Fall Reading with my Toddler

It’s time once again for a book roundup. Here’s what Sky and I have been reading this fall.

Sky, 2 years old

If You Listen, Charlotte Zolotow

I chose this book the way I usually do when in the library with Sky: hastily, based on the amount of text on each page and the quality of the illustrations, while simultaneously making sure Sky puts books back before she takes more from the shelves. I was thinking about how much I’d like for Sky to listen to me, i.e., do what I say, and hoping this book was about being still and paying attention.

It’s actually a beautiful, moving book about grief and loss. Though the book doesn’t explicitly discuss death, it describes a mother’s response to her daughter’s question: “How can I feel someone’s love when they’re far away?” When I realized what the book was about, I was hesitant to read it to Sky. But she chose it from the book basket every time we sat down to read, and listened attentively to the words. “She miss her Daddy?” she would ask me, pointing to the little girl in the story. It’s amazing how much kids can pick up on, even when they’re this small.

Puddle, Hyewon Yum. So, I love everything we’ve read by this author/illustrator. The Twins’ Blanket, which I found at the library’s Title Wave used bookstore, quickly became one of Sky’s all-time favorites, something we’ve kept on the shelf in our living room since she was about 16 months. As I’ve discovered favorite authors in my own reading, I’ve naturally requested and read as many of their books as I could find in our library’s collection. I don’t know why it’s only just now occurring to me that I can do that for Sky, too.

Puddle is a cute little story about a mom and a little boy stuck inside on a rainy day. The little boy is complaining about the rain, and the mom invites him to come draw with her. Together, they draw scenes of what it might be like to take a walk in the rain, taking turns “splashing” each other in the imaginary puddles with colored-pencil rain. Eventually, the pictures convince the little boy that taking a real puddle walk might be okay. Sky loves puddles, and puddle walks, and colored pencils, so needless to say, this was a big hit.

Blueberries for Sal (Audiobook), Robert McCloskey

I’ve been reading up on homeschooling options for Sky (see my book picks below), following a really informative education overview on the Coffee + Crumbs Podcast (“Mama’s Getting Schooled,” September 19, 2017). I’m investigating the Charlotte Mason style of homeschooling, and one thing that struck me is the level of reading material many Charlotte Mason homeschool parents choose for their children.

One mom wrote about playing audiobooks for her children as a way to give herself a break during a hands-on school day. I decided to try this one out, and I was really surprised by how much Sky responded to it. It’s wordier and slower than many of the books we read, and the pictures are simple– but she really loved listening to the tape and turning the pages on cue. We listened to it quite a bit as the weather turned rainy. I like how an audiobook is not quite a book, and not quite a tape. As a reading experience, it’s somewhere between watching an episode of Daniel Tiger and a cozy read with mom on the couch– I get a bit of a break to relax and listen with her, but we’re not dipping into our daily screen time allotment.

Frog and Toad are Friends, Arnold Lobel

In the same vein, I checked out this old favorite even though it’s geared much older kids than Sky. She always seems to gravitate toward the “I Can Read” bookshelf at the library, so I let her pick one out from the Frog & Toad series and carry it to the checkout herself. She felt very proud of herself, and again I’ve been surprised by her focus when we read these. We even brought it along to urgent care one weekend when her persistent cough got scary-worse and our doctor’s office was closed. She sat still through two or three “chapters,” though she definitely liked the one about Toad’s bathing suit the best.


My Body! What I Say Goes, Jayneen Sanders

I follow “A Mighty Girl” on Facebook and I always love their topical roundups on teaching kids about tough subjects like racism, war, and personal boundaries. Sky has been asking me lots of questions about my body and hers as the baby grows and my stomach gets rounder. I wanted to find something to read with her to help explain private parts, and how to trust your feelings when someone is asking you to do something with your body that you don’t want to do– even giving hugs to a new grown-up friend of mommy or daddy’s. Especially in light of sexual assault awareness month and the #metoo campaign, I want to start talking with her about her right to her own body in regular, daily conversations, and so far this book is helping us do that.

Books! Books! Storytime Singalong Vol. 1, Emily Arrow

Okay, this was a CD we checked out from the library, not a book, but since it’s about books and since I have listened to it by myself in the car when Sky was home with her daddy, I figured it was worth including here. Kids’ music you actually like to listen to?! Sort of a rare gem. My favorite tracks are “The Dot Song,” about making your mark as an artist and making it “matter,” and “Are We There, Yeti?” a funny song about whining in the car. It makes Sky laugh. (I mean really, how cute is this lady?)


Melissa, 30 something

Saints for All Occasions, J. Courtney Sullivan

I put this on my TBR list early this summer when it was mentioned ever-so-briefly in an NPR interview as the “sleeper” novel of the year (or something like that.) I wrote the title down on a receipt in the sticky center consul of my car before running into Dollar Tree. I carried that receipt around in my pocket and then wallet for a while until I remembered to place a hold on it at the library, and then it took about three months to rise up the impressive wait list– I guess others heard the same interview clip. ANYway, point being: this book was well worth the wait. I finished it in a few days and even now, the characters are still fresh in my mind and I kind of miss them. (I can only say that about one other novel, The Brothers Karamazov, which I used to read every summer, pre-kids.) I liked it so much I checked out and devoured her earlier novel The Engagements, which is a linked novel about the evolution of the ad campaign for diamond engagement rings. Educational and thought-provoking and very entertaining. Excited to read through her backlist.

Reading People: How Seeing People Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, Ann Bogel

This one was mentioned on a blog I follow, and sounded right up my alley. It’s a survey of personality types through various popular methods: Meyers Briggs, Enneagram, Strengthsfinder, and the like. I’ve always known and struggled with the fact that I’m an introvert, and earlier this year as I was preparing to launch my freelance grant-writing business, I took an official Meyers-Briggs test to confirm it. I came out pretty solidly INFJ, and reading through the author’s description in Reading People only reaffirmed it. Ann Bogel’s description of the spectrum of introversion and extroversion also helped me see how my nature is something I can work with, rather than something to hide or feel ashamed of. I was also interested in the chapter on Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) and Highly Sensitive Children (HSCs), something I hadn’t heard of. I saw myself pretty clearly in the HSP camp, and there were several parts of the descriptor for HSCs that struck me as fitting for Sky, too– though I’d say it’s still too early to know for sure, since 2-year-olds in general can be pretty sensitive people. I appreciate how Bogel presents each method using stories and examples from her own life, and then offers resources for learning more. This was an engaging read for a subject that could easily become overwhelming or dull.

Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long, David Rock

Not sure what it says about my brain right now that this took me FOREVER to read, and that I didn’t quite finish it before it was really overdue at the library. Sigh. Nevertheless, I did glean some strategies for working more efficiently by understanding a teeny bit of neuroscience, and so I’m including it in this list as a worthy read. Returning to work, even the moderate 5 hours a week I’m doing right now, has brought up a lot of old baggage and anxiety for me. I’ve noticed myself struggling with some powerful feelings of unworthiness, even though I know intellectually that my academic training and years of experience in education and writing have prepared me for exactly this kind of work. David Rock’s book helped me look at the triggers that might send me down this anxiety spiral. Like Bogel, he uses stories to illustrate concepts. Each chapter starts with a work scenario that did not go so well, unpacks the neuroscience behind it, then recasts the same scenario using simple, alternative strategies. Some of them will be familiar (take a walk or do the dishes to clear your mind, schedule prioritizing tasks first-thing) and others might surprise you.

The Well-Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling, Rachel Gathercole

This is the first book I picked up on homeschooling because it focuses on what is apparently THE question homeschoolers hear from the curious and the skeptical: “Yeah, but how will your kid get any social time?” I’ll place myself firmly in the curious camp, because I know a handful of families who homeschool and what they do seems pretty creative, varied, challenging, and FUN. Nevertheless, I’ve often wondered how homeschooling might impact a child’s social development, because the only experience I know first-hand has been “traditional” public schooling– something that’s really not so traditional at all, as it turns out. This book is somewhat academic in style. It parses out each element of the “socializing” question through definitions, studies, and lengthy excerpts from interviews with homeschooling children and parents. But it’s definitely approachable and readable, and it really challenged my preconceptions about how normal public schooling really is– and if we should use it as a healthy standard when it comes to raising well-adjusted kids.

The Homegrown Preschooler: Teaching your Kids in the Places They Live, Kathy Lee and Lesli Richards

This book is inspiring and fun to read, with lots of color photos and activity ideas for teaching preschoolers at home. In tandem with the more scholarly style of the book above, it’s getting me pretty excited about planning a homeschool curricula for Sky when she turns three next summer. There’s also a helpful website, The Homegrown Preschooler, with more articles, ideas, and resources for homeschooling the littlest learners.


Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend, Kim Frederickson

Another read inspired by one of my favorite podcasts, my friend Sarah’s Beautiful Brave. I wrote a post earlier this year about having trouble finding ANY books on self-compassion in the Christian tradition. At least two other writers must have been thinking the same thing, because two awesome books on the topic came out in 2017: Catherine McNiel’s Long Days of Small Things, and this book. Anyone who’s read Brene Brown’s work on shame understands the importance of recognizing the impact of negative self-talk– and yet the actual practice of working with what Frederickson calls the “inner critic” can be mysterious, even frustrating. I’ve read a lot about self-compassion and I STILL have trouble actually doing the simple mindfulness exercises well-known writers like Kristen Neff and Tara Brach describe. I loved McNiel’s and Frederickson’s books for that reason: they show you how you can practice mindfulness and self-compassion as a mother of small children. I like Frederickson’s no-nonsense style and the simple, doable exercises she describes. Excited to read her parenting-themed sequel, Give Your Kids a Break, next.

I also think I’m going to be ready for a thick stack of novels after this fall’s heavy non-fiction list.

What are your favorite reads from this fall? What novels should I check out as we head into winter?

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2nd Trimester Check-in

As I near the start of my third trimester (!!), I am checking in on how the second trimester of this second pregnancy has gone. I love reading comparisons of first and second pregnancies on other blogs, and I have a funny obsession with bump pics that show the full progression of mom-and-baby development. I just think it’s amazing what our bodies can do to accommodate growing a tiny human.

12 weeks: Some would say I’m still in the first trimester, but at twelve weeks I’m feeling brave enough to start documenting this pregnancy. I’ve been showing since about ten weeks (a full eight weeks earlier than my pregnancy with Sky), but this is the week people really start commenting.
Feeling: Still nauseous pretty much all day. This pregnancy it started at six weeks, and I’ve actually vomited several times which wasn’t the case with Sky. Seems like a lot of other second-time moms have harder second pregnancies, so I guess I’m not alone in this.
Eating: Cottage cheese with cold cantaloupe, plain bagels, cold water with lemon. Steamed carrots and plain rice; heated chicken broth and dry toast; plain pasta with butter and salt. I want to eat more green vegetables but I just can’t even get near them.
Noticing: Crazy dreams and insomnia.

Week 14: I had my midwife appointment this week and got to hear the baby’s heartbeat again, always reassuring for this post-miscarriage mother. I’ve decided to go back to my regular OB and primary care doctor rather than the midwife practice.
Feeling: Starting to feel a lot better this week! Nausea hits me at about 4 pm and doesn’t let me go until I fall asleep, but it’s lovely to actually feel hungry in the morning.
Eating: Cottage cheese and cantaloupe, oatmeal, bananas, NO more cooked tomatoes (heartburn).
News: I got in touch with our doula to see if she’s available in January. She is! Knowing I’ll have these familiar faces with me throughout the pregnancy is a comfort. It’s starting to feel real!

Week 17:
Feeling: Caught a nasty cold, but otherwise I’ve been feeling really well. Nausea only hits me sporadically now– when I go too long without a snack, or spend too much time in the heat.
Eating: Salads are back! Eggs, beans, and raw tomatoes– all things I’ve missed and also been repulsed by for three long months. Oranges, chia pudding, and peanut butter.
News: I’ve started to feel baby kick! Maybe flutter-kick is a better word at this point. Mostly in the evenings, and sometimes during the day after I’ve had some fruit or cold juice. Speaking of which. Grapefruit! Where have you been all my life?! I can’t get enough.

Week 20:
Feeling: So good! I have way more energy, which is a blessing as I officially start writing grant proposals for a new client this week. Baby is kicking a lot and Lyle has even been able to feel baby’s kicks a few times.
Eating: Everything. My appetite is much better and we’re enjoying some of our old favorites: lentils and greens, grilled salmon, chicken soup, and veggie tacos with avocado. Still steering clear of alliums and going through about two cantaloupes a week.
News: We’re having a boy! I’ve had a feeling there was a little boy spirit waiting for us ever since we began thinking about having a second child, and now he’s on his way. We are thrilled, and looking forward to a new experience. Lyle comes from a family of brothers, and I have one sister, so neither of us really knows what it’s like to grow up with a sibling of the opposite sex. We’ll be learning along with Sky.

Week 22:
Feeling: Meh. This week I’ve had a return of nausea, possibly stress-induced or dehydration-related. I’ve also felt reeeaaaally tired. I think this may be due to officially returning to work for the first time in several years, even if it’s very part time right now. It’s also been hard to get regular exercise due to intermittent dangerous air quality from the 33 wildfires currently ravaging Oregon. BUT, baby is really kicking now, and I just love that. So. Much.
Eating: Cream of wheat, oatmeal, smoothies, homemade bread, oh, let’s see and some carbs.
News: We went for our baby’s echocardiogram this week, following up on what appeared to be a tiny hole in his heart on our anatomy scan. Everything looked normal and healthy!! What a tremendous relief. We also got much clearer pictures of his little feet and hands. He is still head up at this point, kicking my lower belly. I began to feel some relief from sleeplessness and nausea after getting the reassuring news. Also, I don’t fit in my non-maternity green tank top anymore, so stripes it is.

Week 25:
Feeling: More nausea. I had a good two weeks of feeling relatively normal, and then the queasiness returned. It’s different than the first trimester in that I’m not repulsed by everything, but it’s hard to read my body’s cues. Am I hungry? Too full? Oh, I’m starving! Quick, eat something. Hm, guess that was the wrong thing? Maybe I’ll try some ice water… whoops, starving again. Nope, now it’s heartburn? Or am I too full? I give up! I tell you, eating is a a chore right now. On the upside, lots of good kicks that I can see from the outside, which is so reassuring and funny and strange. I had some SI/pelvic pain that resolved with a trip to the chiropractor and being more conscious about how I get up from seated or reclining positions.
Eating: Whatever. Doesn’t seem to matter much. See above.
News: The days are getting shorter and colder now. 100 days until our due date! According to Babylist, baby is now the size of an Academy Award trophy. (Love their quirky alternatives to the fruit comparisons.) I’ve been planning a low-key baby shower with my sister, finishing up the mini-nursery in our bedroom, and sorting hand-me-down onesies from friends. Lyle and I are having a hard time deciding on a name this time. We checked out a 2017 name almanac from the library, but most of them are a little too out there for our tastes. (Yes, even for parents who named their first child Sky.)

Week 27:
Feeling: Last week of the second trimester. We’re heading into the last stretch. I’m wondering when baby will arrive, enjoying his kicks, and feeling like I’m starting to slow down a bit. The light is leaving us a lot sooner in the evenings as we head toward fall, meaning it’s a scramble to get this weekly pic done, and no time for a costume change. 😉
Eating: Pretty normal stuff, in small snack-sized portions, with occasional nausea.
News: We have one name that we both like. No middle. I’ve started thinking of this as his name, and talking to him with it, just to see if it feels right. I got a haircut from a friend, and I love it. She took out a ton of weight, so it feels better and I can actually get it into a swim cap now. Plus I love having bangs! Instant style for this low-maintenance mama. I just spray on some coconut sea salt spray and go. Looking forward to a cozy fall and winter with Sky and Lyle as we get closer to our due date.

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On Worry and Motherhood


“Worry is the work of motherhood,” Pam England writes in Birthing from Within. For me it began well before birth, before I ever held my first child for the first time.

My first pregnancy was ectopic, so when pregnant the second time with Sky, I experienced a lot of anxiety in the early days and weeks. I was afraid it would happen again, and even after early ultrasounds showed a healthy pregnancy developing in the right place, I worried I would miscarry. My first experience of pregnancy changed how I thought about its relative risks. I didn’t share the same kind of innocent confidence many of my friends seemed to enjoy when pregnant for the first time.

But the more I’ve moved into the wilderness of motherhood, the more I’ve come to understand that worry is part of the territory. It isn’t the only part, and it’s certainly not the characterizing trait. But I think my pre-birth self would have been surprised to discover that many of the women who seemed to sail fearlessly through their pregnancies also worked with shadows and fear. Even when you haven’t experienced loss or complication, pregnancy by its very nature is powerfully vulnerable and mysterious.

A few weeks after Sky was born, on our first outing together in the car, we were T-boned by a driver who ran a stop sign. Sky slept safely through the accident in her car seat, but my door was rendered inoperable by the collision, and I panicked trying to get out to check on Sky. That was my first and only thought after we were hit, after my car stopped spinning. Though my car was totaled and I went through several months of physical therapy, we were more or less fine physically. Emotionally is another story. I still have nightmares about that feeling of powerlessness in trying to get out and get to my baby.

And I still think about the woman who hit us, seven months pregnant at the time and unsure if her baby was okay. She couldn’t see her baby, and I think it’s that quality of the unseen that impresses on us how completely outside of our control most aspects of pregnancy really are.

I read this poem by Kelli Russell Agodon not long after the accident, and it has stuck with me. She has generously allowed me to print it here. Thanks, Kelli.


Patron Saint of Worry

For an hour we complained
about everything, about saints,
about the fact no one had invented
a babyproof lock for the bathtub faucet.

You said one morning you found
your two-year-old waist deep
in the tub; you were still

in bed—you had slept late—a tired mother
who three years later, still carries this guilt.

We hadn’t even considered the hot water,
the chance of third degree burns.

For an hour, we said much
of our anxieties are from
being Catholic, from our mothers

who grabbed for baseball bats
even at the slightest sound.

You said your mother made you keep
your two fingers on the panic button

of your home’s alarm while she explored
the basement to make sure no intruders
were around.

We still hear the noises.

We still say grace
at the holidays.
We still pray though worry that God
thinks we’re hard to please.

In the middle of dinner,
you asked me how my daughter
knows her spirit animal is a heron
and how mine is a kingfisher.

I said how sometimes I trade saints
for totems, though

I still wear a St. Christopher medallion
around my neck: Pray, hope, and don’t worry.

Tell me if one day we will live
without carrying our history of grandmothers
next to the mace in our purse,
the other life of a bathtub drowning,
how that might have felt?

Will we ever sleep without wondering
if there’s a door we forgot
to lock? You wear a locket of your son

and think up inventions
for hazards. I keep finding new deities
to keep our family safe.

I want us to invent a god
who hands out winning lottery tickets,
who wakes us each morning
from a dream about a solstice

party with good hummus and red wine,
and tells us there is a forest
of doors we never need to lock.

Kelli Russell Agodon

This poem was one of my first inklings that maybe this specific texture of worry wasn’t confined to pregnancy, but was something I would deal with for the rest of my life as a mother. And in some ways, that’s been true. We worried about SIDS her first year, about choking hazards when she started eating solid foods, about our choice of a first baby-sitter. She’s just over two, and I still go into her room to check her breathing after bedtime most nights.

Each milestone brings new worries along with new joys, and for me that is just the pace of motherhood: a steady walk with worry on one foot and enjoyment on the other. I don’t think it’s really possible to abandon fear entirely– it’s part of our brains, our history, our being made in the image of God. I am interested in simple, practical ways of working with worry, though. And that’s where this phrase, “Worry is the work of motherhood,” has changed for me as Sky has grown. I’ve had to learn to work with my worry, to allow it to be part of me without letting it consume me. Prayer is a big part of that for me.

Lately I’ve been ruminating on Hebrews 11, thinking about how through fear God draws us closer to him. We learn to lean on our faith and trust– our belief in the unseen– to move through fear of things seen and unseen. And it’s startling for me to discover that this is for our good, that we are rewarded in choosing to trust God– by a deepened relationship with him, by the experience of his response to even the smallest details of our lives.

Maybe the forest of doors Kelli writes about is the place we enter after we leave earth. Or maybe the forest is part of our world here and now: God’s kingdom where it interrupts and overlaps with this world. I lock my doors but I try to keep my heart unlocked, to feel both my fears and the intensity of my love for my children. I’m not sure we get to have one without the other in this life.

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