Five-Minute Friday: First

(Note: “Five-Minute Friday” is an activity I participate in based on Kate Motaung’s blog, linked at the bottom of the page. Each week, Kate posts a one-word prompt, and people write for five minutes straight, free-write style with no editing and no over-thinking.)

I have always been the first to do things, as I have hit about every life milestone early. I was the first born child to my parents. Apparently, I walked and talked early and was an early reader. This led to me starting kindergarten when I was 4 (turned 5 that December), which meant I was one of the youngest members in my class.

I started college at 17. I remember my suitemates and I going to Sears for a roommate photo shoot and individual pics for our parents for Christmas, and they wouldn’t let me participate because I was not 18 and did not have parental consent.

Parental consent was NOT a hindrance for getting my first tattoo at age 17 – a story for another time.

I was the first of my friends to fall head-over-heels in love – at age 16 – to my now-husband. I got engaged at 19. Finished college at 20, a semester early. Got married at 21. Had my first baby at 23 and my last at 25. Bought my first house at 24. I was the first of my circle of friends to lose a parent when my dad died just after I turned 30 (though, sadly, I now have other friends who have joined the club).

Aside from that last one, I have enjoyed being the first and paving my own way, offering advice for those after me. I have done a lot of living in my 37 years.

(That’s 5:11…after a two-week break, I am rusty!)

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Getting Your Kids to Let Go of What No Longer Serves Them

I used to be a gymnast. My mom will tell you I was the youngest girl to make the tryouts for the Yellow Jackets mini-team. I attribute making the cut to the freakish upper body strength I had at a young age.

I loved gymnastics. The variety of events appealed to me, as did the ability to cartwheel and back handspring into a room. I loved competing in the meets and pushing myself to physical levels I didn’t think I could reach. I loved that it was an individual sport in the context of a team.

As I progressed, the frequency and duration of practices increased to four times a week for a few hours a pop.

I stopped loving it. In fact, I dreaded it.

One day, my father drove me to practice, and he knew something was wrong.

“What’s the matter?” he asked as he pulled into the parking lot. The car was idling. So was I.

“It’s not fun anymore,” I said.

Without speaking, he backed the car up and drove us home, mercifully ending my gymnastics career.

My mother was not pleased with this turn of events.

“But, Tom, she is GOOD!” I remember her responding to his explanation of why I walked in the door with him.

“Joni, she doesn’t enjoy it.”

Childhood memories are skewed. I have no recollection of whether I had previously shared my discontent with the increasing intensity level of the sport. I do not remember dinner table conversations about whether I should reevaluate my commitment at the end of the season. I do not recall whether my parents had to drag me to practice upteen times before this particular one. I have no idea how far into the season I was or whether my departure let down the team.

What I vividly remember is my father communicating in one swift action that I was free to let go of what no longer served me, and the relief I felt that I did not have to do something that brought me stress when it should have brought me joy.

(And, not to paint my mom as the villain, I remember her faith in my athletic ability. I was not Olympics-quality, but had she responded with, “All right – she wasn’t very good anyway,” it would have sent an entirely different message.)

I have been mastering the “let go” concept of late, from leaving an organization with which I was employed for 12 years to finally ditching a sweatshirt I’ve owned for 18. I feel the same relief I felt in the Yellow Jackets parking lot almost three decades ago.

But I have not been as intentional in teaching this concept to my children, and we have reached a breaking point in my house.

My kids are lovely people, and one of their more endearing, and sometimes annoying, qualities is their refusal to be overscheduled. If we have more than one activity on the calendar for the weekend – even if the events are fun, social ones – they stage a mutiny.

So when my daughter was sitting at the kitchen counter studying her theater rehearsal schedule, thinking out loud how she was also going to fit in her other activities, I was surprised when I added up those extracurriculars: 5, at least a few of which I do not believe bring her joy.

I have told my gymnastics story to her many times for different purposes, and today is the day we will reenact it. I will play the part of my father. She will play the part of me. We will see what improvisational differences this recasting brings to the scene.

My Year in Books

In 2012, I set a goal of reading 12 books (and completing 12 knitting projects). I exceeded in the knitting and fell a few short in the reading, but I set a precedent with the “12 in ‘12” idea. I have set goals each year since to read the same number of books as the year, and I have met the goal for the last 3 years.

Going into this year, I recognized that I read mostly non-fiction and mostly male authors, not consciously, but by chance. I wanted to see what would happen if I purposely chose (more) fiction and solely female authors. I am happy I did. Here’s my 2015 recap.

  1. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Okay, so I started the year reading fiction, but by a male author. Blame it on the library and the long wait list I was on for this one. It was billed as a book you’d love if you enjoy Sheldon’s character on The Big Bang Theory, and it delivered. It was a fun, feel-good story centering on a quirky character who sure seems like he is on the autism spectrum, but no diagnosis is ever mentioned.

Take-away: No matter how different we are, we can find love and happiness.

READ (if you enjoy The Big Bang Theory)

  1. Accidents of Marriage by Randy Susan Meyers

A work of fiction with a female author – now we’re talking! It’s set in Boston, which I enjoyed, but it was not the gripping book I was hoping for. I enjoy books with multiple narrators/perspectives, but I can’t say this one did that successfully.

Take-away: Marriage is hard, and parenting is harder.

SKIP

  1. The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

As is true for most sequels, this book was not as good as the first. It did leave me thinking that if someone makes a movie from these books, I will see it.

Take-away: No matter how different we are, we can find love and happiness.

SKIP (Read the first book instead)

  1. I Thought It Was Just Me by Brene Brown

My therapist casually recommended I watch Brene’s TedTalk, and I was hooked. I cannot get enough of what Brene Brown says, and I figured reading her books in chronological order was the way to go. The researcher in me loves how she presents her work.

Take-away: Silence breeds shame, and living in shame breeds an unnecessarily lonely, difficult life.

MUST READ

  1. Small Victories by Anne Lamott

If Anne Lamott started a second career as a preacher, I would go to that parish everyday. If you think the world is going to hell in a hand basket, her words act as a salve that makes it all better. This book is the third in a series of three short books, but you do not need to read them in order.

Take-away: I’m okay, you’re okay, but George Bush is not.

MUST READ (if you aren’t opposed to recovering alcoholics, religious undertones, and liberal viewpoints/Republican-bashing)

  1. Dietland by Sarai Walker

I thought I would love this because Entertainment Weekly likened it to Amy Schumer’s comedy. It does have feminist social commentary, and I could see the comparisons to Schumer once I was in the thick of it, but in the end, Schumer is in a category all her own and Walker is not even close.

Take-away: Love yourself, whatever your size.

SKIP

  1. Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon

When Charlotte mentioned she was writing about a famous mother/daughter Mary combo, I knew the duo to which she was referring, and I could not wait for her to finish. It took over 5 years, but it was worth the wait. It is a dual biography that reads like a novel. Even if you have no idea who these ladies are, you will appreciate Charlotte’s insights.

There are so many take-aways that I won’t do the book justice, but here is one: The mother/daughter bond is an unbreakable one in so many ways.

MUST READ (Especially if you enjoy Frankenstein and/or A Vindication of the Rights of Woman)

  1. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Game-changer. Her philosophy and method will truly change your life for the better if you let it. This is a quick, easy read packed with practical advice.

Take-away: Let go of anything that no longer serves you…starting with your closet.

MUST READ

  1. Yes, Please by Amy Poehler

It’s a fun read, but not a FUNNY read. There are meaty, feminist views if you choose to notice them. The book made me want to watch Parks and Recreation, a series I passed on when it was on the air. (I am on season 3 now and have been pleasantly surprised.)

Take-away: Poehler is one smart, funny, classy lady.

READ (and it’s probably a must-read if you like Poehler, Saturday Night Live, and/or Tina Fey)

  1. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Yes, it was a page-turner. No, I did not like it. None of the characters are likeable. At all. And what is with the ending? It was disturbing, and not in a good, think-about-your-life way. Ugh.

Take-away: Things aren’t always what they seem. (I struggled on this one – this is the best I can do.)

SKIP

  1. The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick

I had to break away from female authors to get in this book selected by a new book club I joined. I would put it in the same category as The Rosie Project with its quirky characters and feel-good message. I did not know this until after I read it, but Matthew Quick is the same author of Silver Linings Playbook. I am adding him to my list of authors whose body of work I should read. (Jonathan Tropper is another member of this short list.)

Take-away: No matter how different we are, we can find love and happiness.

MUST READ (Especially if you liked The Rosie Project or Silver Linings Playbook)

  1. The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver

Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, and The Execution of Noa P. Singleton all have rather deplorable female characters. In this one, Noa is on death row for first degree murder. There was a twist, but in the end, it was a book of mainly unlikeable characters whose message was not quite clear.

Take-away: I got nothing…maybe “People are gross”?

SKIP

  1. Off the Sidelines by Kirsten Gillibrand

When you have a name like “Kirstin,” you are drawn to other Kirstins/Kirstens/Kierstins, etc. Or maybe it’s just me. I was intrigued with Senator Gillibrand when I heard her name on a tv interview. That she is a senator who does her job while raising a young family is a plus.

Take-away: Everyone should use her voice to shape our world.

READ (you need not be into politics)

  1. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

I love the idea behind this book – that a bookseller is a literary apothecary, administering books like medicine. It is a true book lover’s book.

Take-away: Books heal, as do the misfit characters we incorporate into our chosen family along the way.

READ (and it’s a MUST READ if you are a book lover)

  1. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

This is Brene’s second book, and there is an e-course associated with it that my husband bought me, and I finally took it on this year. For a recovering perfectionist like me, this book lays it all out.

Take-away: The struggle for perfection (which is unattainable) robs us of joy and true connection.

MUST READ (Especially if you are a Brene Brown fan)

  1. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

Her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, was laugh-out-loud funny (and that says a lot coming from me). This one is just as funny, but it takes on more serious topics, as Lawson doesn’t mince words about depression and anxiety.

Take-away: Depression lies; life is good.

MUST READ (Especially if you live with, worth with, and/or love someone with mental illness)

  1. Quiet by Susan Cain

Reading this after Lawson’s and Brown’s books made for the perfect three-fer. If you can swing it, reading them in succession is a great idea. Cain’s research and anecdotes on introverts (and even what that word actually means) is eye-opening.

Take-away: Preferring quiet to noise or working alone to working in a group is not only okay, but necessary for societal (and relationship) balance.

MUST READ (So many implications for school, work, relationships, parenting, etc.)

  1. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

I read this with no prior knowledge about the book, so I was not expecting the perspective shift that occurs when we move from “Fates” to “Furies.” I enjoyed the shift, but it was not enough to make me recommend the book.

Take-away: Things aren’t always what they seem.

SKIP

  1. Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes

I picked this one up because Gretchen Rubin mentioned it (her book will be my first for 2016), and it sounded interesting. As one fascinated with food and health, I thought I ought to read more on the subject. I was NOT expecting a book that would change my mind, and that’s what I got.

Take-away: The “calories-in/calories-out” idea does not play out in research; rather, we get overweight due to insulin resistance that occurs over time.

MUST READ

*    *   *

Women Authors: 15/19 (excellent!)

Works of Fiction: 9/19 (needs improvement, but this WAS an improvement)

Themes: 1. Quirky, imperfect people succeeding in making the best of what life hands them, and 2. Iconoclastic women whose thoughts and actions transcend their time period.

Goals for 2016’s Year of Books: I need to continue to read more female authors to make up for my miseducation (through most of high school, the authors assigned were men). I need to find more meaningful fiction – books that aren’t just good in the moment, but ones that have lasting effects. Should 2016 be the year of historical fiction? Would this be a compromise?

Please give me some book recommendations!