Friday, July 13, 2012

Books That Have Made Me the Parent I Am

I was rocking Ilse to sleep and wandering past my bookshelves, and the thought occurred to me that some of these very books in front of us have provided an idea, bit of knowledge, or instilled in me the confidence (also known as sass) which I needed to become the mama I am to my girls. Not that I'm claiming to be a perfect, fully-developed and all-knowing parental unit, but overall I'm happy with my parenting choices. This household may have been very different if it weren't for these particular reads, (presented in the somewhat random order in which I pulled them from the shelves):

by J.M. Barrie (1911)

The book that first made me consider the nature of childhood as one that's beautifully magical but inevitably fleeting. Oh sure, you say. Peter Pan, yup. But have you read the book? Forget the Disney remake, the original novel is something of a wonder. Read it. The end (completely different than that of the cartoon movie) makes me cry every time. And it was during my first read-through as a teen that I came to the bittersweet realization that being a child is both incredibly special and also over before you know it,  that childhood is something the child herself doesn't understand until it's passed her by. I still think about that realization and imagine what it'll be like for my girls when they suddenly cross the line to discover they are no longer children. Oh dear, the thought brings tears to my eyes even now!  We all typically rush around so terribly and with such intensity; Peter Pan creeps into my mind and reminds me to slow down, that we should celebrate childhood before it's gone. Charlotte's Web is also "one of these" types, though to a lesser extent.

by Susan McCutcheon

Technically this book's information is used just prior to becoming a parent, but lookatthis I'm listing it anyway. Taking a Bradley class was the very best thing I did while preparing for my firstborn, and this book was a major class resource. Are there better preparing-for-labor books? Perhaps. Ina May's Guide to Childbirth by the amazing Ina May Gaskin springs to mind; should a vote ever need to be made Gaskin would likely win out, but I don't have a personal copy of it (yet) so I'm not counting it for this list.

by Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders, and Brian Rupenthal

A cookbook? But of course! Hungry kiddos need to eat, and I'm not interested in raising processed-food lovers. If you've read my cooking blog, you know that Laurel's Kitchen has been my go-to for healthy meal planning these past couple years. Filled with easy to make, whole food, garden-friendly recipes, I've yet to make something from it we haven't enjoyed. Our favorite dish is Whole Beet Borscht (we triple it, for extra to freeze); it's the perfect way to use up our beets (oh, we grow beets. One of the few foolproof veggies this Wisconsin soil is able to produce in mass quantity without watering) and the girls love it.

by Ruth Yaron

Speaking of cookbooks, I suppose I should mention the book that claims it contains "everything you should know about feeding your baby and toddler." Should know. As in, If you don't know all of this you're a bad mother! or at least that's how it felt when I first read it through. Technically this book didn't so much help me as overwhelm me to the point of inaction. There is so much detail in here and so many recipes (each with variation upon variation) that rather than feeling inspired to whip up homemade everythings I instead felt horribly inferior and guilty. I subsequently tucked my copy up away amongst the other cookbooks, and avidly avoided it for three years. I've since made peace with its busyness and have found it helpful with Ilse, but I list it here as less of a favorite and more because not all books that affect one do so in a positive way. I think Super Baby Food was too much for me as a new mother and actually kept me from making Uli's food when she was little. Alas.

by Nathan H. Azrin, Ph.D. and Richard M. Foxx, Ph.D.

Toilet "training" is controversial nowadays (at least in most of the natural parenting forums I haunt), but this book helped my mother potty train me and my siblings, and it's what I turned to when Uli was ready. One intense (exhausting) day of introduction and practice and Uli was in underwear during the day (and nights relatively soon after that). Not that there weren't accidents (it's my belief that because we deviated somewhat from the course as detailed in the book we may have delayed what otherwise would have been more immediate results), but overall Uli was using the potty consistently within a very short time of the training. I plan to give the same thing a go next summer with Ilse.

by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen

My girls are a little young for the whole death thing, perhaps, but I'm glad to have found this book. The pictures are lovely (detailed illustrations of animals and plants and people of a quality akin to that of a naturalist's field guide or an Audubon painting) and the message is simple: life has a beginning and an end and that's true for all living things, whether plant or mammal or insect or human. We haven't known anyone who has died, other than my in-law's dog, so I don't know how much my three year old needs the death discussion, but she's interested enough to sit through a reading every so often, and it has allowed us to add "died" to her vocabulary in a meaningful way. I am grateful to call this book a resource.

by Roberts Mendelsohn, M.D.

I've only just read this book, am I'm happy to have found it. My family lives much as this doctor recommends (fevers mean the body is working--don't push the Tylenol; breastfeed (and never consider your M.D. to be your lactation consultant, seek expert nursing assistance if there's trouble); avoid antibiotics like the plague; don't worry so much about normal childhood diseases, they're known as childhood diseases for a reason--'cause normal kids get them, stay home from school, eat some soup, and get better; vaccinations are credited undeservedly--avoid them), so while his message isn't a revelation to me, it's nice to have his book on my shelf for those times I need a quick reference or reassurance that even though our lifestyle is not mainstream it is nonetheless one that has good sense. My only complaint: that an updated copy isn't available (this particular book was written when the varicella vaccine was still just a rumor).  For those who demand contemporary texts I recommend The Baby Book (so good! the best baby care book I know) and The Vaccine Book (not anti-vax, but cautiously vax, which I can appreciate) both by Dr. Sears and the amazing text The Science of Parenting by Margo Sunderland (fabulous fabulous book. I need to get my own copy); I've borrowed all three from the library several times, and if I ever find them affordably second hand they will so be mine.

by Orson Scott Card

Genius children removed from their homes and trained by the government for combat and strategy in the hopes of annihilating an alien species? Why not. This book struck a chord. Kids can be smart, they can be cruel, they can be the saviors of a people. Or killers. The thing to remember is not to underestimate them (and don't pretend that they're harmless pawns).

by Wole Soyinka

A boy's childhood in Africa. I adore this story for many of the same reasons as Ender's Game--small children are described as complex beings, with inner minds intent on discovery. The respect with which Soyinka describes a child's thoughts is admirable. I think about this book whenever I see Uli squirming over one of my quick explanations about large issues (war. race. why some animals are food animals and some are pets. why some people talk about G-d);  she intuitively knows when there's more to a subject about which I've quipped. It's shameful of me to gloss over the details when she's eager to learn, so I go back and try to more fully discuss the issue in which she's interested in a manner she can understand.

by Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen 

I've always been drawn to Montessori theory and remain a firm believer in its validity even as I fail miserably to institute Montessori routine into our home. I feel I'm not home enough during prime learning hours to really get the Montessori exercises going. Which is a total cop out; I just need to suck it up and get off my rear already.

Though familiar with the overall educational Montessori system, it wasn't until I read this book that I first learned of floor beds for infants. And then I scoured the internet looking for confirmation. Do people really do this? They do! Fabulous. Neither of my girls have needed a crib due to the floor bed (and not-Montessori but still useful co-sleeping) concept. Skip the crip (assuming scorpions aren't typically roaming the floors of your house).

Also gleaned from this book:  when a child is focused on something, leave them the hell alone (paraphrased).  No clapping, no kissing, no cooing, no telling them what a brilliant little puss they are. Let them be. Drawing attention to yourself as an observer disrupts their concentration. Just let them practice whatever it is they're practicing. Children don't learn to receive praise, they learn because they're hardwired to do so--don't toss a self-consious wrench into the mix. This idea has meant I'm much less an Oh my gosh you're amazing. Let's clap about it! -type mother than many others, and sometimes I wonder whether my friends and family think I don't care about my daughters. But I do. I just don't want them to feel like I'm watching them. It freaks me out when someone watches me write, for example. Just leave me alone! (Love you, Hon!)

Crocodile on the Sandbank and the rest of the Amelia Peabody Mysteries
by Elizabeth Peters

Crocodile is the first book in a most enjoyable mystery series. It's actually the third or fourth book and beyond that belong to this list, but I thought it proper to start you at the beginning. I love the Peabody mysteries for four reasons: (1) Amelia's husband's name is Emerson, which I adore and was in a final running if we'd had a boy, (2) mysteries involving Egypt? Awesome, (3) the books are hilarious in a British mystery sort of way (if you know what I mean, you know what I mean), and (4) the Peabodys bring along their young son on their early 20th-century Egyptian expeditions even though someone nearly always is murdered or a valuable site is vandalized, and he grows to learn fluent Arabic and is so familiar with Egyptian customs he can blend in as a citizen whenever he likes. I freakin' LOVE that. I so so so so so want my girls to be able to speak a second (and third) language with fluency. So far I haven't found a multi-lingual play group but I'm on the lookout. If Amelia can wear pants and have her son pick-up a second language, so can I.

And that's what I have on my shelves at present that I think were significant enough to mention. (Next up: movies?)

Perhaps you've read some of these too:  what did you think? Do you have others to recommend?


Anonymous July 24, 2012 at 10:17 AM  

What an awesome list, thanks!!! I keep meaning to get several of these books, now I'm definitely going to look for them!

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