and what we wish they were

If I Stay by Gayle Forman


When I took my daughters to see The Fault in Our Stars, we saw the preview for the upcoming film, If I Stay, based on the book by Gayle Forman.  And while I was hoping the TFIOS would fulfill our rip-your-heart-out movie quota for the year , I knew as soon as this preview started that there was to be yet another traumatic movie going experience in our future.  And I’ll admit I was intrigued too.

Of course I had to read the book.  One, because I know my girls will want to read it.   And two, because I cannot resist the opportunity to feel superior to all the people in the theater who have not read the book.

If I Stay is the story of Mia Hall, a classical cellist and the daughter of former punk rock parents.  From the beginning of the novel , we see that Mia’s is a happy, close-knit family.   Her relationship with her parents is easy and laid back, and she adores her nine year old brother Teddy.  When her school calls a snow day, the entire family decides to take advantage of the day off and enjoy a family outing.  Unfortunately, the outing turns tragic when their car is hit by an oncoming truck.

It takes Mia a few minutes to realize what has happened.  Her parents are dead.  She and Teddy are horribly injured.  And she is watching the entire scene unfold from outside her own body.   This is of course confusing to Mia.  How can she be lying in a hospital bed unconscious and at the same time fully aware of what is going on around her?  It is in this state that Mia realizes that the decision to live or to die is up to her.    The chapters that follow alternate from Mia watching what is happening at the hospital  to flashbacks of her life before the accident.

In these flashbacks we learn about Mia’s life.  Her parents are cool – permissive yes, but loving and devoted to their children.  This is a refreshing change from so many YA novels in which the parents are detached, selfish, clueless and more messed up than any teenager,  Still,  some parents of  teenage readers might want to discuss the Hall’s lax parenting style.  For example Mia’s parents seem to be fine with her sexual encounters in her upstairs bedroom. And when Mia gets her first boyfriend, her mother is quick to offer to take her to Planned Parenthood and to give her money for condoms.

But the real story of Mia and her parents is their deep love for each other.  In fact, their deaths are the main reason Mia considers giving up the struggle to live.  She can’t imagine a life without the family she loves.  But there are other people Mia loves too.  Her best friend Kim comes to the hospital and reminds comatose Mia that she still has a lot of people left who love her and want her to stay – aunts, uncles, cousins.  There is a particularly moving passage in which Mia’s grandfather talks to Mia about her decision to live or die.

And of course there is Adam, Mia’s boyfriend.  Her flashbacks detail their romance, one her mother describes as real but inconvenient at 17.  Adam is the lead singer in a punk rock band.  In a lot of ways, he is more like Mia’s parents than she is.   Her impending admission to Julliard and his rising singing career are a source of difficulty for the young couple.  As far as teenage romance novels go, the relationship between Mia and Adam is in some ways easier to take than others.  It is more mature, less desperate.   One version of the novel’s cover (see above) contains a review stating this story will appeal to TWILIGHT fans.  Perhaps, but unlike Bella Swan, Mia is accomplished and self-possessed.  She does suffer from the same unfortunate “why me”  response when Adam first notices her, but her entire existence and self-worth are not dependent on him.  If that were true, his love would make her decision about staying or leaving easy.  But it isn’t.  In fact in spite of his love, the thought of staying behind without her parents is almost unbearable for Mia.  Bella Swan, on the other hand, was willing to ditch her parents in a heartbeat to follow Edward into immortality.  So yes, Mia is a much stronger character than Bella, but I’m still waiting for the YA novel in which the girls knows how awesome she is before the boy falls in love with her.

The thing that is conspicuously absent from this novel is Mia’s concern for what will happen, where she’ll go, if she decides to die.  At one point she wonders if death will be just like a deep sleep, but other than that she spends little time contemplating eternity – Heaven, Hell, judgement, abyss, God, or an afterlife.  Hers is not a religious family, but they are not atheists, and they do sometimes go to church.  Her grandmother’s beliefs about the afterlife – people becoming angels in the form of an animals – crosses her mind, but in general, Mia seems more concerned about what living will be like than what being dead will be like.  This novel is not anti-religion or void of spirituality.  Rather, these things are only alluded to and not explored.  Perhaps this type of temporal thinking is realistically typical for a 17 year old.  But still, in a novel that tackles the subject of choosing life or death, one would hope the main character might wrestle with these questions.  However, even though Mia doesn’t, the reader of  If I Stay certainly might be inspired to do so.


Yes.  Mia’s mother in particular is a big cusser – the F word included.


There is a scene that takes place in Mia’s bedroom that is not graphic (in fact it’s not entirely clear how far they go), but it is very sensual.  There are also references to making out and to Adam sleeping over.  Still, Mia and Adam’s sexual relationship is not a major part of the novel or even of their relationship.


Mia’s grandmother does believe that some of her relatives have returned in the form of animals, but Mia does not seem to take this too seriously.


None.  We do not get any details of the accident; however, Mia does describe how her parents look lying dead in the snow.  Very sensitive readers might find this disturbing.


1.  Do you think Mia’s relationship with her parents might be different if they were less permissive?  Less cool?

2.  Do you agree with Mia’s mother that sometimes you can fall truly in love too soon?

3. Mia doesn’t give a great deal of thought to the afterlife.  Do you think this is realistic or do you think someone facing her own death would be more apt to consider the afterlife?

4.  What is Mia’s relationship like with her brother, Teddy?  Why do they share the bond that they do?

5.  Do you think people in a situation like Mia’s can will themselves to live or to die?

6.  Do you think people in a coma can hear people talking to them?

7.  Like Bella in Twilight, Mia can’t quite believe that Adam really likes her.  She feels unworthy.  Do you think it is common for girls to base their worth on the  boys who like them?  Do you think that Mia is ultimately a stronger character than Bella?


“And even though they don’t know who we are or what has happened, they pray for us.  I can feel them praying.”

“But the you who you are tonight is the same you I was in love with yesterday, the same you I’ll be in love with tomorrow…Hell, you’re the punkest girl I know no matter who you listen to or what you wear.”

“I shouldn’t have to care.  I shouldn’t have to work this hard.  I realize now that dying is easy.  Living is hard.”

“Sometimes you make your choices in life.  Sometimes your choices make you.”

“…seventeen is an inconvenient time to be in love.”

“Either way you win.  And either way you lose.  What can I tell you?  Love’s a bitch.” (Mia’s mom)

“I’ll let you go.  If you stay.”  (Adam talking to comatose Mia)




To My Son as You Graduate: Words of Wisdom I hope You Ignore…

The time is short now. Your cap and gown have been hanging in the closet for weeks. Your announcements have been sent, and today you finished your final exam. High school is almost over.   Even though 18 years is a lifetime for you, for me it has been a vapor. Suddenly I’m scrambling to think of last minutes lessons I might have forgotten or words of wisdom I’ve failed to impart. There’s still time, right? But the thing is, I’m blank. We are proud of you and we love you. I’m not sure what else to say. So maybe I’ll skip the last minute advice – except (you knew it was coming) to say there will be some well-meaning friends, relatives, teachers, and greeting cards offering you words of wisdom traditionally given to the young as they set out into the world. I’m asking you to ignore these.

This sounds good. Who doesn’t want to be happy? The thing is (my apologies to our founding fathers) pursuing happiness rarely makes you happy – at least not for long. Happiness isn’t a bad thing, but it should be a byproduct of a life well-lived, not the goal of life. Making happiness your goal is intrinsically selfish. Pursue goodness. Pursue peace. Pursue holiness. These are higher goals and the only way to be truly happy.

I’ve found this to be bad advice for me. This isn’t to say I don’t like myself. I’m actually quite fond of me. I try to be a good person. But I know myself well enough to know that at my core, I am selfish. I tend to stew. I can be a little scatter-brained. And I sometimes dominate conversations. That’s me. In a lot of situations, I have to reign myself in. I see a lot of people, especially young people, shrug off glaring faults and bad behavior by declaring proudly, “That’s just who I am.”  That’s a cop out. Don’t just be yourself.  Be your best self. I love you all the time, but your best self is easier to take.

What does that even mean? It’s stupid advice. The Bible tells us“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?”. Ouch. But the truth is,  following your heart or your gut or your feelings is far more likely to lead you down the wrong path than following your head or better yet, your conscience. Feelings change, but you can’t go wrong with good sense and good morals.


Ummmmmm.  No, you can’t.  That is also stupid advice.  You can do anything within reason as long as you believe  – and work hard and the timing is right and as long as other factors (other people, your health, the global economy, the weather, etc.) do not stand in your way.  I hate to break it to you, but you will probaby never be an Olympic swimmer.  Nor will you be the king of a small island nation.  And really, I wouldn’t hold your breath about winning the lottery.  But I think you have an amazing future ahead of you.   Believe you can and will work hard in school and in your future career and be a success.  Believe you can find a wonderful, Godly wife someday and make a life together.  Believe in living a life of service.  Believe in God’s mercy.  This is not to say you should not set goals.  But remember that life is not about reaching some far off goal just to prove you can.  The best success is a life lived in love and devotion to God others.  Believe in that.

Don’t fret. Don’t worry. But by all means think beyond the moment. Because when the fun of the moment is over, you are stuck with the consequences.

Okay, maybe sometimes.  But sometimes the road is well traveled because it’s the best way, especially when it comes to our faith Enter through the narrow gate, but you don’t necessarily have to blaze a trail. The Church is full of saints and scholars who have blazed that trail for you.  Stay on it.

Okay, so while I was writing this I did think of some last minute words of advice:  Always be kind. Say your prayers. Call your mother.  I love you.



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Mommy’s Favorite

Originally posted on Charming Farming:

Every year on Mothers Day, my children are forced to battle it out for the title of Mommy’s Favorite. That might sound a little twisted, but it is actually really fun. Well, at least it’s fun for me, and it’s my day, so everyone has to do what I want.  Mommy Trivia! In the spirit of this wonderful holiday dedicated to the appreciation of mothers, I will pit child against child in a test of their love for (or at least their knowledge of) me. The older they get the more difficult it is to come up with questions, but there are still a lot of things my kiddos don’t know about me. Here are last years’s questions.

1. What is Mommy’s current favorite song?

2. If Mommy could only eat one dessert for the rest of her life what would it be?

3. What is my dream dog?


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Kristen Lavransdatter: The Bridal Wreath by Sigrid Undset

Note:  I try to to give too much away in this review.  In fact, since I am currently reading the second novel in the trilogy, The Mistress of Husaby, I wasn’t even able to finish some of the links posted below.  If you don’t want to have any clue what will happen in the first novel, The Bridal Wreath, you better skip this post.  But again, I tried to keep my spoilers to a minimum.


Recently I added the phrase “and what we wish they were reading” to my blog because I can no longer tolerate a full-time diet of YA literature. Yes, there is a great deal to entertain within this genre and even some literary gems.  But a steady diet of YA books is much like a steady diet of junk food – pretty tasty, but not much substance. Lately, I have been starving for some nutritionally dense reading – mentally and spiritually.  So when I read 10 Books You Must Read With Your Daughter (Or How to Keep Your Daughter From Turning Out Like That horrid Girl FromTwilight), I decided to dig out and dust off out my never-before-read copy of Kristen Lavransdatter and give it another try.

This novel and the two subsequent novels in the series are considered master works of historical fiction. That is why I am embarrassed to say that this was my second run at reading Kristen Lavransdatter, despite its stellar reputation and regardless of the fact that it was recommended by both my sister-in-law and one of my dearest and smartest friends, both of whom have impeccable taste.  For some reason, the first time I tried to read this novel, I gave up quickly.  Perhaps it was because I initially approached it as a beach read.  This novel, set in medieval Norway, definitely lends itself more to a cozy fireside than a lawn chair. Maybe I lost interest because the second book in the Hunger Games Trilogy came out about the time I first started reading Kristen Lavransdatter.  (Oh, how embarrassing!) Maybe it was because I was intimidated by the book’s reputation. I don’t really know, but I always intended to get back to it one day.  Well, recently that day came!  Within a few pages, I was hooked.   I began to feel that every free moment that I wasn’t reading Kristen Lavransdatter was being wasted.  I began to understand what all the hubbub is about.

The first book in the Kristen Lavransdatter trilogy, The Bridal Wreath, begins when Kristen is a young girl.  She is the only child of pious Norwegian nobility.  Her parents adore her – especially her father.  Her mother who has suffered the loss of several other children is at times distant and sad.  Her father, on the other hand delights in her.  Both of her parents try to bring her up to be devout and virtuous and little Kristen is given nearly every spiritual advantage – example, education, and love.

While traveling with her father, Kristen meets Brother Edvin, a wise and kindly monk who is one of the novel’s most notable and lovable characters.  He makes a great impression on Kristen (and on the reader) with his insights.

There is no man nor woman, Kristen who does not love and fear God, but tis because our hearts are divided twixt love of God and fear of the devil and fondness for the world and the flesh, that we are unhappy in this life and in death.  For if man had no yearning after God and God’s being, then he should thrive in Hell…For there the fire would not burn him if he did not long for coolness, nor would he feel the torment of the serpents bite if he knew not the yearning for peace… T’was God’s loving-kindness toward us that seeing how our hearts are drawn asunder, He came down and dwelt among us that He might taste in the flesh the lures of the devil when he decoys us with power and splendor, as well as the menace of the world when if offers us blows and scorn and sharp nails in the hands and feet.  In such wise did He show us the way and make manifest His love.

And yet, even with passages like this, this novel in not overly religious in tone.  It is not preaching to the choir.  All the characters are painfully real – both in their virtue and their flaws.  As a teenager, Kristen is innocent and devout, eager to honor her parents and to live up to the expectations of her culture.  Yet when temptation presents itself, as the handsome and charming Ereland Nikulausson, Kristen is easily led astray.  Readers find Kristen’s selfishness and foolishness frustrating (I remember thinking, “Wait.  What? How could she be so stupid.  No Kristin. Noooo!).  And we yet can’t help but hope she will escape the bitter consequences of her actions

Many of Undset’s characters are complex in this way.  We see in them both flaw and hope.  We relate to them and root for them.  Ereland’s pride and his constant excuses for his behavior are maddening, yet we want to believe that in the end he will prove honorable.  We want to believe that he really is as great as Kristen believes him to be. Even Kristen’s parents, Lavrans and Ragnfrid are, for all their love and devotion, not perfect, and they bare their own secrets, griefs and struggles.  We to ache for them.

In addition to providing complex characters, Undset portrays life in medieval Norway with richness, beauty, and accuracy.  Life for these characters, and indeed for entire Western world in those days, centers around the Church and her traditions and around the conventions of their society.  While some of these conventions might rub the modern reader the wrong way (like a father’s absolute power over his daughter), a life so fully centered on and entrenched in the Christian calendar seems not only orderly and disciplined but also festive and meaningful.

Undset won the Nobel Prize for literature no doubt by creating an epic saga that combines a stunning portrayal of life in medieval Norway with complex, sympathetic characters. And without being heavy-handed or overly-simple, she manages to communicate beauty and truth.

Again, these characters are not perfect.  There are some pretty grown-up situations in this book and some complex issues.  But this is exactly the kind of book I want my kids to read – impressive and engrossing from a literary standpoint and beautiful and inspiring in it’s portrayal of eternal truths.

So, to recap.  Why should your teen (this is not a book for tweens) and you read Kristen Lavransdatter?

  • It is great historical fiction – a rich and accurate portrayal of life in medieval Norway.
  • It won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
  • It illustrates how the rhythm and seasons of life used to be lived in accordance with the Christian calendar and how this brought both times of fasting and feasting, all in honor of Christ and the Saints.
  • It shows the power of sin and deceit and there devastating effects.
  • The novel contains sympathetic characters – not perfectly good nor purely evil.  They are easy to relate to.
  • Kristen Lavransdatter contains nuggets of spiritual truth, beauty, and wisdom without being simplistic or preachy.
  • Reading Kristen Lavransdatter allows you to enter into a great conversation with  your child and with others who have loved this trilogy.


Yes, but no descriptive or graphic passages.  In fact, some younger readers (okay and me) might miss the initial sex scene all together and not realize what has happened until a few pages later.




Very mild.


Not in the creepy way that I’m usually looking out for in YA lit.  Kristen Lavransdatter is steeped in Christianity.  However, as was common in medieval times, superstitions are also influential in the lives of Undset’s characters.


  • Why do you think Kristen falls so quickly and easily from what her faith and her parents have taught her?  Were you surprised by this?
  • Does she truly love Ereland?  Does he love her?
  • What do you think prevent Kristen from confessing her sins?
  • In the end is Lavrans too unyielding?  Why do you think he comes to the decision that he does about Kristen’s marriage to Ereland?
  • What is Kristen’s greatest virtue?  What is her greatest flaw?  What about Ereland?  Lavrans?  Ragnfrid?
  • In what way are the themes of love, sin, forgiveness, and despair played out in this  novel?


“I’ve done many things that I thought I would never dare to do because they were sins. But I didn’t realize then that the consequence of sin is that you have to trample on other people.”

“No one and nothing can harm us, child, except what we fear and love.”

“It’s a good thing when you don’t dare do something if you don’t think it’s right. But it’s not good when you think something’s not right because you don’t dare do it.”

Re-reading Kristen Lavransdatter

Penguin Group Book Club (with discussion questions for all three novels)

I Can’t Believe You Haven’t Read Kristen Lavransdatter

Love and Trespasses in Kristen Lavransdatter

Amazon has some great reviews.

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Paper Towns by John Green

As children, Quentin and his neighbor Margo Roth Spiegelman were best buddies. But as often happens, by the time they reach high school they are in different cliques. The beautiful Margo is popular and mysterious.  Quentin is just counting the days until graduation.  So, when Margo shows up at Quentin’s bedroom window late one night and asks him to join her on a secret mission, Quentin is more than a little surprised.  And even though he has been in love with Margo since they were nine, he hesitates – Quentin has never really been the sneaking out type.  But Margo is persuasive, using both emotional manipulation and the promise of adventure to lure Quentin out for what she promises will be the night of his life.

What ensues is a night of revenge, trespassing, and petty crime.  And then she’s gone.  Margo doesn’t come back to school and she never goes back home.  When it becomes obvious to Quentin that she isn’t coming back, he makes it his personal mission to find her, believing she has left clues to help him.  Trying to decipher her clues and locate Margo, Quentin enlists the help of his friends and hers and in the process turns the social order of their senior class upside down – and with only a few weeks until graduation.

John Green’s characters in this novel (and in The Fault in Our Stars)  are cool, edgy, slightly odd, witty, and, for the most part, extremely likable.  They are, however, not really guided by any sort of moral compass (unless you count the poetry of Walt Whitman).  In fact, I think Margot Roth Spielman might even be suffering from a borderline personality disorder of some sort.  And yet, she is the heroine of this novel.  She is the cool chick.  And while her exploits frustrate and even anger some of the other characters, and while readers might even find some of them funny, she is basically a very selfish, very strange, and a very bad person. And again, she’s the cool chick.  She’s the one Quentin loves.  And in the end, I think Green wants us to love her too – or at least like her.  But I don’t.  She’s the embodiment of everything I would never want my children to be.

Paper Town’s is funny and intelligent.  So in that regard it is a much better novel than a lot of the YA novels out there. Unfortunately,  it lacks a deeper value.  It lacks characters who grow into better people, which is kind of what you want in a book for young people.  The novel tries to be deep and Green’s characters do have some deep thoughts and some great lines, but in the end, I don’t think they are the kind of characters that make a great YA novel.  They aren’t nobel, honorable, or even particularly kind.   To his credit, Quentin is a better person, and I think a better character, than Margo. But I’d like him better if he saw her for what she really is – not a cool chick with some strange quirks, but a deeply disturbed person with mental issues that allow her to treat others with total disregard.


No. But there is vandalism.


Yes.  Again, these are teenagers with no moral compass.


There is a lot of talk of characters who have had or are having sex.  And there’s a seen where Quentin peeks in on a teenage couple having sex, but there is nothing graphic. Also there is quite a bit of drinking.



If your daughter or son does read this novel, here are some ideas to discuss.

  • What does Quentin really feel for Margo?  Love?  Fascination?  Admiration?
  • Is Margot a product of her upbringing or is she just a bad person?
  • Does her parents’ lack of concern for her justify Margo’s behavior?
  • Does the fact that Margo leaves her little sister behind make her leaving worse?
  • Do her boyfriend’s behavior and her best friend’s justify her revenge streak?
  • In the end, what do you think of Margot?  Is she eccentric or out and out crazy?


“That’s always seemed so ridiculous to me, that people want to be around someone because they’re pretty. It’s like picking your breakfeast cereals based on color instead of taste.”

“I’m not saying that everything is survivable. Just that everything except the last thing is.”

“Did you know that for pretty much the entire history of the human species, the average life span was less than thirty years? You could count on ten years or so of real adulthood, right? There was no planning for retirement, There was no planning for a career. There was no planning. No time for plannning. No time for a future. But then the life spans started getting longer, and people started having more and more future. And now life has become the future. Every moment of your life is lived for the future–you go to high school so you can go to college so you can get a good job so you can get a nice house so you can afford to send your kids to college so they can get a good job so they can get a nice house so they can afford to send their kids to college.”

“When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that, we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade but never seeing inside. But once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out.”

“The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle. Like, I will probably never be struck by lightening, or win a Nobel Prize, or become the dictator of a small nation in the Pacific Islands, or contract terminal ear cancer, or spontaneously combust. But if you consider all the unlikely things together, at least one of them will probably happen to each of us. I could have seen it rain frogs. I could have stepped foot on Mars. I could have been eaten by a whale. I could have married the Queen of England or survived months at sea. But my miracle was different. My miracle was this: out of all the houses in all the subdivisions in all of Florida, I ended up living next door to Margo Roth Spiegelman.”

“Radar threw his books into his locker and shut it. Then the din of conversation around us quieted just a bit as he turned his eyes toward the heavens and shouted, “IT IS NOT MY FAULT THAT MY PARENTS OWN THE WORLD’S LARGEST COLLECTION OF BLACK SANTAS.”

“It’s not just the gossip and the parties and all that crap, but the whole allure of a life rightly lived – college and job and husband and babies and all that bullshit.”

Keep Love in Lent

I am participating in the Keep Love in Lent at Catholic Bloggers Network.  If you are a looking for meaningful Lenten ideas for your family, head over and check out some of these inspiring links.


CBN Lent LinkUp

Why I Spoil My Kids – No Apologies

When my children were babies I picked them up every time they cried, despite all the dire warnings. I buy my kids things that they have not earned. And I often do things for them they could easily do for themselves – sometimes even their chores. So, I suppose some people would say my kids are spoiled, but I disagree. By definition, spoiled means ruined. And I can assure that you my children are not ruined. In fact, I would argue that these extravagances are not only not spoiling my children, they are actually helping them to become the best version of themselves.

We as parents take great pride in our children’s accomplishments. And as American’s we have a particular admiration for independence and hard work. We hold in high esteem the “self-made” man, and we want our children to possess the qualities we believe made this country great. Maybe this is the reason this quote by Anne Landers has been circulating around the Internet so much recently:

It’s not what you do for your children but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.

Pshhhhst. As if the entire point of raising children is to make them independent, self-sufficient human beings. It’s not that those are bad qualities in a person. In fact they are essential. But I certainly don’t think they are the supreme measure of success. What about compassion? What about kindness? What about generosity? In fact, I’d say a better motto might be: It’s not what you teach your children to do for themselves, but what you teach them to do for others that will make them successful (and good) human beings.

But how do you teach generosity, kindness, and self-sacrifice? You model it. This is not to say that I am the perfect model. In fact, I struggle daily with my own selfishness. But my own parents were and continue to be so incredibly generous in every way, that I am at least aware that there is a better way, and I want to teach it to my own children. Here are the ways I “spoil” my kids for the sake of generosity.


I remember once when I was in high school and my mother took me shopping. On the way home that evening, it suddenly dawned on my how selfless she was. This was by no means the first time my mother had spent a day out with me like this, but as we drove home and she chattered excitedly about how cute my new boots were and about all the places I could wear my new outfits, it occurred to me that she hadn’t spent a dime on herself. She was absolutely delighted to have spent the entire day walking around the mall, waiting outside dressing rooms, and spending money on clothes all for me. I don’t even remember exactly what we bought or how many things. I don’t think that mattered. But I do remember being suddenly and utterly awed by my mother’s generosity – not because she spent a fortune (I’m sure she didn’t), but because she was just as happy to spend her money on me as she would have been on herself. In fact, happier.

So, yeah. I do the same for my kids. Not all the time and certainly not whatever they want. But I don’t always make them wait for a special occasion or until they’ve saved up their own money to buy them nice things. Recently Charming Mary wanted a record player. Apparently in this age of digital downloads, record players have suddenly become very hip. It was shortly after Christmas – not the time of year one usually buys gifts. But I did. For no reason other than the fact that she wanted it, and I wanted to do something to please her. And please her it did. She was completely delighted and extremely grateful. (And as an aside, I might add that the record play has been transformative, improving her taste in music and inspiring her to reorganize her room.) Of course I could have made her wait and save her money, maybe do some extra chores, to earn her record player. There are certainly valuable lessons to be learned from that kind discipline – patience, hard-work, frugality – and those lessons should be taught. But so should lessons of unearned generosity and kindness for the sake of kindness. That lesson was certainly worth the price of a record player.


I make my kids’ beds. Well, not usually, but for Lent this year I’m doing it. I also sometimes offer to do their farm chores if they have friends over or if they are in the middle of a good book. I fix them snacks that they could easily fix for themselves and, while they know how to do their own laundry, I often do it for them. Why? Because I want them to be the kind of people who help other people. As parents we want kids have to learn to be responsible – even when it’s hard. But sometimes in our eagerness to make kids responsible, we neglect to make them kind, flexible, or compassionate. Rigid rules about who does which chores and inflexible schedules not only build resentment, but they also run the risk of building a kind of pride ,and they foster a notion that we shouldn’t help those we presume are perfectly capable of helping themselves.

My parents have always seemed to derive a real sense of pleasure from doing things for us. Even today my father goes out of his way to pick up my kids from school to save me a trip. I don’t wait on my kids hand and foot. But I do help them – even when they don’t need it. Because the truth is, they rarely need it. But I want them to see that helping others is a kindness that doesn’t have to wait until the need arises. Helping others can just be a way to make someone else’s day a little easier or a little brighter.


When my kids were babies, I heard all the dire warning about my children manipulating me with their tears. I was warned that they would never be able to sleep alone or self-soothe. I was told they would control my life. Meh. I picked them up anyway. We let them sleep in our bed when they got scared. And I carried them way past the age when they could walk on their own. (all just like my parents did for us) Well, they are all big now. And no one wants to sleep in our bed or be carried around, and they never cry to get their way. Those years when they were little were a vapor. I am so glad I rarely missed a chance to cuddle or comfort. And I am convinced that their own sunny and compassionate personalities were formed, in part, by a childhood of extravagant love.


Next to God, that is. And my husband. Actually, alongside my husband. That’s how we want it. We’ve heard all the marital advice about not letting your kids come between you, but we think it’s silly. Sure we need to make time for us and we do. But it was our love that created them. Giving more of our love to them does not drive us apart. It brings us closer. It’s not us against them. Our family is one unit. And our love doesn’t divide. It multiplies. When we were first married, many well-meaning people told us that we should put each other first. Well, who says anyone has to be first? Our policy has always been to put the person first who is neediest in the moment. When they were little, it was usually one of them (or all of them at once). But sometimes it’s me. Or Charming Hal. The point is that I want every person in my family to feel as if he or she is most important person on earth to me. The current wisdom is that kids need to learn they aren’t the center of the universe. I’m not worried. The universe will make that pretty clear as soon as they walk out the front door. But I do want them to think they are the center of our universe because our love for them should give them a glimpse of the love their Heavenly Father bears for them. And He loves them with a love that is completely self-giving and all encompassing. He does not worry about sending us the wrong message about us own importance. And it’s a good thing because the cross sends a pretty strong message that God thinks we are a big deal. He is capable of loving each of us as if we are the most important person in the universe.

So, there it is. My dirty little secret. I spoil my children. But the thing is, I don’t think I’m the only one. If fact, most parents I know are just as generous and helpful with their own kids. However, thanks to Facebook and Pinterest and 24/7 info-tainment, we are constantly reminded of all the ways we can screw up our kids. It seems like a lot of the advice we are getting warns us not to over-indulge them, coddle them, or make them think they are too important. Yes, there is some great wisdom in all of that advice, but I must have missed the posts, pins, and articles about teaching kindness, generosity, and self-giving. The funny thing is, for most parents, those things are the easiest things to teach because they just come naturally.

The Centers of My Universe

The Centers of My Universe



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