When I was a kid, I loved book reports. Reading a book and getting to tell someone all about it was my jam. So that's why my goal for 2019 is to read one book a month and tell you all about it. I hope my nerdosity helps you find a great book to read, or simply take something useful away from one of my posts.
I knew something had to change when my six-year-old told me she didn't want to be a mommy "because it looks like too much work."
When I heard about How to Be a Happier Parent by KJ Dell'Antonia, the former editor of the New York Times Motherlode blog, I was like, "Yes, please!"
It's not that I'm an unhappy parent. I love being a mom. It's just that there's so much of it all the time. If I don't occasionally take a step back, I find myself doing more nagging than hugging, and I reach the end of the day wondering where the joy went. And according to my daughter's comment, I don't get to have grandchildren unless I can make motherhood look a bit more joyful.
I generally avoid reading parenting books, and when I do read them, I take them with a healthy dose of skepticism. I once read a book that said I should repeat all my toddler's words back to him like a caveman. And then there's the sleep chapter in What to Expect the First Year, which will make you want to set the book on fire and throw it in front of a speeding UPS truck.
How to Be a Happier Parent was the most helpful, empathetic, and accessible parenting book I have ever read.
Why? Two reasons.
First, her content and delivery are phenomenal. This is not a researcher talking about lab rats. This is a real mom in the real world. She comes from a compassionate, nonjudgmental place. And she's one of those skilled writers who makes it look easy.
Her examples are self-deprecating and authentic. Example: "This morning two of my children argued for ten minutes over whether their school was closed for Rosh Hashanah in 2015." My children tend to fight over pieces of garbage they find in the backseat, but I still relate to this example and love her for sharing it.
Second, she gets us. Rather than hitting us over the head with statistics and impossibly complex action items, she gives us the problem and follows it with a handful of solutions. Then we get to pick the solution that works best for us.
KJ starts the book by giving us Ten Mantras for Happier Parents. I LOVE THESE SO MUCH I have to share them with you:
1. What you want now isn't always what you want later
Taking the easy way out now means your kids won't have the stuff they need to be functional or happy adults. (i.e. Make them put their own dishes in the dishwasher.)
2. There is nothing wrong
"Fundamentally, nearly always, things are still okay." Even when you're surrounded by squabbles, unfolded laundry, and that damn norovirus.
3. People, including children - especially children - change
Let your kids change and grow; don't assume they will stay lazy, messy, stubborn, picky, obsessed with hornets (that last one might be particular to my child).
4. You don't have to go in there
This is my favorite. This is life-changing: I don't have to be infected by my family's moods. I can just...not go in there.
5. If you see something, don't always say something
This is another big one for me. I don't have to intervene in every squabble or make a thing out of every single item left on the floor.
6. You do you
I know my limits and I know what will work for my family. Some people are campers. We are not. Some people take pictures of their babies with adorable signs announcing how many months old they are. I was lucky if I even knew how many months old my second baby was. And that's OK. I don't have to be exactly as energetic, productive, and sociable as the most energetic, productive, or sociable mom in my Instagram feed. I gotta be me.
7. You can be happy when your children aren't
"Sympathy and empathy don't have to mean that our worlds come crashing down around us when that's how it feels to our kids." In fact, it's way better for our children when we can stay calm in the midst of their perceived crises.
8. Decide what to do, then do it
As a mom, I don't have to make that many decisions. Just about two million per day. It helps to remember that most of these decisions are not life-altering. Just decide, then stick to it, and move on to the next decision, which will be coming up in one and a half seconds.
9. You don't have to get it right every time
It's the intention and the effort that matter. "You will bring the wrong child to the dentist, you will buy dinner from a vending machine, and you will realize that there isn't always a "right" choice anyway."
10. Soak up the good
Our brains want to remember the negative, in order to protect us in the future. But we don't have mammoths lurking outside our cave doors anymore, so we have to train our brains to soak up the good.
I try to ask myself, "What is good in this situation?" when I need a mental reset. And there's always an answer to this question. Except during homework time. Homework time can suck it.
Speaking of homework, that's one of the issues KJ delves into later in the book. My next post will cover her tips for being a happier parents while dealing with things like homework, sibling squabbles, screen time, discipline, and meal time.
Please share which mantra blew your mind the most!
Unless you've been living under a rock or walking around with a blindfold on, you've probably heard of Bird Box. The movie stars Sandra Bullock, has already spawned its own social media challenge, and, according to Netflix, was viewed by 45 million subscribers in seven days.
If you know me well, you know it takes me about six years to catch on to cultural trends. I watched the final season of The Sopranos on an old DVD that I checked out from the library years after that famous diner scene aired. I made everyone talk about Sons of Anarchy with me well past the point where anyone else was interested (like, two weeks ago).
So I'm kind of surprised that I'm one of the 45 million Netflix subscribers who's seen Bird Box - especially considering my general avoidance of horror movies. (They're like donuts: easy to consume but they haunt me for days.)
I guess I wanted to find out what all the hullabaloo was about. And what, exactly, a bird box is. So please enjoy my almost-spoiler-free and completely unsolicited review of Bird Box. Side note: Why do movie reviews always start with a lengthy synopsis of the plot? I just want to know if the movie's worth my time. If you want a lengthy synopsis of the plot go read The New Yorker's review. (Spoiler alert: they hate everything.)
As for me, I really liked it! Maybe I had low expectations and was kind of doing my "if everyone likes it, I bet it's dumb" snobbery. But I thoroughly enjoyed it, and not just because I'm a Sandra Bullock fan from back in the Miss Congeniality days.
It's more thriller than horror, so if you prefer suspense over gore, you'll do well with Bird Box. However, there is plenty of violence, which I dealt with by taking a cue from the movie and covering my eyes.
I found the acting to be A-OK, which Tom disagrees with. So there's your balanced assessment. We had fun playing "WHERE THE HELL IS THAT GUY FROM," with IMBD coming in very handy. (Dr. Henry Wu from Jurassic Park! Zoe from Parenthood! John Malkovich from that movie about being John Malkovich!) And then there's Sandra Bullock, who could make a turd like 28 Days totally watchable. (OK, not totally watchable. Watchable if it's on cable and you're folding laundry.)
Prior to watching Bird Box, I had done some googling and found all these Youtube videos where they explain the ending. So I was paranoid that the ending was going to confound me. I really hate confounding or ambiguous endings. Life is confounding enough - I don't need my entertainment to add to it.
I am happy to report that the ending of Bird Box is completely clear, understandable, and unambiguous. I have no idea why anyone would need the ending explained. So fear not, fellow haters of ambiguity. This Bird Box gets tied up with a nice pretty bow at the end.
However, if you are a person who needs to know the Five W's about the evil forces in this movie, you will be frustrated. If you're OK just sort of generally knowing what happens to each of the characters, you will be satisfied. I'm fascinated by humans and pretty hands-off about spirits and monsters so I was fine with those unanswered questions.
And now for my life lesson takeaway, because everything has to have a life lesson takeaway or else why waste your time? My takeaway comes from this line from Tom (Trevante Rhodes) telling Malorie (Sandra Bullock) how to be a good mom while surviving in a tenuous dystopia: "You need to love them knowing you could lose them at any moment." (I'm paraphrasing, because Google has finally failed me and I can't find the exact quote.)
We may not be living in Bird Box times, but the concept still hits home. I would love to know what you thought of the movie, what your life lesson takeaway was, and whether you think life lesson takeaways are dumb. (My children loooooove it when I make them come up with life lesson takeaways from whatever they're watching, whether it's Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse or Trolls: The Beat Goes On!)
...was the name of my column in Phillips' Finest, my middle school newspaper. If it was good enough for seventh grade, it's good enough for "adulthood."