendar page to June and I’ve already read five books (well, sort of… one I didn’t finish entirely. But I’ll get to that). In addition, I am happy to report that each of the books I read is in fact a book I would recommend to another reader. This is huge for me because often times, I do not get the hype surrounding books people around me seem to love, or I choose a book that seems interesting but slowly bores me to death and I end up putting down.

So, here is a rundown of my first five Good Reads of 2012:

JANUARY: By the Time You Read This I’ll Be Dead by Julie Anne Peters

PROS: Because I teach high school English, I often gravitate toward young adult fiction. I’m not even sure how I stumbled upon this book, but I could not put it down. It is a quick and easy read. I adore books written in first person and this story made me feel like I knew Daelyn Rice and understood her struggles.

CONS: I have not yet recommended it to any of my students because I believe the subject matter–an insecure teenager who has attempted suicide unsuccessfully multiple times and now consults a cyber support group to help her end her life–is quite mature and emotional.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “I’m sorry you don’t get it, Mom. Sometimes I don’t get why I do the things I do. I just know I wake up every morning and wish I was dead.”

This quote broke my heart. I think it was the first time I realized that my son may go through things in life that I can’t save him from, that I can’t prevent him from facing. But like this girl, I hope there are some people in my son’s life who will show him there is always a way out.

FEBRUARY: Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

PROS: I had been following a few mommy blogs and saw someone post a review of this book. I am not an outdoorsy person by any means, but my husband and I have often discussed that we want to make sure our son actively participates in life rather than standing on the sidelines as a spectator. I take my son for walks, we go outside in the rain to play barefoot in puddles, and I hope we make many more memories (sans spiders, I hope) in the great outdoors. This book not only encourages people to get outside, but also proves that a lack of interaction with nature can cause physical, emotional and mental trauma to a person. Louv even argues that the resurgence in mental illness is directly connected to the increase in sedentary behavior in more technologically advanced nations. A real eye-opener.

CONS: I’m not a fan of nonfiction. I admit it. I did not finish this entire book. I read quite a bit, then began skimming chapters and highlighting key points. It started to feel like a school research book because of all the statistics and percentages and citations and that’s not my style.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “Nature inspires creativity in a child by demanding visualization and the full use of the senses.”

MARCH: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

PROS: A former student recommended this book to me. If I have a student who likes to read and enjoys a book, I’m all about it. It is another young adult fiction tale with a female protagonist, but it is incredibly unique. The author intertwines the personalities, motivations, hopes and tragedies of two characters–Kate Connelly and Sean Kendrick–while describing the island of Thisby, where men ride on man-eating water horses to entertain tourists and win money. I adore the characters, setting, and plot. Even the connections the characters made with the horses, the constant imagery of the sea and the sky, and the tales of magic were intriguing. A must-read.

CONS: There really aren’t any cons to this book except my only personal issues. For some reason, it took me a few tries to really delve into this book. I firmly believe that there is a time for everything, even reading. I picked this book up in December, found the beginning to be somewhat dry, and put it down. Picked it up again in January, and put it down. In March, I was hooked. Give it time.

FAVORITE QUOTES (I have many… I loved this main character):

1. “I’m quite happy for that smile, because Dad told me once you should be grateful for the gifts that are the rarest.”

2. “It’s easy to convince men to love you… All you have to do is be a mountain they have to climb or a poem they don’t understand.”

3. “Boys,” she says, “just aren’t very good at being afraid.”

APRIL: The Night Circus by Eric Morganstern

PROS: A friend recommended this to me and I’m so so SO glad she did. This is the most descriptive, most creative work of fiction I have ever read. Two magicians (and I use that term loosely because they were so much more than that) train students to battle each other in a vague challenge surrounding a black-and-white mysterious circus that operates internationally from sundown to sunrise. The types of illusions created in this novel–ice gardens, a boat made of pages floating on a sea of ink–are ones I couldn’t have even dreamed–and I dream some strange dreams. It appeals to all the senses and pulls on the heartstrings, as well.

CONS: It may get difficult to keep the dates and characters in check because the book shifts around a lot. I actually didn’t realize the dates were going ahead in time and then back in time until I was already a little confused.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words.”

MAY: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

PROS: decided I needed a shorter, lighter read for May because I was running out of time to complete my goal of one book a month. The Old Man and the Sea is a classic, and I love classic literature. Additionally, our school approved this novella as one of the summer reading selections for freshman English students. I decided I should get ahead on the game and read it before the students.

The Old Man and the Sea is quintessential Ernest Hemingway. It’s simple. It’s straight to the point. It’s not flowery. And although it is in every way the polar opposite of The Night Circus, I still enjoyed it. It is a tale of strength, optimism, and courage. An old fisherman battles an 18-foot marlin for three days after an 84-day dry spell with no good fishing. Sounds boring, but it was a worthwhile quick read if you are able to absorb the symbolism and moral surrounding the story.

CONS: Really, if you’re not into simplicity, that’ll be the sticky point for you. There’s really no lead-up, no follow-up, no real character analysis to be done. It’s a simple tale that teaches a universal lesson. No real cons, just maybe not for everyone.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “But a man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”

There you have it! 5 books in 5 months, all of which I would recommend!

Beyond Compare

“If I’m going to sing like someone else, then I don’t need to sing at all.”
-Billie Holiday 

When you only have one child, you have no way of gauging behavior, no temperaments to compare, no clear-cut answer as to whether something this child does is the right way or the wrong way. If there is such a thing.

When I was pregnant with my son, I asked a few mothers I trusted for advice about motherhood. But more often than not, the advice I received came unsolicited from people who believed their ways were the only ways. Their forms of parenting were the best. Their ideas on nourishment, sleep patterns, and discipline were superior to others. So I quickly developed a bad taste in my mouth about it all.

Multiple people commented, “Your baby is a reflection of you and your husband.” Often, people said this to me when they met Will. They decided his good behavior, his easygoing personality, his ability to sleep through the night, his constant smiles and laughter, were somehow reflective of my husband and me. I’d love to believe it. But I’m not entirely sold.

Yes, I believe that the way we treat our children affects their senses of self-worth, their independence, and inevitably, the way they treat other people with whom they interact. However, I also firmly believe that my son teaches me quite a bit more than I teach him. And therefore, I believe his temperament and innate kindness is, for all intents and purposes, his and his alone.

One of my closest friends raised two boys. Well, they’re not raised, per se, but they’re almost teenagers, and at this point in my life, wiping your own butt and putting on your own clothes means you’re raised. When I ask her about her two boys, she tells me stories about them and how incredibly different they are—yet they were raised in the same household with the same parents.

Those of you who know my brother can attest to the fact that he is very different from me. I’m a worrier. He’s much more go with the flow. I live my life rigidly, by the rules, where he’s more… free. I tend to look at the more serious aspects of life, while he’s always cracking jokes. He marches to the beat of a different drummer. He doesn’t let people decide things for him—in that way, we’re the same. But he bottles up his anger or hurt. I let it out for the world to see. He’s quite a bit more private, and I wear my heart on my sleeve. He’s extremely athletic, and I’m a total klutz. In some ways, we’re so very different.

And we were raised in the same household with the same parents.

Know why this is? We’re individuals. Just like my son.

My friends’ boys are individuals. One is very much like her, while the other is more like his father. The younger one “was such a cuddler,” she told me. He would put his head on her shoulder and rub her back when he was just an infant. “Will’s just like that,” I answered. Then she told me the older boy was a bit more independent and rambunctious, always wanting to do his own thing. He wasn’t as affectionate as a child.

Wait. Not all babies snuggle and cuddle and hug and give open-mouthed kisses?

*cue jaw drop*

I am not the most affectionate person. But my son is a lover. He has the absolute sweetest spirit. And I don’t just say that because he’s my son. Those of you who know me know that I don’t pussyfoot around about things. If my kid was a terror, the wide world would know it. But he’s not. He’s gentle. He’s kind-hearted. And it amazes me that he can love people so deeply at just a year old.

I guess for a while, I thought that’s what all babies were like.

My husband used the video camera to record my son playing the other day, and while he played, I sat on the floor across from him. I let him play a while, then I said, “William, Mommy needs a hug” and I put my arms out. He dropped his little toy golf club and ran over to wrap his arms around me. Just like that. Dude, when I was a kid, I probably would’ve run in the other direction. But not my son. He’s a cuddler.

Tonight, he and I were playing with his toy animals, then his toy cars, then we were rolling a soccer ball back and forth. He stopped in the middle of the game and walked past me to the corner of the room. He pulled out a stuffed teddy bear we got around Christmastime for a discounted price at Toys R Us. It’s been sitting there and I’ve thought time and again that I need to give it away or throw it away. Anyway, he went into the corner and I thought he was looking for something. He grabbed the bear, leaned over, and hugged it. His head against the bear’s head, just for a minute.

 *cue heart melt*

Then he stood up again and commenced playing.

I’m a teacher by day and so I see the incredible spectrum of individual personalities in my classroom. Some students are so mature and are already planning their detailed futures at fourteen years old. Some admit that they want Sponge Bob on the weekends and blow stuff up for fun. They’re different.

My son is mine. My son is my husband’s. He has touches of both of our parents, our grandparents, and their grandparents. But he is him. He loves because he sees love, sure. But he also chooses to love. He chooses to hug. He chooses to laugh. He chooses to get right back up when he falls. He chooses to watch the birds in the sky and try really, really hard to say “bird” even though it comes out “buhhh.” He chases the dog because he chooses to. He calls me “Momma” and he calls my husband “Dada” because we taught him to, but also because he likes to call on us and he knows we’ll be there.

He’s very much a product of us, very much a product of his own. He is beyond compare.

Motherhood has taught me a lot, and I feel like this may be the biggest lesson yet. There are many things I love. There are many things my husband loves. My son may have similar interests to my husband and me like my brother and I had similar interests to our parents. And, he may have some interests all his own.

I can’t wait to see what they are.

The Best Part of a Working Mom’s Day

As working moms, we can all commiserate about deadlines, stress, messy homes, tired children, and other various aspects of our lives. But this week, I wanted to focus on the bright spots. The moments that truly make my life worth living. And they have to do with a little bit of this:

The greeting when I walk through the door, the anticipation, the running hugs, the open-mouthed kisses, the head on my shoulder. Everything my mother-in-law calls amores que matan: love that kills.

My son has that for me. And it gets me through my day. Read below and then continue reading at Liberating Working Moms.

The alarm goes off at the same time every day. If you’re like me, you hit the snooze button at the same time every day, too. That way, you start a trend of tardiness. But since I’m at work by the same time every day, can we call it on time?

Anyway, many of us working moms follow routines. We live by them. We wake a certain times, wake our kids at certain times (or, they wake us), we work specific hours, we may stop for the same coffee at Starbucks on the way (not me… coffee is icky), we probably have the same lunch hour each day (mine is at 10:30, seriously?!), we face the same co-workers, similar tasks, and then, we end our days to start them over 12 hours later. Some of us might commute, and take that time to breathe deeply and recover from a tiring workday. Some of us might hit the gym on the way home (now we’re dreaming, right?) or pick up groceries for dinner. Either way, many of us end our “working mom” days the same way: picking up kids.

My son is with my mother-in-law for eight hours a day while I work. I always feared he would have this incredibly tight bond with his Abuela and that I would be competing with her for his affection. But this week, when I experienced what I call the best part of a working mom’s day, I realized my fears have been laid to rest.

Continue reading at The Best Part of a Working Mom’s Day…