What I'm Reading: The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother's Memoir by Katrina Kennison. Katrina Kennison also wrote Mitten Strings for God. To be honest, I am enjoying The Gift of an Ordinary Day more, although I don't think that this is the opinion of most of the other homeschooling moms I know. I had a problem reading Mitten Strings. Her life seemed so... cozy and peaceful, but in a way that was unobtainable for me, a homeschooling mother of 6 kids, mostly small, mostly male, and mostly very, very active. At the time, we were not enrolled in very many activities, we were home most of the time, we did not do crazy consumptive birthday parties... and yet I could not imagine being able to sit on the couch and knit with ONE child in the QUIET for HOURS (for example). The whole book seemed to me like a picture from a picture book. Of course it was a beautiful picture, the kind of picture in which most of us would like to take up residence. But I felt as if the advice should be taken with a grain of salt, like the sort of well-meaning advice given to parents of willful, hyperactive, sleepless children by parents whose children would never think of telling them "no" and have slept through the night since they were 6 weeks old.
Or maybe I am just a grump.
Anyway, everyone is older in The Gift of an Ordinary Day, but that's not what set it apart from Mitten Strings for me. (Of course I'm only about 120 pages into the book, so I'll give you my final analysis when I'm done.) Kennison and her family pack up their seemingly perfect life and move to New Hampshire about the same time that her oldest starts high school. At that point everything starts to seem a little more real. Their younger son does not want to move. They have to live with her parents for most of three years. She succumbs to New England "romance" and they end up with a 200 year old "quaint" New England cottage with sloping floors, rotting wallboards, a crumbling foundation, and bats in the attic.
This probably sounds like I'm being somewhat vindictive, but no -- what I really appreciate are passages like this one:
"Heading back over the mountain in the late afternoon, on my way to pick up Jack from school, I am always content, fulfilled by the day. And what I begin to think about is something that I've surely known all along but that somehow, in the midst of our small day-to-day crises and preoccupations of the last few years, has been all too easy to forget. Real life isn't out there in the future somewhere. Real life is not going to begin when we move into our own house at long last, or when I figure out what to do with myself, or when we're out of debt, or when our possessions finally come out of storage and we can sit down around our old kitchen table again. Real life is now.
It is the thirteen-year-old son who's at odds with his best friend and takes his frustration out on me. It is the husband bent over the newspaper, glasses sliding down his nose, the dog with a tick in her ear, the carpenter calling to say the bathtub doesn't fit. It is the apple picked from the tree and eaten by the side of the road, the quiet pond, my own stiff shoulders and aching feet. It is my mother and me, side by side, chopping vegetables for chicken potpie, our hips bumping in her narrow kitchen. My dad chinking ice into his glass and pouring a drink. The breeze through the screened door, the early darkness."
This is what I have always thought myself. I see so many women trying valiantly never to acknowledge (publicly) the messes of life, never even with a fleeting mention. But the messes are just as much a part of life as the pretty pictures -- the bathtub that won't fit and the apple. This doesn't mean that I think we ought to dwell on the messes, the mistakes, or the chaos, or that I think that people who are cheerful and completely optimistic by nature should spend time looking for that the dead bugs under their refrigerators so they can show them to the world. What I do wonder is whether it's healthy to constantly force ourselves to focus on the beautiful, the cozy, and the ideal when life is handing us a mix. Shouldn't we feel like it is okay to say, "You know, today did not go well. The kids were cranky and I was cranky and dinner burned and no one would eat it. I had to take a few minutes at lunchtime just to watch the snow come down. I took some pictures of it, but I really hope tomorrow is better." Or, "We are going through a tough time right now. I am so worried I can't sleep, but on the upside, I am learning a lot about how houses are built. I never knew there were so many choices to make!"
Real life is the toddler who spends all night kicking you in his sleep because he has a cold and his nose is stuffy and his throat hurts. Real life is the snow swirling through the gray sky like tiny white moths, the ice that makes you slip on the steps, the chicken in the van, the thirteen year old who fixes his little brother's light saber with duct tape when it breaks. It is the stress of relocation and the excitement of a new adventure, all at the same time.
That's why I am liking this book more than Mitten Strings. Kennison may be the 50 year old mother of two traditionally schooled teenage boys, but this book speaks to my experience so much more.