Thursday, July 24, 2008

Life Lessons from Frog and Toad: "The List"

Frog and Toad Together is my favorite of the Frog and Toad collections by Arnold Lobel. These "I Can Read Books" contain more profound insight into human nature than most grown-up literature. Take the first story in this collection: "The List." Toad makes a to-do list and loses it. That's the short version. The details, though, cut to the quick....

Toad wakes up and makes a to-do list. He decides to write "wake-up" as his first item. Then, he already has something to cross off! I've done this, I confess. I so want to cross those items off that list so that at the end of the day it will look like I've accomplished something. So, I've actually written down things that needed to get done, but which I've already done that day! (sigh) Anyone else out there in this camp?

In addition to the glorious satisfaction of crossing items off the list, Toad reveals another human foible (that I also share): he tells Frog, "'My list tells me that we will go for a walk.'" (emphasis mine). How many times do we let our to-do lists dictate our day? If the weather is beautiful outside, but I've planned a big day of housecleaning, I often still do the housecleaning.

After Toad accomplishes some of the items on his list (get dressed, eat breakfast, go see Frog, go for a walk with Frog, ...), he loses the list. (gasp!) Well, this little event paralyzes Toad. When Frog suggests that they chase after the list, Toad's response is telling: "'running after my list is not one of the things that I wrote on my list of things to do!'" I'm like that, too. I let myself get paralyzed by my list: if it's not on the list, it's not as important as the items that are on the list. This is something I'm trying desperately to overcome. If one of my precious children, for instance, is in the middle of discovering something huge (putting food in his mouth by himself for the first time, for instance, or taking his first, staggering, Frankenstein-looking steps), then I need to pull up a chair and enjoy the show! Who cares if watching junior cram a saltine in his mouth is not on my list of things to do?! What if our power goes out (like it did a few months ago), and I really can't do anything on the list? Then, instead of sitting there fretting like Toad did, I need to seize the day. (Which, thankfully, is what we did).

If you're in this boat, too--paralyzed by your to-do list that will never, ever get accomplished again because you now have a husband and/or children--then take a step back. Some things that have helped me immensely in this area are the following:

1. write only 3 things down: if you only get these three things done, then you're done for the day. Everything else is extra. This is very helpful for me. I put down the truly most important tasks (this might include dinner prep, a load of laundry, and scheduling the twins' one-year checkup...that's it!).

2. plan only one "Big Event" of the day: this might be your shower if you have a newborn in the house, and you're sleeping every other waking minute. Perhaps it's the kids' doctor's appointment, and you know you really won't have time to do anything else during the day. Or, it might be calling a friend you really need to talk to, knowing it will be a long conversation.

3. write down the things you know will be doing, but that are still meaningful: when I was a mother of only one newborn, I wrote down how many times I'd need to nurse her that day, along with taking a shower and taking a walk on my to-do list. At the end of the day, I realized that I might not have done anything around the house, but I was clean, my daughter had been fed 8 times that day, and we had both gotten fresh air. Pretty important in those early days for both of us.

Thankfully, the Lord doesn't have a to-do list when dealing with us, at least not in the way we understand to-do lists. In fact, in addition to all the Scripture encouraging us to be zealous for the faith, do good deeds, love other people, etc. etc., there are some priceless messages to be still, to know that He is God, to wait for the Lord. A personal favorite is the New American Standard Version of Psalm 46:10: Cease striving, and know that I am God.

This is also posted at The Tarnished Teapot.

Monday, July 7, 2008

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

(Quick, name the poem from which the title of this post comes!)

What bibliophile has enough bookshelves for that glorious book collection? When we moved into our current house, I made note immediately that the upstairs hallway was wide enough to house a nice bookcase specifically for my children's book collection (after all, our first child was due 2 months later--what better thought to have on one's mind?). I said this rather pointedly to my wood-working-loving husband.

Three years (and 3 babies, massive home improvements, job switch, etc.) later, here it is!!!!!! I need hardly tell any of my fellow bibliophiles what an ecstatic moment occurs when a bare, naked, in-desperate-need-of-books bookcase lands in your hallway. To add to the bliss, I had already categorized the boxes of books still lingering in our attic for just such an occasion. 1 hour later, all interesting children's books were released from captivity and placed lovingly on the shelves awaiting precious children's hands, eyes, and ears. (sigh) Isn't it wonderful?

Here I must make an addendum to Megan's infinitely helpful home library organization system: if you have a large collection of picture books, you may find it necessary to do some size-organization as well as topic/theme/etc. I had my husband build a bookcase with varying shelf dimensions in order to better use the space; some of my picture books are quite tall, while others (such as the Beatrix Potter collection on the very top) are quite small.

I should also mention that I believe it's crucial to have books appropriate for little hands all over the house--within reach. We have a bottom shelf of a bookcase in the living room devoted to kids' books, a small bookcase in the play area full of books, and one in each child's room for his/her books. I think it's better to have a few different places which encourage reading than have all children's books neatly organized in one place. Remember, one of the best gifts we can give these little ones of ours is a love of reading! With that, I'll close with this picture of one my boys below--in the midst of a play room/dining room painting project in which all furniture had been moved to the center of the room and most of it drop-cloth-covered, here sat one of my little ones, contentedly pouring over each book his little hands could find. He didn't move for 20 minutes (this is a 14-month old!).

Southern Women Writers

During the past 5 years or so, I've read quite a few books by Southern women writers. My time at Hollins University (MA in Children's Literature along with Megan!) helped pique my interest in this sub-category of fiction, particularly in the works of Lee Smith, also a graduate of Hollins. I've read almost all of Smith's work and have enjoyed it. Other authors I've read include Gail Godwin, Fannie Flagg, Barbara Kingsolver, and Sena Jeter Naslund. I've begun to see some trends in these women's works, including some things to note before you "jump in" to Southern women's fiction. This will serve as a brief introduction to these authors' work as a whole; I will follow up with short reviews of the different authors and their works in the weeks to come.

First, these novels and short stories tend to showcase the protagonist(s) relationships and conflicts with family (including siblings, parents, children, and spouses), tradition and culture, and the land. Second, Southern authors showcase the rich tradition, especially present in the Appalachias, of storytelling. Third, these works are almost always intergenerational; that is, several generations are involved in the story. Fourth, the works focus on personal struggles; these are frequently somewhat depressing in nature which is why I have to take a break every now and then! These struggles include everything from family tension, racial issues, identity crises, and the like.

Stay tuned! I'll look at one author at a time.