I have to admit that I have an unfortunate talent for holding grudges.  It might come from my Irish and Scottish ancestors, who certainly knew how to hold a grudge against the English.  Actually, now that I think about it, that’s still one of my own grudges that I need to learn to let go of:  Englishmen from history who oppressed my ancestors.  I have more work to do than I realized!

I definitely have a hard time forgiving anyone who hurts or insults my family members or close friends.  When I was in eighth grade, just before homeroom one day, I got into an argument with one of my best friends, and she insulted my parents.  I was so angry I hit her on the shoulder.  (I don’t think I actually hurt her.)  By first period, kids were asking me if it was true that I’d been in a fight with Chrissy.  They were incredulous because I was always a model student, but that’s just how angry I get if you go after my family.  This particular case is one of my success stories; I quickly forgave Chrissy, and we’ve been on friendly terms ever since then.  Other cases aren’t so easy for me.

As a teenager, I discovered St. Maria Goretti, and I’ve been in awe of her ever since.  If you’re not familiar with this lovely saint, let me tell you a little bit about her.  In 1902 Maria was not quite 12 years old when her 18-year-old neighbor, Alessandro, tried to rape her.  She resisted him, and he began to choke her and then stabbed her 14 times.  Lying on her deathbed in the hospital with her mother and a priest at her side, she freely forgave Alessandro and expressed her hope that he would join her in heaven someday.  In prison for his crime, but unrepentant, Alessandro had a dream in which Maria came to him and offered him lilies.  He accepted them, but they burned in his hands.  He awoke from that dream a changed man and was actually in the audience at Maria’s canonization in 1950.

Maria is my heroine.  For many years now I have asked her daily to pray for me so that I can become more like her.  If that young girl can forgive her murderer, what is wrong with me?

Part of the problem is my desire for justice.  I’m not out for revenge, but I do want to see people answer for the pain they cause.  Shouldn’t they at least have to recognize that they have caused pain?  If someone apologizes to me, I can forgive rather easily because I know from personal experience that it’s not easy to apologize and I know that it means that person has stood in my shoes for a moment and realized, “I wouldn’t want someone to treat me like that.”

But what do you do with the person who is never going to apologize?  The person who gives no indication of empathy or guilt?  As I sit here writing, I am starting to realize how many people I need to forgive even though not one of them will ever ask me for that forgiveness.  Some of these infractions are quite small in the grand scheme of things, but others have caused me deep pain indeed.  No matter the depth, all of this pain is real.

Of course, I recognize that often I am the one who needs to ask forgiveness.  I make mistakes that hurt people and damage my relationship with God.  As a Christian, I pray every day, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  There’s no getting around it that if I want God to forgive me, I have to learn to forgive others, so that’s going to be my focus for Lent this year.  For forty days I am going to pray for the person who has caused the most pain in my life, someone I have been struggling to forgive for 12 years.  This is the prayer I am going to use:  “Lord, you know I have unforgiveness in my heart toward (Name).  I don’t want this.  I will to forgive, and I ask you to bless (Name).”  I will not rush through this prayer or say it offhandedly.  I will kneel.  I will speak the words clearly.  I will force myself to say aloud the name that I usually refuse to even think about.

Here’s my challenge for you:  join me in this endeavor.  Even if you don’t normally observe Lent, say this prayer every day from March 1 to April 15.  Maybe you can free yourself from a burden that you may have been carrying for a long, long time.  I’ll let you know after Easter how it has changed me.


Little House

When I discovered that it was the 150th anniversary of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birth last week, I knew I had to write a post about her.  When I was in elementary school, I often watched reruns of “Little House on the Prairie” in the afternoon.  Then one day my mother mentioned that there were books about Laura Ingalls and her family.  What?!  How did I not know this?  I already loved reading, but discovering the Little House books made me a lifelong reader.

I found the books at our public library, and they were all I wanted to read.  I didn’t start with Little House in the Big Woods and read them in order.  I didn’t have any preconceived notions about reading a series of books in chronological order, so I would look them over and choose the one that interested me the most to read next.  I put the story together like a jigsaw puzzle as I read about little Laura and almost-grown-up Laura and in-between Laura. I saved Farmer Boy for last because I thought it would probably be boring since it was about a boy.  I was wrong.  Little Town on the Prairie became my favorite as I grew a little older because I enjoyed reading about Laura and Almanzo’s courtship and about Laura’s experiences as a teacher.  (I already knew that I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up.) 

After reflecting for the last few days, I believe that the Little House books helped me discover what I like to read.  Still today I love historical fiction.  I love reading about people who are just like me on the inside but who live in much different circumstances from mine.  For this reason, I also enjoy well-written fantasy, and my deepest love is nineteenth century British literature.  As an adult, I discovered Willa Cather and felt like I had hit the jackpot with pioneer fiction for grown-ups.

Over the last few days I reread Little House on the Prairie because I wanted to remember some of the details before I wrote this post.  I was instantly struck by Wilder’s beautiful storytelling and enthralled by the many life-or-death experiences the Ingalls family faced as they set out for Kansas and established their homestead.  For instance, one night a pack of 50 wolves surrounds their log cabin that doesn’t have door on it yet.  They have a quilt over the doorway, and they have Jack their bulldog and Pa with his rifle.  Imagine yourself as a young child facing a night like that.

Of course, the story is told from Laura’s perspective, but reading the book as an adult I found myself fascinated by Ma.  What did she really think about leaving her extended family behind and setting out for Indian Territory?  What was her relationship like with her husband?  How did she raise her girls?  I was delighted by the little details that revealed how much Charles and Caroline Ingalls wanted to please each other and the gratitude they expressed for each other’s simple offerings of love.  Ma’s concern for teaching her girls manners amused me because it’s such typical mom behavior even though they are living in isolation.

My children noticed me reading a book with pictures in it, and four-year-old Daniel was particularly curious about it.  He asked me to read it to him.  We’ve read five chapters together so far, and he loves it.  Two days ago I mentioned that the story is about real people, and his jaw dropped.  I explained that they’re all in heaven now, but, yes, the Ingalls family is real.  “You mean, when I go to heaven, I can meet them?” he asked.  I just loved that question because I specifically remember asking my mom one day, “When we go to heaven, do you think we’ll be able to talk to other people about their lives on Earth?”  She thought we could, and I was very excited because it meant I would be able to talk to Laura Ingalls Wilder and ask her all the questions I had about her experiences.  Imagine leaving behind a legacy that makes generations of children eager to meet you in heaven!

Parenting Books

Since I started this blog last spring, I’ve been wanting to write about the books that have made the deepest impressions on me, but I’ve struggled to come up with a place to start.  After all, I’m an English teacher, and books have always been a huge part of my life.  Then it occurred to me that I could begin not with Jane Eyre or Man’s Search for Meaning but instead with a few of the books that have had the strongest influence on my parenting.  It’s a lot easier to write about practical advice that has guided me in my day-to-day life than it is to put into words everything that my favorite novel has meant in the way I see literature and the world around me.  So, here are my four favorite parenting books and one honorable mention.

  1.  The Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp:  When you bring your first baby home from the hospital, what do you do next?  Of course, you feed her and change her diaper.  But what do you do if she is fed and dry, not too warm and not too cold, but she won’t stop crying, let alone go to sleep?  You could try Dr. Karp’s 5S’s.  The advice in this book worked so well for all three of my babies!  Dr. Karp theorizes that because human babies have such large heads to accommodate their highly evolved human brains, they are forced to make their arrival in the outside world before they’re ready.  The best way to care for them during the first four months after birth is to recreate the experience of the womb.  We swaddled our babies to help them feel snug and secure, shushed them with white noise, gave them pacifiers to suck on, swung or bounced them to
    Newborn Rose fell asleep swaddled and sucking on her pacifier while I held her on her side. Photo Credit: Emily Laing

    the tempo of “Hard Day’s Night,” and held them on their side or stomach.  (Just to be clear, babies need to be put down to sleep on their backs, but we can hold them in a position that puts a little soothing pressure on their tummies.)  Combining all 5 of these at the same time was guaranteed to calm our fussy babies.

  2.   The Sleepeasy Solution by Jennifer Waldburger, LCSW, and Jill Spivak, LCSW :  Once we got through “the fourth trimester,” we were ready for our babies to have a regular routine and learn to go to sleep without so much assistance from us.  Kathleen was a tough case, our fussiest baby who had the most trouble sleeping well.  I read a few books about babies and sleep, but this one is far and away my favorite.  I love the authors’ approach, which balances the needs of babies and parents.  They know that parents don’t want to listen to their babies crying for long stretches without being able to comfort them (and babies probably don’t like that too much either!).  They also know that after the sleep deprivation that comes with caring for a newborn, each member of the family needs more rest.  They call their system the “least cry” method, and it worked wonders with all three of our children.  Additionally, this book provides lots of useful information about age-appropriate nap schedules, sleep issues like nightmares and fear of the dark that come up with toddlers and preschoolers, and milestones like potty training or the birth of a new sibling that can affect sleep.  I’ll be holding onto my copy at least until Rose is in kindergarten!
  3. Clutterfree with Kids by Joshua Becker: I mentioned this book previously in my post on decluttering.  It introduced me to the concept of minimalism and changed my perspective on the life I want for my children.  Instead of piles of material possessions in cluttered rooms, I would like to give them happy memories of fun family experiences.  That does not necessarily mean trips to Disney World and other expensive vacations.  Instead, it could mean baking cookies together, playing a board game, or planting a garden.  Without all the clutter that consumes our time and adds stress to our lives, we could have the time and energy for more fun.  Unfortunately, I’m still working on selling this to the rest of my family.  My children haven’t noticed yet that their interest in a new toy lasts about three days at the most.  I have become quite concerned by their lack of gratitude for their many blessings, which leads me to . . .
  4. The Gift of Enough by Marianne Miller:  Marianne Miller is the mother of four boys, all teenagers now, a middle school teacher, and a financial counselor with Crown Financial Ministries.  She knows kids; she knows the world of their peers, and she knows how to manage money.  Her advice about teaching kids gratitude and money management never comes across as preachy because she tells plenty of funny stories about her own family and some of the mistakes they’ve made.   Some of the strategies she used with her own boys seem a bit extreme to me (asking the four of them to share two ice cream cones, for example), but I love all the practical wisdom she offers on dealing with school book fairs, grab-claw machines, check-out aisles, gift-giving holidays, and other danger zones where children seem to get the “gimmes.”  Ultimately, Miller wants children and their parents to recognize when they have enough, whether it’s M&Ms, sweatshirts, or stuffed animals, so that they can appreciate their blessings and delight in occasional treats.  (Hey, let’s each get our own ice cream cone today!)

Honorable Mention:  Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman:  When this book was published in 2012, it was marketed as a parenting manual that would show Americans how the French are better than we are at one more thing.  I would actually call it a memoir.  An American woman, married to a British man, is raising her children in Paris.  She discovers that the French parent quite differently than Anglophones, and often she recognizes the wisdom in this different approach, but she also sees clearly that different is not always better.  For instance, she is not comfortable with sending a first grader away on a week-long class camping trip.  (I wouldn’t be either!)  On the other hand, she does find that the French are really good at developing sophisticated palates in small children (no surprise there) and believe in setting firm limits and then giving the children lots of freedom within those limits.  For example, bedtime might be set strictly at 8 o’clock every night, but the child is allowed to play quietly in his room until he is sleepy as long as he stays there.  The parent will not read one more story or get another drink of water after 8 o’clock.  I found this book entertaining, and it helped me realize that there isn’t one right way to parent.

The next parenting book I’m hoping to read is The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel, Ph.D.  It comes highly recommended by my sister and has 4 1/2 stars on Amazon.  Dr. Mogel applies Jewish teachings to everyday parenting problems such as chores, dinner battles, and over-scheduling.  I’ve been meaning to read this one for several years now.

In the comments let me know about books that have provided you with valuable advice or guidance – about parenting or anything else!