August 8, 2012

Naughty Mom

H starts preschool again in two weeks. Part of me is sad that the summer has flown past. I still feel like we’re unpacking and settling into our new life in Illinois. How could it be that it’s already time to go back to school and settle into that routine?

But there is a part of me that I think of as Naughty Mom. Naughty Mom is jumping up and down excited that H will be in school three days a week. I will have so much more time to finish unpacking and sorting. To run errands more quickly and efficiently. To get my haircut without growing eyes in the back of my head to keep an eye on her.

This makes me feel guilty. I adore staying home with H. It’s something I always wanted to do. My mom was home with us, and as a kid I loved knowing that she’d be there. I loved coming home to her after school. I want to do that for my kids. When she learns something new or tells me some hilarious story she’s invented, I’m thrilled that she’s doing that with me and not with a stranger. I’m more than glad to be her best friend right now.

More than that, I’m really lucky I can stay home. Not every mom even has that choice. I know lots of people who would probably love to be home full time but can’t afford it. We’re in a great place where I can have the option to stay home.

Despite all that, I discovered a long time ago that I am not cut out to be the mom with unflagging energy who is ready for a romp every moment and has fun activities and crafts planned, accompanied by nutritional snacks and developmentally suitable outings. When I write it that way, I don’t actually know any mom who is like that. If you do, check her sanity, then nominate her for sainthood. I find that I need a few hours of alone time here and there to save my patience and my sanity.

In practice a lot of staying at home has turned out to be fitting in necessary errands, like the grocery store, into a very small child’s schedule. Another example is trying to read books to her while I fold laundry. You generally try to run a house and be a full time play mate at the same time. Like so many moms before me, I now lament the days when she didn’t care where we went, what she wore, or even really what she ate. At three she is her own tiny woman who has definite opinions on everything; opinions that I readily respect, but can’t always allow to reign. Now it’s all about trying to coax her to the potty with enough wiggle time to leave the house promptly, but not so much that she’ll have to pee in the middle of the commissary. And may God have mercy on my soul if I forget to bring snacks and a drink with us everywhere we go.

Naughty Mom is the one who contemplates selling her to the gypsies. She’s the one who just wants to sit quietly in Barnes and Noble and soak up the rows of books. She stares at the stacks longingly every Monday as we march to Story Time. Naughty Mom also has a bad spending habit when it comes to books, so it’s best to keep an extra close eye on her in places like Barnes and Noble.

Every mom has a Naughty Mom. Every mom has a day when she counts the minutes until bed time so she can pour herself a relaxing cup of tea/glass of wine. Every mom is mildly excited to regain some freedom when school time comes. So why do I feel guilty about it?

When did we come to expect ourselves to not only stay home but to love and adore every moment of it? Who told us it had to be that way? It wasn’t my mom, who went back to school to finish her degree as soon as I started first grade. And I’m thrilled that she did. I was proud of her then, and I’m even more proud now as a mom myself. She knew she needed a grown up life, not just a kid life. It wasn’t my friends telling me that, some of whom stay home and some who are back at work. They’re the ones pouring the wine, after all. It wasn’t my husband, who never expected me to stay home, but was glad I wanted to.

As Radiohead would say, “You do it yourself you do. And that’s why it really hurts.” I told me that I was expected to love every minute of parenting my daughter. I am the one who wonders if I’m really doing a good job if we just spend the day watching a movie and doing laundry. I’m the one who envies the moms I know with a more educational background, who can, in my eyes, properly guide their little ones.

So, Jamie, let’s check and see how H is doing with your sub-par parenting. Sweet and polite? Check. Knows her ABCs and 123s? Check. Can write her name? Check. Can nearly go potty on her own? Check. Is happy and healthy? Check.

Now I laugh at myself a bit. Yeah, clearly I am screwing her up. Maybe instead of feeling bad about Naughty Mom’s excitement at free time this fall, I should just go with it. Because you know what? H is not being sent to sit in a room and stare at a wall. She’s going somewhere fun to hang out with kids and color and sing and she comes home happy. And if she can come home to an equally happy, recharged, fully-engaged Mommy, then we both win.

read to be read at

August 1, 2012

War and Peace

Oh, where to begin… The novel basically covers the Napoleonic Wars, or at least Russia’s involvement, throughout the first decade or so of the 19th century. From what I could tell, and I was too lazy to look it up, Tolstoy has a very accurate accounting of the military movements and battles.

The actual story part follows two main families: the Bolkonskis and the Rostovs throughout this period. The characters’ stories are dispersed among chapters of history and philosophy. We see the characters grow, develop, intermingle, and finally all come together at the very end. I wish I could give you something more interesting, but it’s taken me months to read this, it was 6400 iPhone pages, and I am a bit foggy on some of the early details. Also, there are a LOT of characters.

If you’re really interested, it goes something like this:

Andrew Bolkonski has a wife he doesn’t like. He goes off to war and almost dies. The night he gets home, his wife gives birth to a son and dies in labor. He gets real depressed. To cure his funk he goes to Petersburg to “shake things up” in the government and meets Natasha Rostov. They fall in love and get engaged, but his dad disapproves. They go for a year-long engagement to pacify the dad. During that year, Natasha breaks up with him for a good-for-nothing, already-secretly-married, just-trying-to-get-in-her-pants, handsome guy. Andrew goes off to war again. He gets mortally wounded. As everyone flees Moscow ahead of Napoleon it turns out that Andrew is traveling with the Rostovs. Natasha and he make up and he dies.

Natasha’s story pretty much follows the above, but after Andrew dies she becomes besties with his sister Mary and falls in love with his best friend Pierre. They get married and have babies.

Mary, Andrew’s sister, basically gets shafted the whole novel as her dad’s punching bag until his eventual death. Nicholas, Natasha’s brother, ends up saving her from the encroaching French, and she falls nearly instantly in love with him. They eventually get married and have babies.

Nicholas starts out as a cocky, obnoxious kid. He grows up in the army. On his father’s death he assumes a gigantic debt and is reduced to poverty. He does love Mary, but marrying her has the bonus of making him rich again and letting him pay off his debts. He turns out to be a pretty good guy.

Pierre, Andrew’s best friend, is a total mess for 95% of the novel. He’s the illegitimate son of a very rich Count. When he ends up inheriting the money and title, he gets a bit overwhelmed. He marries a very stupid, slutty, and trashy woman of the very best breeding. They spend almost their whole marriage estranged. He spends most of his time bouncing around trying to find some definition of happiness. After the Natasha-Andrew break up, he realizes he’s in love with Natasha, but alas, Pierre is married! He stays in Moscow because he’s too depressed to leave. A half-baked scheme to assassinate Napoleon ends up with him defending a girl’s honor and getting arrested. He’s nearly executed by the French and ends up a prisoner of war. Being a prisoner changes his life for the better. He meets his spiritual guide while he’s a prisoner. After he’s freed he finds out his slutty wife killed herself, so he goes off and marries Natasha.

There are several more minor characters that I have completely ignored here, but you get the idea. And in case you’re wondering, Napoleon is eventually chased from Russia with his tail between his legs and practically no army to speak of.

Other Thoughts:
  • Why is this book so long? Granted, I read it for free on my iPhone. It was about 6400 pages. I’m sure the paper version is shorter. Regardless, it covers a good decade or more—year by year. I guarantee you that any modern editor would cut this to ribbons.
  • Like so many books of this general time period, nothing happens in the lives of the actual characters for hundreds of pages at a time. Just as you might expect, the two big weddings that you wait for, literally, the whole novel, take place in the very last chapters. I would read and read, turning to Josh I’d say, “I think something might actually happen!” A few minutes later, “Nope. Nothing.” This isn’t to say that it isn’t satisfying when something does happen, but do we need so much of nothing? I guess it’s all character development, but maybe too much of a good thing there.
  • After you finish the actual book you get not one but two epilogues. The first one is like the epilogue at the end of Harry Potter. You see how everything turned out pretty well for everyone. But once again, we have this whole epilogue and nothing happens. It ends really weirdly with Andrew’s orphaned son having a dream of revolutionary glory of some kind. Then epilogue two is nothing but Tolstoy explaining, or really concluding, his argument that historians are jack asses and that individual choice is actually an illusion, and we are all compelled by circumstance. It’s long and hard to follow.
  • I’m not really sure what Tolstoy was driving at as the purpose of this monstrosity. There is a lot of war; a little bit of peace; and a lot of self-aggrandizement on Tolstoy’s part about how he’s basically smarter than everyone else—especially Napoleon. If you are a fan of the Napoleonic wars, it could be an interesting read. Otherwise, read the cliff notes.

We will now be hopping up the list to pick up Gone with the Wind. First though, I fully admit that I’ll be taking a short break and reading some light mystery with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, brought to me by one of my favorite fellowreaders. You can also expect another installment post on my Bible progress soon. It’s been a while in the works. Again, that whole moving thing.

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