When I Grow Up

Saying Goodbye to Maggie

Yesterday we had to say goodbye to our Maggie. She came into our lives sixteen years ago on Mother’s Day when she walked past our house with one of my daughter’s friends who had found her abandoned in the bushes down the street. After a week of discussions, she joined our family, and settled right in. It’s difficult to imagine life without her.

She was the cutest ball of energy, but we honestly had no idea what life with a herding dog would be like. She “helped” me keep the kids in line (once going so far as to grab ahold of a backpack attached to a body to keep one from escaping out the front door) and always worked to keep us all close by. I often told her she was “lucky she was so cute.”

Over the years, she made me laugh, challenged me (she mastered” the look” – the one that indicated that no one was the boss of her), and was always there with a comforting paw. Even in her last moments, she turned to comfort me. She was affectionate (on her own terms) and a wonderful snuggler (When she wanted to be). She mastered the art of sitting on our laps (a loophole, as sitting on the couch was forbidden) though as she got older and climbing up became more difficult, she settled for sitting on our feet, or as close to us as she could get.

She tolerated us dragging her on vacations and camping trips and enjoyed hiking and playing frisbee. But she had an attitude about the paparazzi (so many adorable moments went uncaptured as she turned her back just as the shutter snapped.) She loved to play in the snow, and when it was deep enough, created a track in the backyard to race around in. She loved sweet potatoes, pumpkin and broccoli, refused to eat cheese or anything similarly slimy, and was an expert at picking yummy treats hidden under dog food and leaving what she didn’t like behind.

She had her special spots in the yard, where she would sit as a sentry and protect us. She put up with all of our nonsense and loved us unconditionally. She will be greatly missed.

Witnessing the Miracle of Life: the Birth of a Grandma

I have a new hat.

My first-born, the one who made me a mom, recently made me a Grandma.

I’ve spent the past months pondering the miracle of creating life. It has been awe-inspiring and a bit surreal to think that a child I carried was carrying a child. I watched in awe as she began to grow into her new role. I have long known that she would make a great mom, but I was getting to witness it, from early on. I’ve loved this baby from the moment I first got the news, the first sound of a heartbeat, the first ultrasound. But that didn’t prepare me for the overwhelming feeling of love that washed over me when actually meeting this new family member in person.

Being a new parent is an overwhelming experience. It brings on intense emotions: love, joy, protectiveness, anxiety, fear. I had felt all those things years ago. I was ready to be a grandma; I thought I knew what to expect, but I’m learning that I too am surprised at the changes this new person has brought to my life. While I am not at all surprised by the overwhelming love or the chaos that comes with little ones (not to mention how much space such little beings take up with all their stuff), I wasn’t prepared for the emotional ups and downs.

First there was the waiting period of labor. I got a few updates early on; I wasn’t surprised when these messages stopped (having done this a few times myself), but I didn’t realize that time would slow to a maddening snail’s pace. I worried that the birth experience wasn’t the one that they had planned and hoped for. I worried that more medical intervention would be necessary than they wanted. I even went to that dark place and worried about potential worst-case scenarios. I sat and thought to myself that I would almost rather be the one in labor than the one waiting and worrying.

Then we got the news: a photo texted just minutes after the baby was born (thank you dear son-in-law). I cried, got a hug from my husband, and shot back congratulatory texts and asked about my daughter. Hearing all was well put my mind at ease – almost. I needed to hear her voice, and a short time later, when she saw the simple text “I’d love to talk to her when she feels up to it,” her mommy instincts kicked in: she knew what I was saying and that she needed to call me.

Watching this new family settle in and learn what it means to be a mom, a dad, a child, is an honor. But being a grandparent isn’t worry-free. While many worries differ from when I was a young parent, some are the same: Is she eating and sleeping enough?  Is she taking care of her own needs? Are there things I can do to help but she won’t ask? I want to help, but not overstep; to be available but not intrusive.

Like so many things in life, I thought I knew what to expect. But it seems we’re never really ready for new roles; there is always something to learn and new ways to grow. While I have amazing role models: my grandparents and my children’s grandparents, I know I’ll mess up. But maybe that knowledge (coupled with the humility to admit it and the grace to forgive myself) is what I need as I strive to be the best grandma that I can be.

I very much look forward to my new role, and to having many Adventures in Grandparenting.

How to Minimize the Impact of Social Media on Self-Esteem

Be You, No Filter; How to Love Yourself and Stay #SocialMediaStrong by Latasha Blackmond is an inspiring and easy-to-digest guide to finding your true self and to setting and achieving goals. The author wrote this book to shares things with other women that she wishes someone shared with her when she was younger, things she had to figure out on her own. This is likely why the book reads like a conversation with a good friend.

The author focuses on social media, both the benefits and challenges. For better or worse, social media has become part of our everyday lives. These platforms allow us to see so much more of the world, but also bombard us with images of “perfect” people which can make us feel “less than.”

The book presents a guide to reaching your goals and becoming your best self, even with the constant barrage of pressure from social media feeds. Yes, external factors have an impact on all of us, but the author asserts we can limit the amount of control they have through self-affirming thoughts and behaviors.

Blackmond explains how personal affirmations and practicing gratitude will help us reach our goals. She encourages readers to go deep to discover who they are and who they want to be. She admits it won’t be easy; we will have setbacks and challenges, but she offers tips and techniques to push past them, such as:

Rather than ban social media, fill your social media feeds with people who will ultimately inspire you to reach your goals.

Push out of your comfort zone. She says, “When you’re comfortable, you’re not learning and growing.”

Don’t fear failure. And, “when you fail, fail fast so you can learn, grow, and gain more experience.”

The book includes actionable steps and journal prompts that gently encourage readers to go deep and assess both where you are and where you want to be. Readers will gain personal insight and confidence in being their true selves where no filter is required.

A Dozen Wonderful Picture Books I Discovered This Year

Like many readers, I have a Goodreads account and set a reading goal. While I don’t need this encouragement to read (I always want to read), it serves as a good reminder when I am letting other things get in the way.

I read for pleasure. I read to learn. I read to learn to write better (who better to learn good writing skills from than other writers). While I spend much of each day reading, only a fraction of it is books. I’ve been working to change that. This year I have been learning a great deal about writing picture books (which most writers agree is harder than books for older children), and have read more recently than I have since my kids were small.

With the holiday season coming up, I thought I would share (in no particular order) some of the wonderful picture books I discovered this year. Any of these would make a great gift.

DEEP, DEEP DOWN: THE SECRET UNDERWATER POETRY OF THE MARIANA TRENCH, written by Lydia Lukidis and illustrated by Juan Calle, is a beautifully illustrated picture book that takes the reader on a journey into the deepest oceanic trench in the world –the Mariana Trench. Lovely imagery takes the reader on an adventure; we travel deeper with each page turn until we reach the bottom and learn what creatures dwell there.

Informative sidebars on each spread provide additional information about how these sea creatures’ bodies are specially adapted for the harsh environment. The book concludes with even more fascinating facts about the Mariana Trench, including an useful visual: an illustrated diagram that shows the various sea life living at various levels.

THE DARK IS YOUR FRIEND is a charming picture book written and illustrated by Brittany A. Meng. Little Hedgehog asks about the dark and is reassured that the dark is her friend.This book is beautifully illustrated by the author and shows not only Little Hedgehog, but also some of her forest friends settling in for the night. The words and images are soothing, making it a great choice for a bedtime story.

Julie Hedlund’s picture book SONG AFTER SONG is a lovely tribute to the actor/singer/author Julie Andrews. Information about the artist’s life is presented in a gentle manner, yet relays how difficult her childhood must have been. It includes a number of facts that many of Andrews’ fans are likely unaware of and will be excited to learn about. Charming illustrations by Illaria Urbinati add even more depth to the story. This is a picture book for adults and children alike.

JACKIE AND THE BOOKS SHE LOVED is Ronni Diamondstein’s first picture book biography. This inspiring picture book about Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis shows her as much more than a former first lady.

Rather than focusing on things such as what she wore or to whom she was married, this book shows Jackie as an intelligent and creative girl who found a way to follow her passion as a woman. It tells of her love of reading, her background as a writer and her lifelong love of books. Bats Langley’s charming illustrations show Jackie’s very human side, while being unmistakably the person we have come to know as Jackie O.

Signed copies can be purchased at the National First Ladies Library & Museum, or through the author’s website.

BAA, BAA, TAP SHEEP by Kenda Henthorn, is a charming lyrical picture book that gives new meaning to the idea of counting sheep. Lauren Gallegos’ sweet illustrations show ten little sheep dancing away, getting drowsy, and fighting sleep. In a fitting conclusion to a lullaby, they do eventually settle down, snuggling in for the night with the human children who conjured them up.

With multiple levels: a counting book, a lullaby, a primer on dance styles, this book is sure to please children and adults alike. My adult dancer daughter loves this as much as I do.

I AM THE STORM by Jane Yolen and Heidi E Y Stemple is a treasure on many levels. It informs readers about intense weather conditions that tend to happen in various climates. It reassures readers that storms pass; they can safely ride them out. It shows us that we “are strong and powerful,” just like the storms.

The beautiful illustrations by Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell are somehow both intense and comforting.

Autographed copies can be purchased through a link on the author’s website.

BALLETBALL by Erin Dionne and illustrated by Gillian Flint tells the tale of a young ballerina who begrudgingly plays baseball.
While personally, I would have been the child in the opposite shoes (no matter how much my mom tried, I was NOT going to wear a tutu), I was charmed by the patient coach who pointed out how skills can be transferred. Every parent can relate to having a child complain about an activity, and the struggle to convince them to stick with it. Kids will see that trying something new can be fun!

KNIGHT OWL, written and lavishly illustrated by Christopher Denise is absolutely charming. The story of a owl who is also a knight is magical and the illustrations add even more layers (as a good picture book should). I got a laugh in the signing line when I admitted this book was for me (and loudly proclaimed that we are never too old for picture books) but am thrilled to add this to my collection. I look forward to sharing it with the next generation in my family.

EVERYBODY COUNTS! by Matt Forrest Esenwine is a counting book, but with a multilingual twist. The author has added yet another layer with the delightful addition of mouth-watering descriptions of various ethnic foods. You can purchase an autographed copy through the author’s website.

CLOAKED IN COURAGE by Beth Anderson tells the story of Deborah Sampson, one of the first female soldiers in America. While the words relate Deborah’s life, Anne Lambelet’s illustrations bring us back to the 18th century, where life for children was very different and “the rebel spirit was in the air.”

See the link on the author’s website to purchase an autographed copy.

WINTER, A SOLSTICE STORY by Kelsey E Gross and illustrated by Renata Liwska is a lyrical celebration of the winter solstice. In this beautifully illustrated book, the forest animals come together to create a festive celebration for the longest night of the year. Children of all ages will be enchanted by this sweet story of friendship and soothing illustrations.

ANIMALS IN SURPRISING SHADES by Susan Johnston Taylor with illustrations by Annie Bakst, is an entertaining and informative look at some of the colorful creatures that we might someday be fortunate to see.

This collection of poems about crawling, swimming, and flying critters is accompanied by fun facts about these fascinating creatures as well as information about each poem’s structure and form. Readers may even be inspired to try writing a poem of their own!

It’s Not About the Wine, The Problem With Mommy Wine Culture

I’ve admired Celeste Yvonne’s writing for years, so when she asked for help launching her first book, It’s Not About the Wine, The Loaded Truth Behind Mommy Wine Culture, I was quick to sign up. I couldn’t say what I expected, but it wasn’t this. A genre-bender that expertly weaves memoir, self-help and social commentary, this book convincingly makes the case that we, as a society, need to do better.

The author shares her story as a recovering alcoholic, explaining how and why she stopped drinking. She makes no excuses for her own behavior, but points out an unfortunate truth: “alcohol often overpowers the strongest, highest achievers.  … [T]he pressure to drink in work and social settings can override any sensible effort to take care of ourselves.”

Celeste rightfully, takes issue with “mommy wine culture” and explores its deep, dark origins. She argues that moms often bear the brunt of the mental load in families They often feel isolated and inadequate (this is particularly true for first-time moms and those experiencing PPD) and may turn to alcohol (a legal drug) to help cope. While society does acknowledge that parenting can be hard, there are few resources available for those who are truly struggling.

A couple generations ago, people joked about “mother’s little helper;” today there are an abundance of “Mommy needs a drink” memes. Of course, there are problems with this narrative. It encourages us to treat depression and anxiety with a depressant. It also can contribute to relationship and self-esteem issues as well as depression and anxiety in our children. Who wants to hear that a parent needs to drink in order to cope with their (age-appropriate) childish behaviors.

Throughout the book, the author shares her experiences with alcohol and her journey to sobriety. She admits to having worries about being around other people when she first stopped drinking. She thought she’d be considered a “Betty Buzzkill,” and that people wouldn’t want to spend time with her.  She expressed surprise at her discovery that some people stopped at one or two drinks, that not everyone who drank was “out to get blitzed every chance they got.”

While her personal experiences are the heart of this book, the author also includes stories of other women who struggled with their alcohol use. But this is not simply a collection of stories. She has also done her research. I these pages can be found information on credible studies not only about alcohol abuse but also eating disorders, depression and anxiety, all of which often co-exist.

I am not the target audience for this book, but I have known and loved several problem drinkers, and see truth in what she has written. While I used to laugh at the jokes, I too came to the conclusion that I don’t want my children believing they would actually “drive me to drink.” I applaud Celeste Yvonne foe being brave enough to challenge these “norms” and step out into the open to encourage other moms to do the same.

This book is a valuable resource for any woman (and perhaps some men) questioning their drinking habits, who is sober curious, and/or who is looking for support on their journey to sobriety. It should also serve as a call to action for a society that has done too little to support parents during a time that can be among the happiest and most challenging periods of their lives. For those who are struggling, this book presents a clear, encouraging message from someone who’s been there: “sobriety wasn’t a punishment. … sobriety was the reward.”

New Book Promotes Teaching Children Theory of Mind

In their new book, The Emotionally Intelligent Child, Rachael Katz, MS. ED and Helen Shwe Hadani, PhD address the challenge parents have in helping their children develop the social and emotional skills they will need to be successful in life.

While the idea of emotional intelligence has been the subject of research since the 1950s, it is only recently that the term has become part of our parenting “dictionary.” Understanding and naming emotions is important, and involves multiple skills that are learned on a scale which can largely be dependent on one’s developmental level.

The authors assert that “the ability to view a situation from different perspectives forms the core of emotional intelligence because it helps us make sense of others’ thoughts, feelings and actions.” In this book, they recommend teaching Theory of Mind to children. While this is a complex idea for small children, the authors say that this will help children have awareness of their own mental states as well as an understanding that others’ mental states may be different than theirs (while also influencing the mental states of others).

The book presents new ways of thinking about challenging parenting moments – ones that focus on the child’s needs rather than the parent’s discomfort and suggests ways to identify the best times to address behavioral issues. It also offers tips and techniques to help children learn about internal and relationship conflicts and how to manage them. Recognizing that this does not come naturally to all parents, the authors include practical strategies that will be easy to implement in real-life situations.

Importantly, the authors remind parents to pause and consider whether their children’s behavior is developmentally appropriate, i.e. is your child capable of doing/understanding what you are asking of them? They want to help you “parent more patiently and proactively while simultaneously fostering your child’s emotional balance and social awareness.”

New Book Is a Beautiful Love Letter To Mothers Everywhere

So God Made a Mother, the first (because it’s so good there have to be more coming soon) book of compiled essays by Leslie Means, is about, for and written by (mostly) mothers. The collection of nearly 100 essays is divided into chapters: Tender, Proud, Known, Strong, Faithful, Worthy, Unforgettable, Beautiful, each with an introduction written by Means.

This book shows motherhood in all its glory and struggle. Writers share their stories of grief and joy, success and failure, hopes and fears. It is in turn, sweet, evocative and raw. Here you will find stories about parenting, marriage, self-discovery, and so much more. This thoughtfully curated collection will bring smiles, laughs, and likely some tears. It’s not a stretch to say it is for anyone who is, has, or loves a mother.

Full disclosure: many of the writers included in the collection are women I call friends. We found each other through our words, through a Facebook group associated with a once-small website, Her View From Home. I knew none of these women before my first piece was published there, way back in 2016. Since then, I have come to the realization that internet friends most certainly can be real friends and have met many of these women in real life. We have laughed together, cried together, eaten many tacos and drank a lot of coffee. We have shared stories and supported each other on both a professional and personal level. We have become each other’s’ “people.” Even knowing many of their stories, their words in this beautiful book still evoke strong emotions, because, yes, they are also amazing writers.

If you like to read essay collections, particularly about moms, you will enjoy this book. You won’t find my words there (I didn’t submit an essay for consideration), but you will learn more about some of my dear friends. And you will find that they definitely have words worth sharing.

Note: While I did receive an electronic preview copy of the book, I also purchased a hard copy (which is how I actually read it). There was no compensation for this review, the thoughts and opinions are purely my own. – KY

How to Beat Writer’s Block and Have a Better Life

Overcoming Writer’s Block, The Writer’s Guide to Beating the Blank Page by Marcy Pusey is much more than a book on writing; it is a book on the “psychology of creative blocks” that will help the reader understand how he or she works and learns best.  The book explores common reasons people get stuck, delves into the brain science behind these reasons, and offers practical ways to move forward.

The author emphasizes throughout that each person, and their story matters, and deserves to be heard. Her approach is holistic; she shows that creative blocks can stem from physiological issues as well as psychological ones. She explains how writer’s block can take on different forms and lists five different types. A chapter is dedicated to explaining each type, and useful suggestions are offered to overcome these challenges.

The reader learns more about how the brain works (which is fully subconscious) and how we can retrain our brains to be more effective, not only in our writing, but also in our lives. The author recognizes that solutions are not “one size fits all” and encourages the reader to explore their own lives and habits to determine which methods will work best.

While not overly academic, each chapter gives us the chance to “geek out on the brain,” and learn how powerful our subconscious is. We then get to “look under the hood” to learn what changes we can make to be more efficient, and are offered “pro tips,” or actionable advice we can use to make our writing the best it can be.

This is much more than another “how to write” book. While it does offer helpful advice on getting words on paper, it also encourages self-reflection and shows the importance of healthy thought patterns that can improve our self-image and better our lives.

Note: Though a digital copy was provided free of charge, no compensation was provided for this review. It is the honest opinion of the writer. KY

Help Kids Cope With Grief With the Heaven Phone

All children will at some time deal with death. This may be a pet or a human, someone close to them or close to one of their friends. Parents often worry about how to help their children cope with very big feelings, especially if they have big feelings of their own. The Heaven Phone by Sydnei Kaplan may be just what they need.

A charming and useful picture book written in rhyme, it reassures us that death doesn’t have to stop us from sharing our thoughts and words. We don’t even have to speak the words out loud to talk to people in heaven – we need only to think or talk with our hearts to feel their presence. Any phone can become a “heaven phone” to maintain a connection with loved ones who are gone, even when those loved ones are unable to speak back.

Kaplan shares in her dedication that the book was inspired by her daughter, who coined the phrase “heaven phone” while she was seeking a way to talk to her grandmother who died when she was very young. The author states outright that the book reflects her spiritual beliefs, though adult readers can easily adapt it if needed to better match their own beliefs. She has thoughtfully also included conversation starters and suggested activities that offer additional ways to help children (and perhaps ourselves) work through grief.

We all deal with the complicated emotions surrounding death at some point. This book can provide comfort and spark meaningful conversations for people of all ages. It would be a worthwhile addition to any family bookshelf.

Note: An advance reader copy was provided free of charge, but no compensation was provided for this review, which expresses the honest view of the writer. KY

Welcome to the Jungle of Motherhood

Though I am closer to being a grandmother than a new mother, I found much to relate to in Welcome to the Jungle. In this engaging memoir, Anneliese Lawton shares her experiences as a wife and mother through high-risk pregnancies, health scares and postpartum depression. The author is honest, funny and refreshingly blunt in revealing truths that many don’t talk about:  Marriage is hard. Motherhood is hard. These new roles cause most women to struggle with their identity.

While the target audience for this book is millennial women, as a Gen Xer, I am impressed with Lawton’s openness and wish someone had been brave enough to write such a book a generation ago. While it appears things have not changed as much as we might like, I marvel at this generation of feisty moms who seem to have figured out, long before middle age, that being REAL is healthy. Lawton speaks openly and honestly about life challenges, allowing herself to be vulnerable while assuring others that none of us really has it all together.

In talking about  motherhood, marriage, and mental health in today’s world, Lawton shows the struggles unique to millennial moms who grew up in a post-feminist movement world; one that claims to be inclusive and fair but isn’t quite there yet.  It may come as a surprise to GenX readers that perhaps even more than their own mothers, today’s young moms are struggling – they still feel like they can and should do it all and feel that doing less is failure.

Lawton is critical of a society that expects mothers to put everyone else’s needs above their own, then criticizes a woman when she breaks. Despite the strides women have made in the past fifty years, it’s a sad commentary that woman are still expected to “look put together more … do a little nap-time hustle to help pay for the family vacation,” all while “having sex more, and dancing with our kids more, and laughing more, and simply being more.” She proclaims, “Balance is bulls@!t.”

She goes on to give some excellent life advice: Asking for help is necessary, if not for yourself, for your children and your marriage. “It takes a village,” she says.” But the village doesn’t work unless you say ‘yes.’ As much as the village can see you struggling and exhausted and deserving of a nap, they can’t force their way into your home.”

While everyone’s experiences are different ( for example, not every couple starts a family right after marriage — what Lawton refers to as having “signed up for the stressful as f@*k starter pack”), there is something in this book that all moms will relate to. You will time travel to the days after bringing baby home, which “was like a tourist attraction for weeks” with family and friends showing up to see the little star attraction, while mom grew to feel more and more invisible. You will remember how your relationship with your spouse changed after becoming a parent. And you’ll nod along (and maybe chuckle) as you’re reminded that little about raising children is what you expected when you were childless; the mom you become rarely measures up the image of the mom you thought you’d be. Lawton seems to fully embrace these truths, with a warning for parents-to-be: “If you have nice things, expect there to be boogers on them.”

Note: An advance copy of this book was provided free of charge, but no compensation was made for this review. It is the honest opinion of the writer. KY