Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Reading, reading, and some more reading.

Earlier this year I blogged about wanting to read all the books I bought over the last few years and have just sat around... a giant pile. So far I've read one - yes one - from that pile (applause, anyone?), but I've read 2 other non-related books, if that counts for anything?

Anyway, they were great, so here's my thoughts.

From the pile I started with "Loving our Kids on Purpose" by Danny Silk. This one had come recommended from Sarah Bessey's list of books that influenced her parenting, and it's a good'un. I'm a bit useless with self-help, non-fiction, fix-it type books - but this one was easy to read, relevant, and not nauseating and annoying (James Dobson, I'm looking at you...). I've taken many tidbits away from this book and applied them to my life, and there are others which I'm still going to work on. Silk's approach is non-traditional and therefore immediately appealing to me, non-conformist that I am (a friend recently called me this after spending four days with me - I wasn't aware this is what I am! Hilarious). He turns us away from a punishment-based system of parenting, towards a system of choices and consequences. What is your main goal in parenting? That your kid does exactly what you say, all the days of his life? Or that your kid is able, one day, to step into the big wide world, full of choices and possibilities and temptations, and choose wisely. We model to our kids what God is like. Is God up in heaven with a big stick, waiting to smack us with it each time we step out of line? No. Yet isn't it amazing how many of us grow up thinking that, even into adulthood.
The idea of a 2 choice system has already worked really well with my rough-and-tumble toddler. Mister 2 year old will lose.the.plot. very quickly when he puts his mind to it. Goes straight from asking once for something, to shrieking the house down. The 2 choice system has helped a lot. For example, when he is leaning so far into the baby capsule that he is probably going to suffocate his sister, I can give him 2 choices - "Buddy? Want to put your shoes on, or watch tv?" for example. Thus getting him away from the poor baby without having to physically drag him. I didn't believe it until I tried it - but Danny Silk talks about taking the struggle from a toddlers body to his brain. So when they're fighting you on something, give them 2 choices, then they have to think - often distracting them from the initial issue. It works brilliantly for us. The ones we use the most are "Hold hands or stay home", when heading out the front door (we live on a main street and he would throw a fit about holding hands when we walk out the door - but it's a non-negotiable for me). Also at dinner time when he doesn't want to eat - "In the bath straight away, or finish your beans?" This has often meant he'll eat his dinner. Big triumph. The book also stresses how important it is to say things in a neutral way, "Happy voices!" as we say in our house. Early on he makes the excellent point that no one controls us - not our kids, not our spouse, not even God in fact - the only one who controls us is us. Therefore the greatest thing and the best tool you can bring to your parenting is self-control.
Not challenging at all, right? Ha. An empowering book but I'm not saying it's easy to live like this! Choices, choices, every day for parents and kids.

 Next up is "Is it just me?" by Miranda Hart. Of "Miranda" tv fame - anyone? Who else is a fan? Such fun!
I requested this one from the library because I wanted a laugh, and it is a laugh. The book is a series of observations on the awkwardness of life, presented as a conversation between herself as a 38 year old and her 18 year old younger self. She takes 18 categories and writes a manual for life - a "Miran-ual", if you will - full of lots of laugh-out-loud moments. In the end however I took from this book much more than a few giggles. Strung throughout the book is the theme of accepting yourself, loving who you are, and being true to you - rather than pretending to be someone else, or be interested in things you're just not into. I can't say how much I admire Miranda for the choices she's made, all the while not sacrificing the things which make her, well, her. I won't spoil the ending, but basically through the whole book her 18 year old self has no idea who she has become, as a 38 year old - and spends the majority of the time mortified at how little of a life she apparently has in the future. The final chapter, on Dreams, is amazing. The final 2 pages are spectacular. I always thought Miranda was funny, but now - I utterly adore her, and she is my hero. I thank you. (< Miranda reference!)

Shortly before I went on holiday I was doing a bit of soul searching, and thinking I wanted reading material to take with me, but nothing disturbing, depressing, or involving child abuse, abduction, bad language, sex scenes, complicated interpersonal relationships - the things most grown-up fiction seems loaded with. So I went back to my love of childrens classic literature. I have a pile I'd intended to read, but I began with an author unfamiliar to me that I came across in this brilliant post - "10 books you must read to your daughter - or How to Keep Your Daughter from Ending up like that Horrid Girl in Twilight". There were a few on her list that I hadn't read, but in the comments I came across Lloyd Alexander as a suggestion so his name had been in the back of my mind. I got out "The Fantastical Adventures of the Invisible Boy" from the library, purely because it was the only one of his there. I loved it. His writing is wonderful, and the story was fascinating - of a young boy who is kept home sick, and feels "invisible" due to the fact that people look through him and don't see him, so he spends his time drawing pictures and inventing exciting stories in his head. He gets a tutor, an older family relative called Aunt Annie who he nicknames the "Gorgon" or "Gawgon" - and they develop an unlikely friendship in real life and in his stories. My favourite passage is this: "Exactly when, I could not be sure, but it was during one of those summer afternoons that The Gawgon captured my total devotion and allegiance. Because she saw me for whatever I was. No longer the Amazing Invisible Boy, with her I had nothing to hide. She made me feel my mind was free to do as it pleased. A mystery of the heart? I could not solve it, nor did I care to. In any case, I came to imagine her as a mistress of time and space, expert in all disguises, who went wherever she chose, did whatever she chose, knew all that was to be known. To me, she was capable of everything and anything." 
I can't wait to read The Chronicles of Prydain next.

Lastly is one I'm still midway through, but am thoroughly enjoying, and it's influencing a lot of my decisions - "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin. Given to me by a dear friend for my birthday, it's a fascinating exploration on what really makes us happy. For one year, the author set about making herself happier - and she didn't class herself unhappy to begin with, she just wanted to be really happy. Through a series of life rules, commandments, and subjects, she explores in a funny and extremely thoroughly researched manner the subject of happiness, and how to be more happy, within the context of being yourself. It's fab. It's given me permission to do things you enjoy, just because they make you happy. That it's not indulgent to be happy. Why do we not let ourselves do things, "Just for fun"? We are a bunch of bores sometimes! It was reading the first chapter of the book that led me to spend 10 days away on holiday, potentially spending most of that alone - not something I'd have normally been able to do. But I realised that something that made me infinitely happy was quiet... and that hearing almost no cars go past for 10 days is my definition of bliss. Why on earth would I pass that up? It was a brilliant choice and I have this book to thank! Next up is the sequel she's written, "Happier at home". Sure to be very relevant to me as a stay-at-home mum.

Other things I'm really enjoying are the magazine The Simple Things, the Nester's blog "Nesting Place" and her sister's blog "Chatting at the Sky". And I am also reading on my kindle app on my iPhone, Rachel Held Evans' book "A year of Biblical Womanhood".

Oh, and would you guess why it is that I'm finally reading books again? I stopped using Facebook. I no longer read the news feed. I no longer check my notifications. I no longer know anything about anyone. Occasionally I log on to RSVP to an event, or post a photo. But I feel so free. Sooooooo free. Can't begin to describe it. I highly recommend this as a social experiment of sorts, especially if you're prone to anxiety or taking on a lot of stress from other people's stuff. This article helped me make my mind up. I have to make more effort with texting and calling certain friends now, since I don't see what they do online. But for me that is okay. I have more space in my head now, and more time in real life.

Anyone else have any exciting book recommendations, or things that are making them happy?

xx Sarah

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