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For Paula

My sister left me with a book, Bittersweet by Shuana Niequist, when she came to visit briefly before heading off to Korea for a year to teach English with her husband. I am sad. I will miss her so. Also I am slightly jealous of her life situation and opportunity to go gallivanting off to explore a foreign country for a year.

Anyway, she specifically asked me to blog my favorite parts of the book. We mainly communicate and keep up on each other’s lives through our blogs. That may seem weird, but it isn’t and it works quite nicely for us most of the time especially now that we will be in entirely different time zones. And we acknowledge that sometimes this isn’t nearly sufficient and a several hours long phone call or FaceTime is necessary.

The book is highly relatable if you are a Christian in your mid- to late-twenties as it deals with life circumstances that age bracket faces.

The first few chapters flow really well together. Then it seems a bit disjointed to me and it took me several more chapters to figure out that it was a collection of separate essays which I would have figured out had I read the back cover. I got used to the format though and plundered on through the whole book in just one day.

Niequist wrote the book after a couple years of drastic changes in her life, including she and her husband no longer being on staff at Mars Hill church.

This last season in my life has been characterized, more than anything else, by change. Hard, swirling, one-after-another changes, so many that I can’t quite regain my footing before the next one comes, very much like being tumbled by waves. It began three years ago, in January in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I got pregnant, lost a job I loved, had a baby, wrote a book. A year after I lost my job, my husband, Aaron, left his job in a really painful way, and then for the next year and a half we traveled together and separately almost every week, doing all the freelance work we could find, looking for a new home and trying to pay the bills. Leaving our jobs at the church meant leaving the church community, the heart of our world in Grand Rapids, and that loss left a hole in our lives that was as tender and palpable as a bruise. The day after our son Henry’s first birthday, my brother Todd left on a two-year sailing trip around the world, taking my husband’s best friend Joe with Him. My best friend, Annette, left Grand Rapids and moved back to California. I got pregnant again, our kitchen and basement flooded, and on the Fourth of July I lost the baby. My first thought, there in the doctor’s office, was, “Everything in my life is dying. I can’t keep anything alive.” At some point in all that, we put our house up for sale, which meant lots and lots of showings but no offers. After several months, my husband and our son and I left our house still for sale and moved back to Chicago, to a little house on the same street I lived on as a child, exhausted and battered, out of breath and shaken up.

I guess that was the part most relatable to me because I’ve felt so in limbo since quitting my job, finding out I was pregnant, having a baby, moving to Thousand Oaks, leaving our ministry and church, finding out I was pregnant again, trying to find a church and become part of a new community, having another baby, moving again, etc.

Here’s the part where I learned something though. Because I have pretty much responded to these changes in the same way that she did. A child throwing a temper tantrum. You’ve all seen if here with terrible posts railing on motherhood and feeling stuck in this life and whining about how very awful my life is.

I know that to another person my difficult season would have been a walk in the park, and that all over the world, people suffer in unimaginable ways and manage far worse than my own little list. I was miserable because I lost touch with the heart of the story, the part where life always comes from death. I love the life part, and I always try to skip over that pesky death part. You can’t do that, as much as I’ve tried. I believe that God is making all things new. I believe that Christ overcame death and that pattern is apparent all through life and history: life from death, water from a stone, redemption from failure, connection from alienation. I believe that suffering is part of the narrative, and that nothing really good gets built when everything’s easy. I believe that loss and emptiness and confusion often give way to new fullness and wisdom. But for a long season, I forgot all those things. I didn’t stop believing in God. It wasn’t a crisis of faith. I prayed and served and pursued a life of faith the way I had before that season and the way I still do now. But I realized all at once, sitting in church on a cold dark night, that the story I was telling was the wrong one–or at the very least, an incomplete one. I had been telling the story about how hard it was. That’s not the whole story. The rest of the story is that I failed to live with hope and courage and lived instead a long season of whining, self-indulgence, and fear. This is my confession… Looking back now I can see that it was more than anything a failure to believe in the story of who God is and what he is doing in this world. Instead of living that story–one of sacrifice and purpose and character–I began to live a much smaller story, and that story was only about me. I wanted an answer, a timeline, and a map. I didn’t want to have to trust God or anything I couldn’t see. I didn’t want to wait or follow. I wanted my old life back, and even while I read the mystics and the prophets, even while I prayed fervently, even while I sat in church and begged for God to direct my life, those things didn’t have a chance to transform me, because under those actions and intentions was a rocky layer of faithlessness, fear, and selfishness… If I’m honest I prayed the way you order breakfast from a short-order cook: this is what I want. Period. This is what I want. Aren’t you getting this? I didn’t pray for God’s will to be done in my life, or, at any rate, I didn’t mean it. I prayed to be rescued, not redeemed. I prayed for it to get easier, not that I would be shaped in significant ways. I prayed for the waiting to be over, instead of trying to learn anything about patience or anything else for that matter… Every wave presents us with a choice to make, and quite often, unfortunately, I have stood, both resolute and terrified, staring down a wave. I have been smacked straight on with the force of the water, tumbled, disoriented, gasping for breath and for my swimsuit bottoms, and spit onto shore, embarrassed and sand-burned, standing up only to get knocked down again, refusing to float on the surface and surrender to the sea.

So there it is. Now what do I do about it? Stop being angry and whining and face up to life, my life, just the way it is. That’s what. Because there is no use in complaining or saying I am not built for this or meant for that life circumstance. That this is not the way I planned things or what was supposed to happen. This is what happened. This is right where I am supposed to be learning and living in this situation just as it is.


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The October Daily, 10/19

I love my little bookworm!

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Just some randomness…

Kids are napping in the back of the van and I’m sitting here in the parking lot of Whole Foods enjoying their free wifi so I thought I’d share what’s been on my mind this week besides Spring Fashion.

-Went to Babies & Books this morning at the TO Library. Parents talking on their cell phones during events like this really piss me off. It’s like you are there doing this activity with your kids(s), so be there, be present. Don’t sit in the corner talking and expect everyone else to watch and play with your kids. Ugh! Two parents did this and it happens pretty regularly. I always put my phone on silent during B&B, I think it is only polite.

-We tried potty training yesterday. Basically so I could just get it out of my system and give myself the satisfaction of knowing that we did try and that I didn’t hold her back because I was too lazy/preoccupied to deal with it.

We got the thick training undies, potty seat that fits on our toilet, lots of drinks, gluten-free gummi bears for treats, step stool, the whole nine yards. For the first couple hours I was tricked into thinking this would be so easy that I basically wouldn’t even have to “try”. Just after I put on the undies she said “potty potty” and pulled them down. Put her on and she did a little #1. A little while later the process repeated with a successful #2. Then she peed three times all over the floor right after that without saying anything and I was done. This morning she asked to go again and did a successful #2 on the potty after I took her diaper off. But I’m not doing undies again. If she wants to tell me she has to go and asks to go I’ll let her go, but I’m not going to camp out by the bathroom and try to watch her like a hawk or clean up accidents. It’s just not what I’m up for.

-Just read my pediatrician’s book. I started it Wednesday afternoon and finished it last night right before bed. I just really think it is the best. It basically articulates and explores everything I think about why I am doing what I am doing and then backs it up with scientific, medical, anthropological and psychological research.

-Um hello dream house. It really exists and not too far from where I live.

-Made the best bread ever yesterday.

Bean just woke up though so I’ll have to share the recipe at a later date. So good though.

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Learning baby

I remember the first time I took Bean to one of my old workplaces and the head anchor there was like, “Lisa do you read to her?” “Um, not really,” I answered quite sheepishly. “Oh, I read to my boys all the time. I’d nurse them for hours and just read and read.”

I came home and was a little freaked out and intimidated. Oh, no! What if I was already stunting Bean’s development? I didn’t even have any kids books yet. I remember calling my sister-in-law and asking her if I should already be reading. A few weeks later Ruth brought up a mini-library for Bean and I started trying to read sometimes, but she honestly wasn’t at all interested.

Within the past year, Stephen has really started to love reading and learning. He is rarely without a book these days and his guitars and amps are mostly sitting around collecting dust. Part of that makes me a little sad as I’ve always been a big proponent of his musical endeavors, but it just isn’t where he’s at right now. I do love, however, the effect of both of us reading all the time has on Bean. Like most kids she wants to copy everything we do and being such a Papa’s girl this is especially true of anything he does. She loves to pull out her books when we do and look at the pictures, point to things in the book and ask us, “Isth ut?” (which I think might mean “What is that?” or “What is it?”) and have us read to her.

The past couple months I’ve also started going on starfall.com a couple times a week and doing a few letters with her until she gets bored. And then for her birthday, my sister, Andrea, gave us the Your Baby Can Read! language development system which has been featured on infomercials and TV shows. I admit to thinking this thing is quite cheesy, but I read through the materials and what he says about early learning seems to make sense.

I am not, however, willing to dedicate a daily allotment of time for reviewing the DVD, books and flash cards. I think his system is a bit strict for a child this young. Plus, I think the way the system goes about teaching words encourages sight-reading over phonics (which is why I continue to use starfall).

In the few weeks since we started using it though, Bean has learned some of the words. While she can’t say all of them, she does recognize clap (she claps her hands when it is said), mouth (will point to her mouth), baby (she can actually say this one), arms up (does this), and hi (waves).


Clapping after pointing to the word clap and hearing me say it.


Waving “hi” after I pointed to the girl waving hi and said hi to her.

I really don’t think there is much to his system though that most parents couldn’t cobble together on their own. I think the biggest part is just actually setting aside time to either read or go over words, pictures, letters, colors, etc. Repetition seems to be a big part of it too. I also think it is important to watch their cues when they are this young. If they are clearly disinterested and ready to move on to the next thing, I wouldn’t force them to continue to sit through the rest of the video or book or whatever.


She really likes pointing to the tiger and hearing me say that one. I’m not sure why.

Anyway, a few friends asked me to do a bit of a review of the product and that is what I think so far. I guess this means homeschooling has already begun around here?

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Reading to Mama

Bean is so full of babble lately. She’s off in her own little world of conversation with or without you. I often find her sprawled out on the floor, book in front of her, babbling away and flipping through the pages. Or she’ll walk up and down the chair or couch where I happen to be saying “yeah” and other things I don’t quite understand. Her babbling is pretty constant. I really think it is fun and cute. Anyway, I caught her “reading” to me today on camera, enjoy!

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Tension, tension, tension!

“All too frequently, your child’s reluctance to go to bed is actually a reflection of how her world is feeling at that moment. Sleep is very sensitive to our emotions. And while it is well documented that emotions can disrupt sleep for adults, what is not as well known is that they can also disturb the sleep of children–even infants. That’s because emotions ‘arouse’ the brain and body. As a result, our muscles tense, preparing us to take action.”

I just finished the section on tension triggers and it makes so, so much sense!

When did all this sleep/behavior trouble start? When Stephen and I decided that we were going to move among other things.

“It doesn’t have to be a traumatic event such as an accident or major illness to increase arousal and agitation for your cild. Getting lost in a store, being held down for a painful medical procedure, experiencing a bad storm, hearing a terrifying news story, or having a teacher or coach who yells and shames, can be enough to keep your child awake at night for days, even weeks… It can be difficult to know what will significantly upset a child. During the last six months, has your child or family experienced any painful or distressful event? The residue may be lingering in your child’s body, pushing her across the line into tense energy… Major changes can also pose a problem. A move, a new baby, a divorce are obvious creators of tension, but what may not be as obvious are the little changes that actually have a big impact on tension… which disrupts your entire family’s sense of order and predictability… Switching beds or bedrooms, going on a family vacation, the start or end of a school year, or even the shift to daylight savings time can impact your child.”

-Being held down for painful medical procedure? Check (shots)
-Moving… check
-Switching beds… check (we transitioned from the Pack N Play to her crib after the move)
-Switching bedrooms… check (we not only changed to a new bedroom in the move, but started having her sleep in her own room after the move)
-Family vacation… check (well a sort of one day only thing for my sisters graduation, but I noticed it had a huge impact)
-Daylight savings time… check.

“Anthropologist Mark Finn from the University of Missouri has been studying children living on a remote tropical island for more than thirteen years…What he discovered is that children’s (even infants’) stress levels peak when the key adults in their lives are stressed. What may seem inconsequential to adults–a fight between Mom and Dad, Grandma fretting about bills, or Mom leaving on a business trip–causes a child’s cortisol levels to rise… It appears that, without meaning to, you can communicate your stress to your child via your touch, voice tone, and gesture. When you slam the door, throw down the car keys, or yell, the force and tone convey to your child that something is amiss and that he needs to be on alert. Immediately, stress hormones are released into her body. Your stress also preoccupies you, making it less likely that you’ll pick up your child’s cues and respond patiently. The result is a child who feels more anxious and insecure and, as a result, fights to stay awake.”

I am horrible when it comes to masking and dealing with stress. I am sure I’ve transmitted how I’m feeling to Bean. I just tend to be a pretty emotional person in general. If I am worn out or stressed about the tiniest thing it is pretty obvious. Stephen is way better at this stuff, but then again not. He’ll say that he’s fine and not stressed, but I can tell. He does act different. He isn’t fine.

“Ironically, the less sleep your child has the more stress hormones his body releases to keep him going. If your child isn’t sleeping or behaving well, think back on the events of the week. Did you have to wake him from a nap? Did he skip a nap or stay up late for a special event? Did he spend a restless night in a hotel or at a slumber party? If these things occurred, you can assume that your child is experiencing high tension.”

When I run errands all day or the day is just really exciting because people are here and there is stuff going on, Bean often skips naps or doesn’t nap for very long. Consequently, she is sometimes harder to get to sleep and get her to stay asleep that night because she is so overtired and having a hard time shutting down.

“Lights, noise, crowds, and colors are all sensations that can stimulate the brain. Some children seem to easily block those sensations and drop off to sleep in the midst of them. Others get revved up and just can’t fall asleep. But high levels of stimulation are the norm for most families, and, as a result, it is easy to miss this as a cause… Do a life check. Did battery-operated toys arrive as gifts for your newborn? … Have you ever noticed that, after a day of shopping your child can’t sleep? Stop, look and listen. How many different sensations is your child’s brain trying to process at once? Does the stimulation level in your child’s life leave him cringing, too tight to sleep? If your child is especially sensitive to stimulation, it doesn’t mean that you should never go to an amusement park for fun, or a restaurant for dinner. It’s just a reminder that if his day has been filled with hours of television-watching, crowds of people, and a barrage of stimulation, it’s likely that he’ll need more help settling down for the night… Sometimes it’s the pace and sense of rushing that can be keeping your family awake. Even when you’ve been looking forward to the activities and thoroughly enjoy them, there’s a line where you and your child cross from calm into tense energy…  Often we become so accustomed to this level of tension that we are not even aware of it. Take special care to pay attention to the needs of a younger child who gets toted along… The stress of a too-busy life can get you and your child not only during the day, but at night as well. Recognizing this allows you to find the balance between a busy, yet satisfying day and one that leaves everyone in a frenzy.”

Bean is defnitely very easily stimulated by the world. When we are in public she deals with this by becoming quietly observant. However, she does start to dart her head around trying to take it all in. Sometimes even just Stephen’s presence is enough to send her over the edge of excitement and overstimulation. As I’m carrying her upstairs for a diaper change she’ll be in a frenzy to keep her eyes on him. If she hears his voice and he comes home during a nursing session I can just throw in the towel because there will be no use trying to keep her attention on the task at hand. Papa is just too exciting. This is one reason I am so glad we don’t have cable or the ability to watch TV right now. I think we would have even more problems.

“Pschologist Tom Anders found in his studies that children nine to fourteen months old wake more frequently than six-month-old infants. The reason, he believes, is the huge surge in physical devopment at this stage. It’s during this period of nine to fourteen months that most tiny toddlers begin to pull themselves up to standing, and begin walking. The joy of these new skills raises arousal levels and so enthralls the child that even in the middle of the night he wants to practice… So, if your child is waking in the night or battling to stay up, ask yourself, is she within six weeks of her birthday or half birthday when growth spurts tend to occur? Or have you noticed any significant change in her skills?… What skills is your child working on right now? What is he able to do that he couldn’t do six months ago? The quest to grow may be keeping him aroused.”

Yes, yes and yes. Stephen and I have come into Bean’s room in the middle of the night to find her trying to sit up, crawl, roll over and pull herself up onto the side of the crib. The other night she was saying “Ma ma ma” a bunch in her sleep. During the day her new discoveries are often a huge source of tension in her little body, especially when she can’t quite get to or do the thing that she wants.

So often though I’ve just been frustrated. I take her attitude personally as if she can somehow control it. Instead of seeing things through her perspective. This new exciting world to her. Each day it seems she discovers a new toy, finds a new way to do something.

“When you are able to tune into the ‘culprits’ that are creating tense energy in your child’s life, you won’t feel so out of control. As a result, you’ll respond more empathaetically, recognizing that your child is not trying to be difficult. Your awareness will also allow you to be kinder to yourself. You are not a bad or ineffective parent. It’s tension that is keepig your child on alert, unable to sleep and acting up. The ‘force’ is no longer invisible. It’s concrete and manageable, and you are now ready to take the steps to reduce it, so that everyone can sleep.”

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Sound familiar?

I just re-picked up Sleepless in America: Practical Strategies to Help Your Family Get the Sleep it Deserves by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. I first read this book when Bean was about a month old. I actually didn’t read the whole thing. Just the first chapter and then the chapter on infants. I was a little disappointed at that time because it basically said everything that Happiest Baby on the Block said. I didn’t understand why so many AP (attachment parenting) parents were such a fan of this book when it was just reitterating the same exact information and offering no new tricks or advice. Way to blow $20.

Well, with all our sleep issues lately I decided to give the book a second chance. I’m through the first five chapters and already finding so much stuff that falls in line with my parenting style (which is somewhere between AP and not AP). I love that Kurcinka admits that not every strategy works for every child. I love that she has so much research in here to back it all up. I just am loving this book right now.

What I’m not loving? That my yuckiness is pointed out so blatantly before my eyes. A yuckiness that I believe is a result of not getting enough sleep.

Here’s a checklist of behavior that unfortunately fits me nearly perfectly:
-Be short-tempered, easily “set off” by the kids
-Feel irritable and cranky, nothing is much fun
-Burst into tears
-Become frustrated easily
-Find it difficult to alter plans or deal with surprises
-Become controlling and demanding
-Feel overwhelmed, anxious, or jittery
-Experience head- or stomachaches
-Have difficulty falling asleep even though you’re tired
-Wake up in the morning to an alarm going off or a child waking you, rather than on your own
-Become ill more frequently
-Crave carbohydrates, sugar, and/or caffeine
-Drop things, stub your toe, turn your ankle, or stumble
-Feel sluggish, heavy, unable to make a meal, pick things up, respond to a child
-Experience overwhelming sleepiness at certain points in the day
-Feel as though you are in a fog
-Mix up words
-Forget things
-Make a list and then lose it
-Perform poorly, especially on things that require quick thinking or action
-Miss “cues” from your children and others
-Miss your exit on the freeway
-Have difficulty making decisions or thinking things through
-Argue with your partner or your children
-Take your child’s behavior more personally
-Demand that things be done NOW!
-Be more easily hurt by the comments of others
-Be less flexible
-Allow the “tone” to creep into your voice

While some of it is kind of funny, most of it is just yucky. I hate that I act this way. Maybe not in the public eye, but I do act this way. Out of the whole list there were only a few things that did not describe me: hitting, throwing things, inability to be creative (can’t really see that one ever happening), feeling frenzied, frequently ill, and feeling guilty about lack of energy.

So yeah, we definitely have sleep issues around here. Yes, I knew that already. Hopefully this book will help.

Nuggets I like so far:

“Anything that upsets your child’s sense of well-being will raise her arousal and pull her system in the direction opposite of sleep. That’s why it is important to look at the advice you have been given. Scrutinize it carefully and determine whether the recommended strategies create a sense of security that calms your child’s body, thus gently nudging her toward sleep, or leave her feeling anxious and insecure, pushing her away.”

Ah yes. All the well intentioned advice us moms (and dads) get… “You just need to let her cry it out. She’ll sleep like an angel.” “Don’t spoil her.” “If you bring her to bed with you, you’ll never get her out.” A few paragraphs later Kurcinka shares some good tips for responding to the advice so that you don’t start debates or offend your friends and family or make anyone feel guilty for doing what works for their family.

“It’s very likely that your heart has fought the use of strategies that leave your child feeling tense and threatened, but you might not have known what else you could do. Or you may have felt trapped, reluctant to ignore the warnings of others, or pressured to use strategies that so many others have. And it is true. Children may cry as they go to sleep. The key is in knowing the differences in the cries. Lay one child down, and he may cry for a few minutes. A mad cry, as though to say, ‘This is hard work! I don’t like it. I don’t want to rest,” but in less than five minutes, he falls blissfully asleep. As his parent, you realize that a bit of fussing was just what he needed to release the tension from his body and that he will now sleep well. Lay another child down, and he screams as though he’s pleading, ‘Help me, please help me, I can’t stop!’ And, indeed, he can’t. His heart racing, eyes wild, hair mussed, he is unable to bring his body back into balance and calm himself. If left unattended, he will cry for hours, overwhelmed by the rush of stress hormones in his body. He cannot stop until someone helps him, not because he’s trying to be manipulative but because of the tension and level of arousal in his body. Or, if he does finally ‘crash,’ as a parent, you are left wondering, as Robert did in class, does he fall in exhaustion or in despair? When you practice sensitive care, you recognize the difference between the cries of these two children, and respond to each appropriately. If, however, you allow the advice of others, no matter how well intentioned, to stop you from listening to your child’s cues and to your own heart’s reaction, you lose your rudder, that deep sense of direction that tells you what your child needs and how to respond. Children can learn to fall asleep and to stay asleep with strategies that gently and respectfully get them there. You don’t have to leave them screaming in the night.”

Ah yes! This is totally us around here! I will now admit freely that I did try “crying it out” again about a month ago during nap time one day. Such a disaster. Let’s just say that Bean is very persistant and she would have gone on for hours and hours and hours if I let her. Crying it out does not work for her and I really don’t have the nerves for it honestly. However, sometimes after I’ve already rocked or nursed her to sleep and I put her into bed she will roll onto her tummy lift up her head and cry for a couple seconds before resettling herself and falling blissfully asleep as if nothing happened. I was exasperated over these two completely different situations. Was I being a bad, non-AP mom and letting her “cry it out” sometimes even though I knew that these situations were, in fact, completely different?

“Stop and reflect. How are you approaching sleep now? Does your nighttime routine match the kind of nurturing care you are providing your child during the day, or are you doing things at night that you would never consider trying during the day? If someone asked you to post your ‘nighttime policy’ at your door or on the Internet, would another family want to send their child to you for care? If you were a child, would you want to sleep in your home?”

This section was especially hard hitting because she took the advice that many parents have been given when it comes to dealing with their babies and applied it to a “nighttime policy” for elderly in assisted living situations. Would you want your sweet grandparents left crying it out, soiled in poo or puke, and thirsty in the night? I don’t think so.

“Perspective is a powerful force. It changes our attitude, our behavior, and the physiological reactions in our body. When we are willing to stop and consider the other person’s perspective, we begin to work together. When your child doesn’t sleep, it can feel as though her behavior is intentional. Why, you may wonder, is she doing this to me? Why is she goading me and disturbing everyone around her? This perspective leaves you feeling angry and helpless, ready to fight with your child or to shut the door and walk away from her. The reality is that when your child isn’t sleeping, it isn’t about you. Rather it is a reflection of what’s going on inside of her body. When she doesn’t sleep, it’s not because she won’t, but because she can’t. Think about your own restless nights, when sleep eludes you. Tossing and turning, you find yourself checking the clock every two hours, your dreams leaving you troubled and tired. You do not choose for this to happen to you. Rather, something is on your mind, your body is humming with energy. As a result, you do not sleep because, like your child, you can’t.”

Oh man. So often I take things with Bean so personally even though she’s only 7 months old. Even tonight as I was putting on a particularly complicated pair of PJs (seriously who designs sleepwear for babies with a million snaps and four ties!?!), I was getting really mad because she kept wanting to roll over and look in the mirror or play with the carpet and gosh darnit I needed to get these PJs on already! Why wasn’t she listening to me? I said, NO! So dumb to get upset over PJs, I know, but it had been a long day and I was exhausted and frustrated.

Anyway, like I said I love this book. I’m even thinking about ordering her other one about raising a spirited child because I already have a feeling from her personality that Bean will be spirited, to say the least.

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