My Goodreads Reading Challenge

I love me a good reading challenge. I raised my fabulous five surrounded by books and, so far as I can tell, I think it’s done them well. The youngest is a tender twenty years old and can figure out the letters they put into math and occasionally spouts the Greek at me across the kitchen, just to make me shiver.

The alphabet. Don’t underestimate it.

We’ve graduated from the good old days when kids had nothing better to do during the long lazy months of summer but chase chickens around the backyard, annoy ant hills with a magnifying glass, or walk with the fam two blocks south for a visit to the public library. The attraction had as much to do with the free air conditioning as it did with seeing how many borrowed books we could squeeze into our little red wagon.

Every summer, the library held a Reading Challenge for kids. And we knocked it out of the ballpark. The kids still have medals to prove it. Perhaps the idea of a reading competition feels as exciting as watching grass grow or—follow me here—a golf tournament. But as my third child would say, you are a bucket of wrong.

And there comes a time when a mom can no longer live vicariously through her children.

Have you seen my Goodreads Challenge page? It’s Fitbit for readers.

The idea is to set yourself the goal of reading “X” amount of books during the calendar year and then, as you finish each one, you post it to your list along with a review if you so choose. Not just for a summer…for an entire year!

Come here, Goodreads.

First, I had to throw a huge backlist together of my favorite books that I’d already read (possibly multiple times) and it keeps me up at night, knowing I’ve missed actual thousands of titles because I was too chicken to post the kid books. I’d love for you to think my reading list is classy and intellectual, but I love “Where the Wild Things Are” and Ezra Jack Keats and every single Nancy Drew ever written, even though Caroline Keene is a lie and our relationship has been strained at best, ever since she came clean.

After posting the backlist, I had to remember what I read last year and hurt myself trying. It’s mostly accurate. But a goal for this year? I took a step back and made the rational decision that a book a month felt healthy. I do have a full-time job writing, but after all, I’m also in a real live Book Club. If I read nothing else, I can post the dozen current books that these hip and happenin’ ladies put in my path. Right?

Sigh.

I’m supposed to be halfway through “A Million Steps” by Kurt Koontz. Instead, I’ve hidden under the covers at night and binge-read Sue Grafton. My secret goal for the Reading Challenge is to get all the way through her alphabet before the Book Club catches on to me and I get the boot.

This is how my kids got into trouble at school, reading fiction under their desk instead of their math book sitting on top. I suppose that explains my twenty-year-old, though.

I read “Migrations” by Charlotte McConaghy like a good girl, and it gutted me entirely. I don’t know if I can handle that level of emotional shipwreck every month. I mean, I’m already doing that with menopause.

Last week, I posted “F is for Fugitive” on Goodreads. I’m claiming every page. Kinsey Millhone is steady, predictable, and teaching me about my own craft. It annoyed me that she didn’t describe herself until page fourteen and then said her hair was “dark”. Dark? Like brunette? Black? Mahogany? Glints of red or blue in the direct sun? Sure, it’s good enough to use those details on the suspects, but we readers need foundational reference. If you don’t tell me, I will make it up, Kinsey!

But that’s not the kind of stuff you post on Goodreads. You have to say things like, “Delicate and fresh, very soft tannins with fruity aromas. A little vivid for my taste, but overall well balanced and smooth on the palate.”

Sigh.

I will keep my opinions to the blog and keep my enormous pile of TBR books in the little red wagon next to the bed.

It’s full of the alphabet, G through Y, with a couple of Kiplings, a secret Madeleine L’Engle, a Shel Silverstein side wall, a bottom layer of JK Rowling, a mix of CS Lewis and EB White, random Janet Evanovich numbers, and a flashlight.

What’s in your little red wagon?

Nobody Panic

I was a great parent before I had kids.

Who knew my firstborn was going to practice base jumping from our rooftop into our pool on a bike when he was ten?

Why would he eat a live grasshopper at 14 “just because”?

I didn’t know he was going to get older and try out ear expanders or self-tattoo or hitchhike to Oregon for a summer.

I just didn’t see it coming.

With the smallest peek under the stunts we knew about, there were a multitude of others we wished we didn’t know about, but in hindsight, explained a lot.

There was nothing in my Mommy Tool Kit for it, and putting the Foot down and throwing the Rule Book around and chasing him with a straight jacket was futile.

When your child is young, you have no way of knowing whether his latest stunt is a trend or a one-off. Is it something you can discipline out of him or has it been hard-wired into his brain at birth and you need to step back and watch it unfold? When do you push? When do you accept?

And where?

And why?

There was a period of about five years when I went into deep mourning over my beautiful, healthy, gifted, intelligent and talented children.

Go figure.

It had finally occurred to me that no matter what I did, they were going to be exactly who they were born to be. That the genetic and atomic lot had been cast at conception.

And that just because I did “X” and “Y” did not guarantee me a “Z”.

Principles and proverbs are not promises.

I suppose parents who have a diabetic or downs syndrome child go through this period early on. There’s a moment when it dawns on you that things are definitely not going to be what you were expecting.

And all of my kicking and screaming and denial and praying isn’t going to change it.

Thinking it was temporary is what delayed my acceptance of what is permanent, and made the pain in my heart worse than it needed to be.

I was not mourning my kids after all. I was mourning my own inadequacy.

I got one thing right: having five kids forced me to surrender words like “perfect” and “under control” and “of course I know what I’m doing”.

But it wasn’t pretty.

I could never mourn aloud, knowing that the blessings my children held far outweighed the additional things I wanted for them.

There’s no support group for “coming to your senses”.

How selfish of me, to wish my own concept of who he should be onto a person who already was.

Saying good-bye to the child I was expecting and greeting the child I have with open arms has been a long journey for me, and I’m very aware of how crazy that sounds.

He, on the other hand, has always known himself. When he wanders away from his family into a crowd, his terrified parents call him “lost”, but he himself never feels lost.

He feels okay, exactly where he is.

He is not shy, he’s thoughtful. She is not particular, she is discerning. He is not rebellious, he is trying to understand a world gone mad.

They are all deliberately going about this business of living, and teaching me to reframe my views of all of it.

I think that, if any of this perception is true, the only things actually left to me as a mother are the passing on of my concepts of knowledge and wisdom, to do with as they see fit, and as much overwhelming and, yes, frequently volcanic, love as I can aim at another human being without exploding with the volume of it.

My children know me.

I hope that as they know me better over the years, they will also accept and forgive my own “me”-ness, knowing I would never deliberately cause them pain, either, as I go about the very blundery business of living.

 

Elderflowers and Rosebuds

From the elders to you – the parents now. What we want you to know about the little ones standing shyly at your knees….

Please get us together and party. We simply can’t get enough of their company.

We watch in fascination as our genetics and smiles pass down the generations, cleverly packaged in sweet smelling skin, sparkling eyes, and fresh views.

It’s like pushing the “do over” button but we no longer feel the need to do it ourselves. Life has been crazy and we’re tired, but these little ones are so ready to go after it.

You parents are encouraging them to reach for the stars. We love that. We hope to be stars, ourselves, at some point.

Reach for us, little ones.

The littles are so innocent. We know it can’t last. But maybe, just maybe, you can let them have a childhood for just a bit longer? Once childhood is behind you, there’s no going back to this place of wonder and fearlessness and trust. We know. We tried.

Thank you for putting our mistakes behind us. You and I may have quite different views on a great many things that I used to think were very important. Now, not so much. The older I get, the fewer things are worth being dogmatic about. It will happen to you soon enough. And you will discover that the simple, beautiful, and playful parts of life are profoundly fulfilling.

And I want to share those moments with the littles.

I know there are doubts and worries in your head. I know because I went through them in my turn. You visit in the hospitals and convalescent homes and my own home and worry non-stop over germs and food and medicines and random oxygen lines that could find their way into your little’s mouth. You wonder what that smell is and whether the cleaning lady is up on my laundry and if you will make it home in time for the little’s nap.

You hold them, wriggling in your arms like the fish they are, and bribe them to stay five more minutes so I can drink them in with my eyes and soak up their babbling with my ears. And when you bring them close for a kiss or a cuddle or even a handshake, my world lights up like Christmas.

Will I still be here for Christmas?

Will this little one take in that wonder as much as I take in this one?

I do not need entertaining.

It is powerful and satisfying when this little one sits in my company and simply exists.

Many people love me, and they show it with flowers and treats and visits full of cheer.

But you.

You brought life into the room when you brought the littles to see me.

You brought my reminder that today is lovely and tomorrow is hopeful, regardless of the details.

Thank you.