Bookish Thursdays: Cinderella Ate My Daughter

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Summary from GoodreadsSweet and sassy or predatory and hardened, sexualized girlhood influences our daughters from infancy onward, telling them that how a girl looks matters more than who she is. Somewhere between the exhilarating rise of Girl Power in the 1990s and today, the pursuit of physical perfection has been recast as the source of female empowerment. And commercialization has spread the message faster and farther, reaching girls at ever-younger ages. But how dangerous is pink and pretty, anyway? Being a princess is just make-believe; eventually they grow out of it . . . or do they? In search of answers, Peggy Orenstein visited Disneyland, trolled American Girl Place, and met parents of beauty-pageant preschoolers tricked out like Vegas showgirls. The stakes turn out to be higher than she ever imagined. From premature sexualization to the risk of depression to rising rates of narcissism, the potential negative impact of this new girlie-girl culture is undeniable—yet armed with awareness and recognition, parents can effectively counterbalance its influence in their daughters’ lives.

I read this book in the summer…the beginning of the summer.  While I have forgotten many of the details of what I read, I do recall how it made me feel.

I encountered a spectrum of emotions actually. I can’t quite decide whether my first emotion was fear of the world in which I will raise my daughter or the all-encompassing “duh?” of what seems to be common sense…you know, like I know this stuff already because I’ve lived it and continue to live it every day.

I felt disarmed because Orenstein offers so much insight into a culture that I feel will swallow my daughter and I have no defense against it. As my dear friend (whom recommended this book) wisely reminded me (I’m paraphrasing here): “It is the crux of feminist social analysis…the problems are clearly laid out…but there never seems to be a solution”.

Once I grappled with this feeling of powerlessness and got a grip on my fear and self-righteousness, I devoured the book. It is thoroughly researched and each argument for and against girly-girl culture is well presented and supported. While my tendencies are feminist and I believe in raising my daughter with an empowered voice and sense of self, I am also the first to buy her a cute pink outfit with cute bow to match…I mean she has gorgeous creamy skin and dark silky hair…how can I not?!?

And there is the dilemma. Or the irony. Or whatever you want to call it…moms of this “post-feminist” (in quotations because can we ever really be post-feminist?), post-girl-power age have a fine line to walk. We understand the importance of looking our best and the danger of succumbing to media-fueled images of female sexuality. We understand that being true to ourselves does not always look like the cookie-cutter version of femininity. But how do we pass along this knowledge to our daughters and help them navigate the incessant messages of what they’re supposed to be in favour of just being who they are?

This book will not offer any solutions. Not a one. But it does clearly explain the root of the marketing machine and the power of the bottom-line in the hopes that our decisions for our daughters will at least be informed ones. More importantly, it really sends the message that your support and guidance are vital when she is making her own choices.

This a quick read that will get you thinking. I highly recommend it.

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Bookish Thursdays: Reading With Your Child

bookish thurs 3

My son has been looking at books since he was four months old (read more about that here). My daughter is now doing the same. It is the most special time of the day to have my baby on my lap as we read the alphabet, count to ten, or flip through a cute and cuddly touch and feel board book. Or to laugh out loud at the antics of Captain Underpants as my son now proudly takes on some of the reading himself.

It is the book-lover in me and the English teacher in me that drove me to instil a love and respect for books in my son and I hope to continue that with my daughter.

There is something about reading that teaches us to slow down, to appreciate the written word and to use our imaginations in ways that modern society does not challenge us to do in our every day lives.

The importance of reading to children and babies is firmly supported by a plethora of journals, researchers, parenting websites etc etc etc.

I do not pretend to be well versed in this research – but, I do know that as a mother of two my heart is warmed by my son’s excitement when we discuss our favourite parts of a book and  my 7 month old’s little fingers grasping at her book when I say “turn the page”.

I admit that as an English teacher, I am aware of the connection between being a good reader and being able to inquire, research, deduce, create and write well. So instilling a love of books is as much about their education as it is about loving the written word. This is easy for me because I love reading. But what about those adults who don’t? If you’re at a loss for how to give your child something that you may lack, but you know is important, here are a few tips that might help:

watermarked children and books

They deprive me of sleep, push me to the borders of irrational rage, squeeze every last bit of patience out of me – but when we sit to read everything dissolves around us. My children and I willingly lose ourselves in the magic of the words and pictures.

Love for reading is a gift that will last forever. Teach it with passion. Give it with abandon. Your children will thank you.

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Mommy Mondays: Second Time Around

Mommy Mondays WM

When I became a mother for the first time it seemed like I was constantly on high alert. I was stressed about my baby boy’s sleeping (or, non-sleeping) habits. It was all organic, home made foods. I rushed to wash his hands, change his clothes or his barely used diaper whenever a hint of germs or spit up or whiff of foulness was detected. My radar was sharp. I missed nothing.

I would invariably catch the attention of a more relaxed mother, perhaps on her second or third child, who would smile (condescendingly? nope, I think remembering her own hysteria) and say “he’s your first…it’ll be so much easier with your second”. I would nod and laugh and say something short like “I bet” while groaning inwardly.

or

The blissfully relaxed smiling face would say “You’ll be so much more relaxed with your next child” and I’d say “I guess so.” But what I really meant was:  ‘Really? You mean you can see my anxiety-ridden shoulders that are practically in my ears and my tight smile that is about to make my cheeks explode?”

or

Mother of Year would say “You’ll worry less with your second”. No response. Just a head nod as I would think, “Mind your own f***ing business because if I decide to have a second I’m not going to let that child swim in their own shit, be covered in vomit and drag themselves all over the grocery store because I’ve learned that babies/toddlers are tougher than we think.”

Ahhhhh. Even though there’s nothing worse than someone belittling your present experience because in the future it’ll seem like a trifle, I know that they all meant well.

Well, I’ve had my second child. And, while I still strive to give my daughter the same attention and care I gave my son…it is different.

Am I more relaxed? Yes, but not in her care. I am more confident in my abilities to care for her and to read her. I don’t necessarily find her easier – it’s more that I don’t feel like a baby-idiot any more.

I accept that the intentions of those mothers who were trying to help me relax with my first baby were good. Don’t we all love to impart the lessons we’ve learned to ease the hardships or trials of others. Except it doesn’t really work that way. We learn through our own experiences. Period.

I’ve been a mother to two children for three months now.  So, how have I changed my approach to motherhood as a consequence of my experiences?

  1. I will carry and hug and kiss and cuddle my children as much as I want. They grow fast and I will never, ever have this day with them again. I want my children to look back at their childhood and know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they were loved.  And even if they do get a little spoiled with hugs and kisses…better that than feel less than important.
  2. When my baby cries I will pick her up. If my baby needs to fall asleep in my arms, she can.  If she wants to sleep with me, she can…because her brother did…and now he’s fine and sleeps independently…well not since his sister was born (but that’s another story)…and I doubt either of them will require to sleep with us when they’re adolescents…
  3. If I am in any way feeling irritated or less than patient, it is better to wait a few minutes before tending to my children. A deep breath, a moment to myself will help me be there for them without feeling exasperated.
  4. I can leave my baby in her play pen to simply take in her surroundings, check out her toys, get to know her hands and the sound of her own voice. I am not neglecting her because a baby does not require constant stimulation.
  5. I know that dirt won’t kill them. I get it that it is good for their bodies to be exposed to germs. I know that rolling around on grass, kneeling in soil, playing in sand, and jumping in mud puddles should be done with abandon. And, afterwards it should be thoroughly cleaned off. I cannot leave them dirty or in dirty clothes for long. Making the memory is awesome…smelling the memory, not so much.
  6. I will now approach my first born with the same confidence that I do my second born. My experiences with my son will always be a first for me…it’s not fair to him that I muddle it all up with anxiety to then breeze through life with my daughter.
  7. Babies just want to feel loved and protected. All the extra stuff that marketers wish to push down our throats … it doesn’t matter. The same goes for older kids too.
  8. Everything else can wait.
  9. My health matters. I will take care of myself because I hope to be with my children throughout their journey. As my son loves to ask me, “Mommy, how old will you be when I’m 100?”

Now that I’m doing this for a second time…I’m still on high alert but my shoulders are squared where they should be. These are a but a few ways…if you’re a first time mom and these help you out, great! If not, revel in your anxiety and worry…should you choose to do this again, the anxiety will magically disappear. However, I would never dream of telling you so.  

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Bookish Thursdays: My Son’s Life In Books

Bookish Thursdays WM

For the past 5 years my husband and I have been adamant about instilling a love for books, an appreciation for literature, a mind that thinks beyond the screen in our son. And, so, my son’s books could very well stock a day care, preschool and library. No regrets on the money spent on books or the fines on overdue books. We are left with rich memories of bedtime stories, rainy day tales and early morning reading when it was way too early to be up and about.

Age 0-2 years:

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These were some of our favourites. I exaggerate not when I say I read Good Night, Sleep Tight every night for 2 years. Every. Single. Night. We even took it on holiday. At 3 he was able to recite most of these by rote. I recited them in my sleep. By seven months he knew what “turn the page” meant and loved flipping to the next part of the story.

Age 2-3 years:

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We graduated to more sophisticated, longer reads. He loved reading about his favourite television or movie characters. The best part was giving life to the characters with different voices and intonations. Oh, and we read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas well into July.

Age 4 – present:

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This phase of his reading began with Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone (Read about that here). It was love at first word. He was hooked and now LOVES chapter books. We read them to him, and now that he’s learning how to read he helps with the reading too. It is incredible to see his brown eyes light up with delight, joy, laughter, curiosity, intrigue…as we read each book and listen to the plot unfold.

My son’s journey through literature has been exciting, fun and adventurous. There is nothing we love more than cuddling up to a great read. I can’t wait to see where his journey takes him next.

Wednesday Quotables: Surrender

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This week’s quotatbles are all about surrender. Too often we find ourselves in challenging situations and we don’t know why and we wish we could wish ourselves out of them.  It is only once we are through those situations that we see why we had to live through them…and we learn that had we simply allowed ourselves to live through them, we probably would have had an easier time.

Surrendering is not an easy lesson to learn – nor is it easy to do because it requires trust.  (We can do next week’s quotables on trust.)  However, it is the most peaceful approach to all circumstances and surrendering actually helps you keep your sanity.

from yogametaphysics.wordpress.com

from yogametaphysics.wordpress.com

Surrendering is a great way to show yourself compassion, love and trust. I love this quote because it reminds me to breathe. It is my way of reminding myself to surrender. Once I got over the fear of not being in control it actually brought me a huge relief!

from zenstillness.com

from zenstillness.com

from shadowtext.net

from shadowtext.net

from wordsonimages.com

from wordsonimages.com

Surrendering teaches you about yourself.  It makes you get out of your own way and allow your path to unfold in ways you would have never imagined. It is pretty empowering to watch yourself grow and be the person you know you are.

from motivationalquotesabout.com

from motivationalquotesabout.com

from femalefundamentals.com

from femalefundamentals.com

from imgquotes.com

from imgquotes.com

These three quotes go hand in hand…accept what is happening, no matter how terrible because it will end and inevitably you will come out stronger.  The process and the outcome will teach you things about yourself that you never imagined…you will blow yourself away with your strength! Also, isn’t it wonderful to know that the past can stay there? That your present is completely in your power to create as you wish?

I hope these quotes help you through the rest of the week. Right now I’m dealing with surrendering to this crazy, frigid cold and figuring out how to battle cabin fever! It’s all good.

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Mommy Mondays: Bottle or Breast? This Time, Breast.

Mommy Mondays WM

Where do I even begin?  The past (almost) 7 weeks have been blissfully beautiful. Seriously.  I’m not sure if it’s the knowledge that this is my last baby or the fact that I’m an “experienced” mom or the gripping nostalgia for my son’s babyhood every time I look at my placid baby girl – whatever it is, I have never been more happy, nor felt more complete.

If you’ve read recent posts then you are aware that my breastfeeding experience with my first born was difficult at best. After having had my daughter, I can clearly see why.

The day before my daughter was born, the universe was really looking out for me because it brought into my lap this book:

courtesy: accustomedchaos.com

It was handed over by a dear friend who recently had twins and was able to breastfeed both.  She became my nursing hero and guru – especially once I witnessed her in her customary hurricane-style whip out a nursing pillow, plop each baby down beside her and latch them on comfortably within seconds at our friends’ house then proceed to chit chat and catch up with all of us as we stared in awe.

The day before delivery, I passed by her home and she passed along this book.  I was not feeling well that day and so laid on the couch for the rest of the day and perused The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.  I didn’t want to get too engrossed because one of two things would happen: I would feel overwhelmed and put the breaks on nursing before even having my baby or I would tap into my neurotic self, memorize every detail and then drive myself crazy because things were not going as described in “the book”.

The book is pretty hard-core and I felt intimidated.  However, one passage resonated.  One passage stuck with me and I knew I would take it with me into the delivery room (little did I know that that would be about 12 hours later!)

The book naturally sings the praises of skin-to-skin – which I thought I had done with my son.  According to the book, skin-to-skin should occur immediately after birth where the naked infant is placed on the mother’s bare chest. It is a calm, peaceful and quiet introduction of you to your baby. It should take as long as you need – not as long as the hospital deems necessary or appropriate.  I immediately saw flashes of my son being shoved onto my chest, then quickly whisked away to be cleaned, checked etc. only to be returned to me swaddled in blankets.  I shuddered and vowed the same would  not occur with my daughter.

According to The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, during skin-to-skin time the following occurs:

When a baby is born, his instincts and reflexes help him crawl to the nipple and latch on, even if you don’t help at all. […] As she recovers from the journey from womb to world, she’ll begin to think about sucking, usually sometime in that first hour.  She may start by drooling, or making sucking movements with her lips or bringing her fist to her mouth and bob her face on and off your skin. You can help her move closer to the breast or support her as she finds her way down. […] At some point, when her face is near your nipples, she’ll lift her head, open her mouth wide, latch, and begin to suck. She’s breastfeeding! (page 63-64)

Another flash of a nurse shoving my son’s face and mouth onto my breast.  She tried to latch him on and when he didn’t want to latch on (who would with that kind of treatment?), she blamed me for not preparing my nipples for nursing!  I was like WTF???  How was I supposed to prepare my nipples?  How come that never came up in the birthing course? That nurse set my son and I on a path toward breastfeeding disaster.  Again I vowed: the same would not occur with my daughter.

6 hours later, after I had put my son to bed, labour began.  It was a calm, easy (albeit painful), labour and delivery. My daughter entered this world with serenity, a short cry and eager to know me.  We lounged with each other for hours.  She was cleaned up, checked and brought back to me in her adorable naked glory and she laid on my chest forever.  We chatted and met each other face to face.  And, before I knew it, my perfect little girl began her downward wiggle.  Her head bobbed and her body moved and I let her do what she needed.  She got herself to my breast and with little help from me, she found what she was looking for and ate.  I was stunned.  It actually happened as described in the book!

From that moment forward I knew I would be able to nurse my baby. It was not easy. I had sore nipples, engorged breasts and after pains (the lovely labour-like pains that accompany breastfeeding with second and subsequent children). I fed her every three hours to get milk production going – which meant about an hour and a half of sleep between feedings. My phone was always within reach so I could text my “nursing-coach-mama-of-twins” and my mother was always within reach to hug me, reassure me and bring me water, tea or her delicious, Colombian “colada de pan” because breastfeeding made me so bloody hungry at three a.m.

It has been 6.5 weeks and we are successfully breastfeeding. I have (mostly) dealt with my mommy guilt of not being able to see breastfeeding through with my son who is now 4 and awesome. I hope my experience can help one mom out there as she begins her breastfeeding journey or one pregnant woman out there who is considering breastfeeding. It is after all a very personal journey.

My Lessons Learned:

  1. Empower yourself and read parts of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. 
  2. Skin-to-skin is not only essential, it is the most beautiful moment you can experience. After hours of pain, breathing, waiting, pushing it is a most calming, joyful reward to simply be with your newborn. If you have complications and cannot do skin-to-skin immediately after birth, then as soon as you have your baby in your arms, unswaddle her, bare your chest and snuggle her onto you. Get under a warm blanket. Enjoy.
  3. Natural birth or not…it is up to you.  Everything I’ve heard or read points to natural birth and I was all for “natural birth” when I had my son.  5 cm in I got an epidural and watched Meet the Parents until it was time to push.  He was a sleepy baby that fell asleep at the breast…so I thought maybe I shouldn’t have succumbed to a pain-free delivery. I got an epidural at 3 cm with my daughter, and took a 2 hour nap before it was time to push.  She was not sleepy and ate well from the start. Same epidural – two completely different experiences. Just make sure you own your labour/delivery experience. The rest will fall into place.
  4. The first few weeks of breastfeeding are hell.  I’m no expert.  I haven’t polled thousands of women. The women I know who have breastfed basically concur.  However, we also all agree – it really does get easier! Every time you think “I can’t do this” picture a video of your future self telling you “Don’t give up! It does get easier. I promise. The pain will go away, your nips and breasts will heal and your baby will feed.”
  5. Stay hydrated. Eat well. Sleep as much as you can.
  6. Have a breastfeeding partner – someone who you know will be there for you every step of the way without putting an ounce of doubt in your mind. Now is not the time for negativity or reverse psychology. Besides, you’ll need another pair of hands to pass you your water or phone or tissue etc.
  7. Surrender. This is temporary.  It will not always be this demanding. It will pass. The more relaxed you are and accepting that this new normal will be over soon the easier it will be. (This was the toughest lesson for me because I love to be in control of my environment).
  8. Housework. Cooking. Laundry. Can. All. Wait.
  9. Say yes to all offers of help.
  10. Seek assistance…breastfeeding clinics, lactation consultants, other moms, friends etc. If the advice of one does not help you, seek another.  If you can, have a few phone numbers stored or websites bookmarked before baby arrives.  Or have your breastfeeding partner do some research for you while you sleep.

My next mission: pump and store. I hope a few bottle feeds a week will give me more sleep and offer me a little more freedom.

Lastly, if it doesn’t work for you – it doesn’t work.  Find a way to feed your baby that will give you peace of mind and don’t look back. I formula fed my first after 5 weeks of breastfeeding hell and am now breastfeeding my second after 6 weeks of not-so-bad and I know I’m a good mother to both.

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Wednesday Quotables: Friendship

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My little girl is 6 weeks old.  I am blissfully in love and happy.  However, these 6 weeks have also been difficult.  It has been 6 weeks since I’ve had an uninterrupted night of sleep, my hormones are just starting to settle down and I still wish and need to be present in the life of my four year old. Motherhood is glorious and challenging.

Luckily, I have an incredible support system.  My mother is my saviour.  And, my friends are precious.  I have received so much love and support from my mother and all of my friends that today’s quotables are all about the beauty of friendship.

courtesy: graphicsheat.com

courtesy: graphicsheat.com

This quote reminds me of my dear friends from elementary school.  I met you at the tender age of 14…our children now play together!  Your friendship, love and support mean the world to me!

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ND friends!!!  When you befriend a colleague, you do it with caution and the knowledge that “work” friends come and go.  I am blessed because my “work” friends are now dear friends.  We try as much as possible to ban “shop talk” when we are together.  They make my work environment feel less like work and more like a daily opportunity to hang out with my friends.  Here’s to all the wine we’ve consumed and to all our “Wednesday Parties”.  You make me a better teacher, woman and friend.

courtesy: hdwallpaperstop.com

courtesy: hdwallpaperstop.com

My mom and brother.  I could write an entire blog dedicated to them, their story, and how they inspire me.  I am lucky to have friends in my family.

Because the people we choose to have in our lives help to shape our lives and our experiences. When those people are people of quality our life is made all the better.

And lastly, this sums up today’s quotables on friendship:

courtesy pics22.com

courtesy pics22.com

In person, via email, phone calls, messages and texts – friends make every experience in life rich, memorable and beautiful.  I hope today’s quotes inspire you to thank your friends!

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She’s Here!

Literally, 2 days after my last post…which has been up for three weeks…my baby girl arrived!!!  Hence, the reason I’ve virtually vanished on-line.

Labour and delivery lasted 7 hours from start to baby in my arms and she is absolutely precious.  We have all fallen in love.  Big brother is adjusting well.  Most days he is happy and just adores his sister.  There have been days of challenging behaviour – mostly due to the loss of being mommy’s sole focus.  We are moving through the ebbs and flows of a newborn as well as we can.

There is so much to write about!  I just wish I had the time…since some feedings can take up to two hours.  Or, when there is time…then I wish I had the energy because I’d rather be sleeping since my mind is in a perpetual state of haze.  Or, if I can’t sleep, it’s because I’m spending time with my four year old…or finally getting to that mountain of laundry.

I’m lucky in that I have help.  My mother has been invaluable.  In fact, I have warned her that she may very well never go home again.  And, husband has taken on extra duties as well.

I have successfully stuck to breastfeeding (which was a nightmare the first time around, read about that here).  I will write about the experience this time around soon.  I am not pumping.  I remain ambivalent at best about the pump since with my son it was basically horrid.  So, I am my daughter’s source of food.  Which means I am up for all feedings.  I am ok with that because I really wanted her and I to learn this whole breastfeeding thing together, and once we are confident in what we can do I will attempt to pump, store milk and receive help with night time feedings.

Thank you to all who have sent messages via various avenues asking about baby.  She is healthy, lovely and an absolute joy!  My family feels complete…she is a blessing.

I cannot write daily right now.  But I will try to write weekly as I do miss blogging.

I hope you are all well and enjoyed a beautiful Christmas season.  All the best in 2014 my dear readers!

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Mommy Mondays: 37 Weeks 5 Days

Mommy Mondays WM

Only during pregnancy do days matter – especially near the end.  The final countdown to the moment when you finally get to meet the little person who invaded your body and knew every one of your secrets for 40 weeks give or take a week or a day or two, must include days.

Her room is ready.  Walls have been painted a lovely lilac and her white furniture is ready.  Decals of butterflies, flowers and bees decorate her walls – lovingly placed by her parents and brother.  Her clothes, new and gently used from generous friends, are washed and neatly folded in the drawers. Receiving blankets, wash cloths, socks, mitts, caps – the whole lot awaits my infant girl.  Big brother helped to select the softest bunny in the world for his little sister and her bassinet stands gloriously next to my side of the bed.  I peak inside every morning visualizing her in it and am simultaneously overcome with memories of  how her brother once slept in there all bundled up.

Our bags are ready.  Everything is ready.  Everyone is ready to hear the news.  I am not ready.

I have a list of things to do, to complete before she arrives.  Most of it includes finishing Christmas shopping and wrapping.  There are also a few more things to settle in the new house.  Our short list of names keeps changing and I’d love just one more good night of sleep.

I feel like I am racing time each time my uterus hardens as I live through Braxton Hicks.  I stop and wonder after some period-like cramping that I haven’t felt in…well, in 37 weeks and 5 days!  I wonder if this new found energy to settle, put away, clean up, cross off one more thing from my perpetual “to-do” list means that I am in nesting mode.  I know it all means she will appear soon – but I still need a little more time.

I also know that I will miss feeling her move around inside me terribly.  She has been a most physical inhabitant.  Her brother was calm and occasionally reminded me he was there.  She has been happily bouncing around since I was 17 weeks!  I will miss feeling her and having her all to myself.

As with all things parenting related, when a baby decides to arrive has nothing to do with me or my wishes.  It is the precursor to every lesson that parenting brings, particularly how you are no longer in control of your own life.  It is all about letting go and letting life happen.

I can do that.  I can let go.  Just give me about 2 weeks and 5 days.

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The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Bookish Thursdays WM                                       Bookish Thursdays WM                                         Bookish Thursdays WM

I loved Eat, Pray, Love

Summary from Goodreads:  In The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction, inserting her inimitable voice into an enthralling story of love, adventure and discovery. Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker—a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henry’s brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her father’s money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Alma’s research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction—into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artist—but what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life. Exquisitely researched and told at a galloping pace, The Signature of All Things soars across the globe—from London to Peru to Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam, and beyond. Along the way, the story is peopled with unforgettable characters: missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses, and the quite mad. But most memorable of all, it is the story of Alma Whittaker, who—born in the Age of Enlightenment, but living well into the Industrial Revolution—bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas. Written in the bold, questing spirit of that singular time, Gilbert’s wise, deep, and spellbinding tale is certain to capture the hearts and minds of readers.

I read The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert in a week.  That’s right, in 7 days.  For old, pre-motherhood me – this would be no surprise.  For me now? An absolute and utter reading feat!  I borrowed it from my public library for that length of time because it is a new release – and, so I took the plunge and read.

This is my first Gilbert fiction read.  I devoured Eat, Pray, Love (even sat through the movie…meh) and that is why I decided to try Gilbert’s return to fiction.

Immediate reaction?  It’s o-kay.  Not bad.  Interesting.

More thoughtful response? (Alert! There are a few, small spoilers…)

Gilbert is fantastic at creating characters.  From the stoic, determined Henry Whittaker to his equally stoic, bordering on robotic wife.  These two show disdain for any kind of emotional response, ever, to any situation.  Emotions make one weak.  Intelligence, rational thinking and reason are prized above all else – and they pass this along to their daughters, Alma and Prudence.

One of my favourite pieces of advice that Alma receives from both of her parents is never to explain herself for it makes her appear weak.  Strength is valued, controlling emotions is valued – these are the traits that will ensure success and self-preservation.  As in the natural world as well – this fact was not lost on this reader.

All of the characters in this novel are finely developed.  Their love of science, people, understanding, exploration is refreshing.  Always underlying every interaction, issue and development is the need to understand why and how.

When I read the summary I assumed that the love between Ambrose Pike and Alma Whittaker would be far more earth-shattering, if you will.  The romantic in me was disappointed. I wished for Alma to be more affected, perhaps more radically changed – more spiritually challenged.  I wished for Alma to have the most incredible sex of her life! There were so many things I wished for her and perhaps when they weren’t happening that’s when I felt let down and like I couldn’t keep reading.

This book was about 500 pages long and I was right there with the characters and plot until about page 390.  Alma goes to Tahiti in search of Ambrose and what it was he wanted, what it was he believed in.  I just couldn’t understand why.  I stopped caring.  I could not care less about any character or event than I did the 100 pages or so that Alma was in Tahiti.  I didn’t care about the Reverend, or Tomorrow Morning, or the village, or the kids, or the women, or Alma’s experiences.  I couldn’t get away from Tahiti fast enough.

And, then it just became a race to the end so I could return the book in the time frame allowed for new releases. I must admit that I skimmed the last 100 pages.  

Overall, this is an incredible story of how one very poor boy became a prince through science and pharmacology.  It’s crazy to see the sinister beginnings of how pharmaceutical companies profit from illness.  It is also a fascinating story about science and women’s contribution to the natural sciences.  It is so thoroughly researched that the reader feels like she is truly experiencing moments in history when scientific discovery was changing the way people lived.  It is also the story of a brilliant woman who reasons, who believes in fact and investigation and ends up sacrificing so much of her womanhood because of it.

Is it a sacrifice?  Is sexual, sensual, emotional, passionate expression/understanding a necessary part of being a woman?  I always thought so and have related to characters who think so/do so too.  Perhaps this is why I found Alma so challenging.  Alma is all mind and tries to reason her heart…when she gives into her heart she ends up being burned. Badly.  And, then becomes obsessed with discovering why and how she was burned.  I admired Alma, but found it very difficult to relate to her.

Would I recommend this book?  Yes.  Why?  Because Elizabeth Gilbert writes beautifully.  Her characters are flawless and her plot (regardless of how I reacted to it) is pretty tight.  And, it’s a pretty fascinating subject too.

I just wish Alma had had great sex…I’m sure it would’ve changed everything 🙂

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