Sleep – or lack of it – has never before preoccupied me in the way that it has since becoming a mother. Sleep, and how much of it you’re getting, seems to be the first question asked especially of new mothers. Often I feel the questioner probably doesn’t want to hear the truth about how I woke every two hours (isn’t that a form of torture?) for the first six months until we realized he was a sensitive wetter and we needed to switch to disposable diapers at night. Then there are those clusters of nights (occurring frequently lately as Finn works on skills, such as crawling) when, while he never quite wakes, he nurses ALL NIGHT LONG. As we’re in the thick of one of those spells, I’ve been embracing winter’s call for rest with open arms and a good book.
The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah: Days have gone by and still I’m lost in the world this author has created. A novel, this is one of the best pieces of historical fiction I have read in some time. It captivated me from the start and I found myself enjoying long winter naps with Finn for more reading time. Entertaining, to be sure, The Nightingale is meaningful in that it calls to mind how the experiences of a generation come to shape it. Set in German-occupied France during World War II, this novel follows the hardship, sacrifices and survival of two sisters in wartime. I found myself ashamed at the comparative extravagances we enjoy today as I read of mothers going without food — year after year during wartime — so that their children might eat instead. Of women who stuffed newspapers between the layers of clothing and endless cold in winter. Of loss and courage and endurance. I easily empathized with the sisters in this novel as I thought of my own sister. And her daughter. Oh my heart ached as I imagined us in place of these characters. This novel provides many insights into the ways that women participate in wartime – participation I never learned of when I first began studying history.
“Men tell stories … Women get on with it. For us it was a shadow war. There were no parades for us when it was over, no medals or mentions in history books. We did what we had to during the war, and when it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over.”
Kristen Hannah in The Nightingale
Reading through the lens of a mother adds extra meaning to how I experienced this novel. It also makes me better appreciate my elders and the generation that endured this horrific moment in time, and found the strength to carry on.
Other recommendations: A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead (non-fiction), Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay (also a film)
The Way of the Happy Woman by Sara Avant Stover: Especially now with sleep elusively out of reach most days, I often feel out of touch with myself and the natural rhythms of my mind and body that help to make me feel at peace. But even before I was a mother in the thick of the teething, developmental milestones, and just because trenches, there were times when my life became too hectic to allow for proper self-care. Or at least I allowed self-care to fall low on the priority list. This book doesn’t offer much of a narrative, but it offers a great deal of insight into the importance of slowing you body and mind to fall into the various cycles that naturally affect women in particular. From the cycles of the moon to menstrual and seasonal cycles, Stover explains how adverse are the effects of ignoring nature’s pull at the behest of modern society’s fast-paced demands. Once the influence of nature’s cycles are discussed, Stover offers up recommendations for best connecting with natural rhythms. For each season, Stover discusses general practices in the form of food, reflection, meditation and yoga and overall connection with oneself. This book was a Christmas gift from Joel and he couldn’t have introduced it to me at a better time. Raw from my birth as a mother, my sense of self has been shaken and is in need of restoration. So far I have been following the recommendations of this book through winter, but I look forward to finding new ways to connect with and appreciate each season – of the year and of life – as they come.
Rising Strong by Brene Brown: This book had first hit my radar just after Finn’s birth, but it wasn’t until I saw an image Brown had shared through her Facebook account about FOMO (fear of missing out) that I actively sought out this book.
The “fear of missing out” is what happens when scarcity slams into shame. FOMO lures us out of our integrity with whispers about what we could or should be doing. FOMO’s favourite weapon is comparison. It kills gratitude and replaces it with “not enough.”
Brene Brown in Rising Strong
This passage speaks to me as I battle the urge to compare and want more than what I have when what I’m really in want of is gratitude. This is also a reminder to choose to spend my time doing things that build me up to be the person I am, free of the burden of the expectations of others. Again, this isn’t a read I have been devouring in one sitting, but rather something I’ve been slowly savouring. This book also pairs well with active journaling. A page or two in I felt compelled to begin recording and analyzing moments in my life when I felt I had fallen or felt burned by putting myself out there. Brown promotes the idea that to do great things and reach one’s potentional, we must embrace vulnerability and risk failing. Rising Strong is about how to pull yourself back up from those falls. While I wouldn’t go as far as to equate birth with a fall, the postpartum experience certainly calls for a rebuilding, and this is an ongoing pursuit.
Other recommendations: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Letters to my Grandchildren by David Suzuki: The fragility of my Grandmother’s wisdom has played on my mind recently as we just celebrated her 90 years. In the past I had always seemed to tell myself that she would continue to be in my life as she always had, taking for granted the time. Lately I’ve found myself in a bit of a panic at the stories we stand to lose. At a time when I want to capture the oral history of her life, her energy matters to the utmost and I am apprehensive about burdening her with unloading her stories. And yet, these stories are just so valuable for us. She has born witness to so many world events and technological and social changes. These days it seems that society in general discounts the resources we have in our elderly. I value the return of our eldest members of society to the honoured place of elder. As society moved toward a more individualized “me, me” focus, we seem to have lost our sense of community even within our smallest of such, the family. There is so much to learn from the perspective and experience of our elders. David Suzuki, best known for his outspokenness for protecting the environment and his role as host for CBC’s The Nature of Things, writes in this memoir of sorts as an elder with his grandchildren in mind. He speaks to each on topics like feminism and sexuality, activism, attitudes toward those with special needs, relations with First Nations and, as expected, our relationship with nature. He does so in his straightforward way, and all the while reminds his reader just how much change an octogenarian like himself had born witness to. Read this book if it strikes you as interesting, but more than that, go have conversations with your elders. Put down the screen, ask questions and truly listen. Do so before not doing so becomes a regret.
Other recommendations: The Legacy by David Suzuki.
Recently a friend, who enjoyed with me one of the last few remaining relaxing cafe visits possible before Finn becomes mobile, commented over a London Fog and croissant how she appreciated that I was recommending things like documentaries and books on my blog about motherhood. She repined the assumption that a woman becoming a mother leaves no room for other attributes of her identity. A woman could – and should – still invest time in interests that make her her. This friend then went on to discuss with me aspects of a course she has just started this term on the social construction of sexuality. It sounds fascinating. Serendipitously, another friend asked me later that day whether I would be interested in joining her for a pottery class with my favourite potter (actually the maker of the mug featured in the pictures below). She also mentioned that her book club was reading The Rainbow Way: Cultivating Creativity in the Midst of Motherhood, which I can’t wait to pour over next. It is inspiring to me how much already busy Moms, who work full-time, carve out time for her own pursuits. Though I shouldn’t be so surprised, as my ultimate example of a mother – my sister – find time to work full-time, read through novels quicker than I do, make all parts of most meals from scratch, dabble in fermentation (to much success!), braid rugs, knit an assortment of items, but lately these gorgeous intricately patterned scarves and shalls — all while attachment parenting her two children! I’m so impressed with what these women find room for in their lives. What have you been reading lately or doing to cultivate creativity in your life?