Sunday, September 13, 2009

Masha Hamilton discussion AND GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to announce that we're being treated to a stop on a special blog tour celebrating the new book from Masha Hamilton, 31 Hours! She's teamed up with her publisher, Unbridled Books, asking bloggers to publish one of her essays and host a blog discussion. Read on... and please participate!

Masha Hamilton is an accomplished author, spent years as a foreign correspondent, and is a major advocate for world literacy programs. (Check out her Afghan Women's Writing Project!)

One of her books,
The Camel Bookmobile, had been on my to-read list for quite some time and I was just able to read it last week. It's a beautiful work of fiction, inspired by time Hamilton and her daughter spent in Kenya observing the workings and challenges of a mobile library.

Hamilton's newest book was just released last Tuesday, 9/8/09. Entitled 31 Hours, it looks to be a tense and heart-wrenching tale.

In the middle of the night in New York City, a woman jolts awake, realizing she hasn’t heard from her 21-year-old son in weeks, and knowing beyond doubt that something is wrong.

What we know is that the young man, Jonas, is isolated in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, pondering his recent conversion to Islam and the training he received last year in Pakistan. Alone now, cut off from all dissuasion, Jonas is listening to the passing subways and preparing himself for the once unthinkable action he has been instructed to undertake in exactly 31 hours…

The following essay is the perfect introduction to the novel and one of its central themes. I hope you'll join me in reading it and discussing it here. To further entice you, I'm planning a giveaway related to this post later in the week!

Parenting the Nearly-Grown

by Masha Hamilton

“Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.” Roman philosopher and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106-43 B.C.

Not long after the second of my three children was born, I sat at the kitchen table late one evening talking to my dad about parental responsibility. It’s a big topic and we were covering lots of philosophical ground, but what I remember most is my pronouncement that my primary job could be boiled down quite simply and starkly: I had to keep safe these beings released into my charge. I needed to keep them alive.

These were the musings of a new parent, of course. The circumstances, too, should be considered; the first child had been born in Jerusalem during the intefadeh, and the second was born as I was reporting from Moscow during the collapse of Communism. In both situations, I repeatedly came face-to-face with life’s fragility.

But even in calmer times, even after the birth of my third child, I never lost the feeling that my main duty was to pass them on into adulthood as unscathed as possible, as healthy in every way as they could be.

It sounds pretty simple, on the face of it. We perform many jobs as parents: nurturers, playmates, cheerleaders, short-order cooks, nurses, disciplinarians, detectives, spiritual leaders. Keeping them safe should not be the hardest, not with the help of baby monitors, plastic devices to cover electrical outlets, pads for sharp corners, child-proof medicine bottles, the list goes on.

And in fact, we passed through well, with just the usual rounds of stitches, one violent dog attack, a rabies scare and a few months when my youngest fell so often and got so many bumps on his forehead that my husband and I joked someone was surely going to call child services on us.

Now, though, my youngest is 14, and as they’ve grown, I recognize my job has been transformed. It is to give them trust and space so they can develop confidence in their ability to make their own lives. And yet the two oldest, at ages 19 and 20, are in a period of time that seems almost like a parentheses in their lives. They are certainly not children, but nor are they quite adults. Meanwhile, I say and think all the usual things parents have been saying and thinking since—well, perhaps ever since Cicero, whose words I keep taped to my office wall: it’s rougher out there than it was in my time. More chaotic. More violent. More dangerous.

And everyone is writing a book.

It was, in fact, into my latest novel, 31 Hours, that I channeled my fears. Among other things, the novel offered a chance to explore what it means to be the parent of someone on the cusp of adulthood but not yet there. The mother in 31 Hours, Carol, is strong and independent, free of empty nest syndrome, but her maternal intuition is strong and she’s concerned about her 21-year-old son’s growing emotional distance, the way he seems tense and depressed. Her fears are amorphous and hard to convey; nevertheless, as she lies awake in the dark, she decides to trust the hunch that something is wrong, and to spend the next day trying to track her son Jonas down and “mother him until he shrugs her off.”

There are many themes in the novel, but one question it asks—one pertinent to all parents and one I’m still trying to answer for myself—is this: after years of being vigilant and protecting our kids, what should we do—and what are we allowed to do—to keep them safe once they are nearly, but not quite, grown?


photo credit: Briana Orr

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

they say patience is a virtue

I've been thinking about patience lately. Diary of a New Mom had a great post last week about patience. While reading it, I realized that we parents make patience into a pretty big deal with our kids. We strongly encourage it. We talk to them about sharing and waiting their turn.

But, then the "RIGHT NOW" mindset of young kids sometimes gets us frazzled and we snap, "Would you just be patient and wait a minute?!!"

What a model of patience. And, of course, it's not all the time. There are many times, numerous times every hour, that I am very patient. But, maybe when they say that patience is a virtue, they mean that your patience shouldn't come and go. It should be constant, and in that, lies the virtue. There's an aspiring challenge, right?

Tonight we were running errands as a family and J was cranky at being dragged across the city with the setting sun shining into his eyes. I'll sum it up by saying there was whining involved, a few tears, a high speed chase through a furniture store, and then the paramount patience-tester:

Why? Why Mama? Why Daddy? Why?

Oh, the whys! Not the whys! Or, if the whys, then why not just one why? Why a series of whys with no end in sight? Why do whys build on each other the way a mouse's requests do if you give a mouse a cookie?

So, during the stressed out drive home, C asks me if it's our patience we need to work on or if this is all just normal. He sheepishly asked if it's terrible to use an exasperated tone with a two year-old. Yikes! I don't know!! It can't be, can it? It would be unrealistic to think otherwise, wouldn't it? I mean, sure we shouldn't expect a mountain of patience out of the little guy. But, does that mean that the burden falls completely on us, or is this one of those gray areas... a phase that we have to endure for the time being (as best and as patiently as we can)?

I read somewhere recently that the phrase "multi-tasking" was only just born in the last 10-15 years. It seems that concept, just that word, is sabotaging people's patience levels. We don't have the patience to work on one thing at a time. And, when you stop and think about it, isn't it during those multi-tasking times that you become such an easy target to crack? One too many whys and you flip. (Check out this NPR story that says you just might not be as good a multi-tasker as you think you are.)

So, not only is it my goal to work on my patience level, but to also unmulti-task as much as I can, especially when I'm playing with or caring for J. Having my mind and attention cluttered with one less thing might just give me the energy and insight to deal with one more round of whys. And that's something I'm not even going to question!

{photo credit}

Monday, September 7, 2009


If he could, I think J would LOVE to reenact the story of I Ain't Gonna Paint No More! He's been painting up a storm during the last few weeks, a real flurry of watercolor artwork that in the past he hadn't been so interested in. I'm content to watch him mix colors and experiment with the different brushes...

but, he prefers Daddy and me not to be just bystanders. Which is fun, but I am not much of an illustrator. Rainbows and flowers and shapes and then I'm pretty much out of material. C is good, though. He makes these cute cartoon-y characters and animals.

I think J's watercolors look so pretty, almost like suncatchers, hanging on our sliding glass door.

C and J dove right in when I suggested we try the salty watercolor project I saw on The Artful Parent. It was very cool!

J's creation:

And, C's creation:

And, now for a confession. Am I a bad mother because just this week I *allowed* J to finger paint for the first time? He's 2 and a half! How could I have denied him this classic toddlerhood fun all this time?! Well, I just expected it to be such an ordeal. Long, involved set-up. A big mess. Paint flying onto the walls and into my hair and onto the dog. A big cleanup. A bath. Another load of laundry.

But...(oh, you knew it was coming)

It was FUN! At one point, J stopped, looked over at me and said, "Isn't this crazy?! No brushes!!!" The poor guy. Look what he's been missing. I did cheat a little and had J use his watercolor paint set. We didn't go all out with the big bottles of tempera I have downstairs. I had to ease into this, mamas!

Anyone else want to enlighten us with some fun easy kiddo crafts? Or, do you have a crafty confession--something you've not yet attempted with your kids even though you know they'd probably love it? Don't worry--no judgement! Maybe just some encouragement.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

gardens, forgotten and secret

Did any young girl not enjoy reading The Secret Garden at least once during her childhood?

It was required reading in my 4th grade class, and for some reason my parents bought me my own copy of the book. (Although avid readers and frequent library users, my parents didn't often purchase books.) I've treasured it and still have it on my bookcase at home.

Last week I finished reading Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden and was reminded of the beauty, excitement, and escape I experienced when reading The Secret Garden. Morton's story is beautiful and imaginative; the characters and the setting inhabited my thoughts constantly; and I really hated to part with it, even though its mysteriousness made it quite a page-turner.

The Forgotten Garden is a generational saga that spans the life of its main character, Nell, a girl who at the age of 4 was abandoned on a ship leaving England for Australia. On her eighteenth birthday, her "father", overcome with guilt at having kept her true identity secret all this time, tells Nell the truth. She is never the same. Over the course of her adult life, she delves into discovering who she is, and although she makes significant progress, discovering her true identity is a task left to her granddaughter, Cassandra, upon Nell's death.

As the chapters weave in and out of the present day, readers are transported with Nell and Cassandra to the brooding, almost cursed, Blackhurst Manor and the secrets of the Blackhurst family--and their impact on Nell's personal history--are slowly revealed.

It's clear that Frances Hogsdon Burnett's The Secret Garden was an inspiration to Morton in the creation of this story. (Burnett is even given a cameo appearance in the novel at a garden party.) I'm looking forward to rereading The Secret Garden here very soon.

The only thing that could make reading either of these stories even more enjoyable is having the option to read while lounging in a forgotten or secret garden of your discovery.