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In ONE Day

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What did I do in ONE day, you ask?

I read The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.  AND in that same day, I got everywhere I needed to be on time, and my husband and children were fed, and the house was cleaned and the laundry was done.   I think this is quite the feat.  It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that quickly, but The Hunger Games was unlike anything I’ve ever read, and I was all in from the first page.

My first inkling that I needed to read it was that several of my friends had remarked that it was the best story they’d ever read.  Some claimed to enjoy it more than both the Twilight and the Harry Potter series– neither of which I have personally read–, and given the phenomenon that is those two series among women my age, I figured that was quite a statement.  Plus, when I found out it was being made into a movie, it made me want to get my hands on it sooner rather than later, since I prefer to read the book before I see the Hollywood version.

The final step in getting my hands on the book was when our friend got Christopher hyped up on the story, enough so that I even allowed him to read it as part of his lessons for the week.  He doesn’t often get too enthusiastic about books, and I wanted to take advantage of his positive energy.  It is my dream for my children to love the written word as much as I do, and while His Majesty seems to be well on his way,  Christopher often takes some coaxing.  Since it was part of his lessons, I gave him five days to read it.

He completed it in three.

But what’s more than even that, he was EXCITED about it as he read it.  At the end of the week, he had to do a 2 page summary of the selection, as is his usual assignment.  Typically he fights me over ever character, and writing assignments often leave us both frustrated.  However, this essay, THIS essay, was 3 and a half pages long, and in perfect cursive.  And then he asked to go to the library to pick up the sequel.  I was so stoked.

Except that right about the time that he was handing me his summary to review, I realized that I couldn’t review it.  I didn’t know what to compare it to, what the book was actually about, or if he was on the right track, or way off in left field.  Additionally, he’d borrowed the book from our friend, and it needed to be returned within a reasonable period of time.

So, I decided to seize the day and read it for myself.  I began reading it while sitting on a bench on the campus of a local university, while Christopher and a friend attended an art class, and His Majesty hung out at play school.  It was a beautiful spring day, perfect for being outside, and it was early, so the campus was still quite.  I made myself comfortable, and turned that first page.

From that point on, I think the campus could have caught on fire, and I wouldn’t have noticed until my hair started to singe.  I was hooked.  I read for my full hour of alone time, ignoring the world around me, and then in between driving home, making lunch, checking off my to do list, taking His Majesty for a wagon ride, nap time, checking lessons, and making dinner, I managed to brush off more than 250 pages.  COULD. NOT. STOP.

After His Majesty went down for bed, I polished off the rest of it.

The gist of it, without spoiling it for you? It’s fantasy, but the characters have real emotions that made me feel like their reality could be my reality, even with the weird sci-fi technology references. There’s heart ache and bloodshed and plot twists.  Kind of like real life, but set to a post apocalyptic theme, which pertains to the dark and twisty thread that occasionally creeps me out when my mind gets to wandering

The main character, Katniss is young in years, but definitely not in the bubbly, carefree kind of way.  She’s somewhat of an “old soul”, the provider for her family, too focused on tangible needs like basic survival to worry much about puppy love, but with a rebellious streak that makes it impossible for her to lie down and take the abuse that The evil Capital sends her way, at least, not without a fight.  She’s a scrapper, and a survivor, but despite having lived a tough and labored life, full of plenty of reasons to be bitter and heartless, she still has a soft spot for children, and a fierce need to make good on any and all debts.  She’s honest, and she has a strong moral character.  She is willing to put her life on the line for her little sister.  She’s a good female heroine.

There is a bit of a love story to the plot, but it was a very PG love, thank goodness, considering Christopher had already finished reading it.  And there’s a fierce battle theme, which I suspect specifically appealed to my Christopher. He liked the war/survival strategy, and to be honest, so did I.  I wouldn’t have thought that I’d enjoy that part of the book as much as I did.

My favorite part of the story was when Katniss gives the ultimate middle finger to the government and defies the rules of The Hunger Games, which of course, is the precursor to the follow up novel (which Christopher tells me is very good).  I was a rebellious teenager myself, and some of my anti-authority nature has managed to stick around, despite the whole business of being a law abiding citizen/grown up/whatever, so a rebellious, not to mention clever, plot twist was right up my alley.  Katniss outsmarts her enemies. She’s a thinker. What she lacks in brute force, she makes up for in calculated thought and planning.  Kind of a cool “Girl Power” message, I’d say.  She’s not weak, or a victim.  She’s a strong female lead.

It has political undertones, which I loved, because anyone who knows me knows that I love to harp about the ails of government control and coercion, and the twisted nature of politics, but at first glance, I thought I was going to have to suck it up and muddle through some very different political viewpoints. Initially, I thought that the residents of The Capital were representative of the 1%; You know, the “Evil Superrich” that the talking heads claiming to speak for the 99% like to say are so evil, greedy, and out of touch with the rest of our Free Market society.  But then I paused and thought about it, and I have come to the conclusion that nope, I was wrong to assume that.  The reality as I see it is that the nation of Panem is a Communist nation, a socialist society.  Everyone gets their very basic needs met, and their duties and roles are assigned by the ruling class.  Yep.  Not a Free Market economy at all.  Given that realization, I would like to think that it sends a message to anyone with a clue that a socialized society might not be free of the evils people like to point out after all.  In fact, for me, it seemed to point out that the real danger to be feared is the danger of our government holding too much power, which, in my book, is always a great danger to keep in the back of our minds, especially in an era where you can be prosecuted for not wearing a seat belt, or having a lemonade sale on your front lawn.  (Of course, that’s the message I got from the book.  It will be interesting to see if the very left wing Hollywood spin on the tale will give it more of an Anti Capitalism theme.  I’ll report back.)

In any regard, this book was a page turner, and a heart pounder.  It kept me on the edge of my seat wondering just how it was going to play out.  I imagine it would have been more suspenseful if I had the heart to shut down Christopher’s spoilers, but I just couldn’t do it, and I can tell you now, having read the book, that his summary was spot on.  But above all else, The Hunger Games provided me with a great bonding opportunity with my oldest son.

And, in a household where I am often the odd one out, the only one not entirely enthusiastic about some athletic venture or a camping trip or a video game, and the only one paying attention to things like flowers and decorating and making things pretty, I’ll take pretty much any opportunity that I can get.

The movie comes out Friday, by the way.  Which will give me the perfect opportunity to take Christopher out for a Mother-Son date, while also providing me with the luxury of taking down an extra large bucket of movie theater popcorn… extra butter.

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Commiserating with a Bad Mother

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I love to read, but reading books has been a challenge for me this year. Staying focused, during the brief moments when I’m actually able to read uninterrupted, is the first challenge.  The second is remembering what I’ve read when I am finally return to a book hours, or days, or weeks later. So, when I picked up Ayelet Waldman’s Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, I was delighted to discover that each chapter is really rather independent of the others, meaning that I didn’t need to have perfect recall in order to follow a plot.  Reading her book was like having a conversation while your kids are in the room, which is to say, I was often interrupted, but when I came back, we’d pick up right where we’d left off.  In this book, Ayelet discussed her views on everything from Mommy Wars, the fantasy of the Good Mother, feminism and how her actions sometimes were in conflict with her views on the subject, Attachment Parenting, breastfeeding, sex, how she met and chose her husband, and how she knew he was “the one”, the division of labor in the home, her relationship with her mother in law, abortion, mental illness, how being a mother changes as we age and gain some on the job experience, homosexuality, patriotism, Barack Obama, family size, having certain expectations for her children, and various other parenting issues, such why fighting with your spouse is not the worst thing you can do to your kids. But mostly, she talked about how all of these things relate to how she sees herself as a mother, and how others see her as a mother.  It is just over 200 pages long, and there is a book club version available.

Not only did I not know anything about this book when my husband brought it home from the bookshelf at work, but I also didn’t know anything about the author.  I went in a blank slate, and I that was probably for the best.  When you get to know people in real life, you often don’t know where they stand on hot button issues, which I think is why we are willing to take a chance and get to know people.  After reading it, I googled the author, and learned that Ayelet seems to be the type of person that people either love, or hate.  She is a gifted writer, and surely has many fans, but a quick internet search of her name, or any number of her popular essays, shows that she also has many detractors.  If you look up this book on Amazon, reviews are quite polar. She discusses her “haters” in the book, and seems to take them in stride.

The general pretense in this book is that mothers strive to match the perfect ideal of The Good Mother, but in reality, this goal is impossible to achieve, as the mother that we strive to be is based on a fictitious notion.  Since our idea of the good mother is beyond what we can achieve, we privately beat ourselves up about the many ways in which we perceive ourselves to be falling short.  What’s more, though, is that we beat each other up, although not so privately, and more so, seek out examples in the media and in our community, to showcase as further evidence that we, being better than them, ARE  not so bad after all.  While I agree that the goal of “Good Mother” is out of anyone’s reach, it won’t stop me from trying to a better mother (although I’m glad to think that I’m not the only one who finds themselves falling impossibly short of meeting the mark).

In discussing the fictitious notion of The Good Mother, the author goes on to discuss all of the ways in which she herself feels that she has fallen short.  I didn’t feel that this was a “poor me” confessional, but rather, an honest memoir that made me chuckle, cry, and reflect on myself as a woman, a wife, and a mother.

This book sent me go through a range of emotions.  I found myself nodding passionately in agreement when she described the astronomical differences between A Good Father, and A Good Mother, namely that A Good Father is a realistic goal that men can easily meet simply with the gift of their presence, whereas A Good Mother, by her definition, is an impossible standard that women will most certainly fail to reach.  I identified with her when she discussed how she feels that women can lose their sense of self in the throws of motherhood, defining themselves by how they feel they measure up  in comparison to this impossible ideal of the Good Mother , and  I agreed with her when she called the so called “Attachment Parents” out on being the largest offenders in the Mommy Wars, because that’s also been my experience.  I sympathized with her regarding leaving a much loved career to take on the world that encompasses being a stay at home mother, and the notion that feminist teachings didn’t exactly tell the whole truth when it said that women could “have it all”.  I found myself tearing up reading her chapter on her relationship with her oldest son, and her competition with her mother in law, thinking about how one day, my own sons’ future wives will indeed win the war for superiority in my boys’ lives. I sobbed when I read the chapter entitled Rocketship, which tells of her experience and the emotions surrounding her own elective abortion.

I loved reading the chapters that spoke of her parenting ventures.  There’s no advice in this book, at least I didn’t think that she was trying to dish out any, and that’s one of the reasons why I enjoyed it. Let’s be honest: there’s enough people giving out parenting advice, often unsolicited.  Rather, it felt more like the author’s journey towards catharsis.  It was like having a girl’s night, the kind where one person gets to hold the spotlight for an evening, and just lets it all hang out.  In the end, I really did feel like I had gotten to know her, and could be her friend.

Which is to say that I don’t always agree with everything that my friends do or say.  It was evident that some of her politics are polar opposite of my own, but, as is my tendency in real life, I don’t eliminate friends based on politics alone.  I wouldn’t parent my children in all of the same ways in which Ayelet professes to parent hers, but I will admit that some of her methods made me raise an eyebrow thinking that perhaps she was on to something.

Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace was a book that I enjoyed due to its format, content, and sentiments.  I felt that it was written from the vantage point of a mother that doesn’t fit neatly into a certain category, which I identified greatly with.  While Ayelet Waldman is clearly not a bad mother, I think many of us can identify with feeling that we’re still a parenting work in progress, and I’d recommend this book if you are looking for a nonfiction read that isn’t quite as mindless as a months worth of Facebook updates, but probably is more enjoyable.