The Jedi mind tricks of raising teens, part 3

Back in 2014 I wrote a couple of posts that I (admittedly pretty ambitiously) called the Jedi mind tricks of raising teens. Unlike the Jedi mind tricks in Star Wars, these tips are not about tactics to get the behavior that you want from the teenagers in your midst but instead ways of changing your own mindset so that you look at them differently and maybe understand them from a different angle, especially in tough times.

To review, here are the previous tricks (the full descriptions are posted here and here):

  1. Time travel forward to the week they are leaving home.
  2. Time travel further forward to watching them parent your grandkids.
  3. Time travel back to when your teen was 2, 3, 7, etc.
  4. Time travel further back to when you were their age.
  5. Adjust your expectations or reframe your role ("oh, I'm my child's external hard drive!").
  6. Think of yourself as a curious anthropologist.

For your consideration, here's another Jedi mind trick to add to your quiver (which is probably not where Jedis keep their mind tricks. Hmmm, I sense that the metaphor is falling apart...) ANYWAY.

I was thinking of the coming-of-age novels I love and how we consistently cheer for the protagonist, no matter how many immature, stupid, hubris-y decisions they make. I wondered what my own kids' coming of age novel would be like, which led me to the next Jedi mind trick of parenting:  Imagine that your teen is a character in a book, a character that you're cheering for, a character who's sympathetic, charming, spunky but flawed. Compassion.

More to the point, if you are the parent to the protagonist, how would you want to be written? I would love to take a cue from Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird), Mrs. Weasley (Harry Potter), Kate Murry (A Wrinkle in Time), Marmee (Little Women), Ma & Pa Ingalls (Little House books) and the Cuthberts (Anne of Green Gables). I think their common characteristic is that they seem to know the hearts of their flawed protagonist children--they understand their kids' sometimes outrageous flailing is essentially a feature of good kids figuring out life.  

I mean....who wouldn't want to be looked at with this kind of benevolent amusement/compassion? 

I mean....who wouldn't want to be looked at with this kind of benevolent amusement/compassion? 

Okay, what's your favorite coming of age novel? Which fictional parents are missing from the list here?

Book sourcing & matchmaking

library room designed by Tracey Garet  via

library room designed by Tracey Garet via

Where do you go when you're wondering what to read next? I really want to know! I'm probably thinking about this today because I recently read A Window Opens which features, as a detail in one of the plot lines, the idea of doing home parties/trunk shows where the hostess serves as matchmaker between books and client. Which isn't a bad idea, by the way...

Anyway, here are a few of my go-to sites to find my next book but I would love to add to my list! 

Blogs/social media:

  • A Design so Vast: Lindsey writes about life, parenting, & writing and, as an inveterate reader, frequently posts what she's reading, like this recent post of book suggestions for holiday giving. She's got great taste. (I think I first heard about All the Light You Cannot See from her.) 
  • Shelah Books It:  I love Shelah's book reviews--she gives an enjoyment rating and content description so you know what you're getting and she reads widely in many different genres. Plus she's one of those readers who seems to line up well with my taste and preferences. Definitely worth subscribing.
  • The Social Book Club: Instagram meets the old fashioned book club. Three friends teamed up to suggest, discuss, and post about a book a month. Even when I don't read along I enjoy following them on IG. 
  • I always pay attention to all the recommendations that surface when someone crowdsources book recommendations on Facebook or Instagram, too.  

Bookstores (extra points if you order/buy your books directly from these!)


What about you? Where do you go for your best book matchmaking? 

Edited to add these suggestions from readers in the comments:

Book Rx

photo via  Remodelista  (print available  here , too)

photo via Remodelista (print available here, too)

Sometimes I wish there were a book doctor, someone you could go to and say "I'm feeling _____ and I really need a book that will ______." Of course, in many neighborhoods and corners of the universe, librarians and booksellers serve this purpose really well. But it's not a given that I've found that person in every place I've lived (like right now, for instance) and sometimes I'm left kind of floundering trying to find that next book that suits my mood/energy level/location/calendar. I'm guess I'm longing for a Lucy-in-Peanuts kind of situation where there's a little booth and "the book doctor is in" and she writes up just the perfect literary medicine for what ails me.

So, in case you feel the same way, consider these a few book prescriptions tailored to your mood and inclination, from me to you (and heading into this long weekend, you might want to have a book at the ready just in case):

If you want a fun, romcom (or drama/comedy) kind of read perfect for a holiday trip:
The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain
Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center (and her other books)
The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos (and her other books)
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan
The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel
Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

If you want an atmospheric, wintery read (on the heavier/more dramatic side):
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandrew Dumas
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Possession by AS Byatt

If you want to travel in a literary story to another land or time:
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
Life after Life by Kate Atkinson
Transatlantic by Colum McCann
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Easter Island by Jennifer Vanderbes

If you want a pep talk to be brave, be yourself, be creative:
Rising Strong (& Daring Greatly, too) by Brene Brown
Year of Yes by Shonda Rimes
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

If you want a satisfying (and sometimes heartbreaking) family-style saga:
History of the Rain by Niall Williams
Martin Marten by Brian Doyle
Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
Peace like a River by Leif Enger
Rain of Gold, Victor E Villasenor
Leeway Cottage by Beth Gutcheon
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Kate Morton's books
The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy (and others of his, too)

If you want a fun, chatty read--like a lunch out with friends:
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen
I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron (& also I Remember Nothing, too)
Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Real Moms: Making It Up As We Go by Lisa Valentine Clark

If you want a page-turning series--binge reading :
The Inspector Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny (#11 came out this year)
Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series (#5 came out last year)
The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard (WWII Britain family saga series)

If you want to dive into some ideas:
Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull
Sacred Fire by Ronald Rolheiser
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Living a Life that Matters by Harold Kushner
Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt
Global Mom: Eight Countries, Sixteen Addresses, Five Languages, One Family by Melissa Dalton-Bradford
Disrupt Yourself by Whitney Johnson

Now it's your turn ! What book suggestions/prescriptions would you give for various moods and circumstances? I'm definitely on the prowl for my next favorite.

For more reading/book gifting suggestions, check out these other books we've loved. And we always share what we're currently reading on the side column over there-->

One is not two (or three)

First there were just the two of us, G and I, living on love and baked potatoes in those early years. For the most part, a world of two. A cocoon, really. Then came Lauren and we happily adjusted our tethers a bit (ha! or a lot) to fasten her in and form a family of three. Then Maddy and, a little later, Sam arrived and we multiplied the bonds of our web, adding new sibling strands that were separate from but connected to the marriage and parenting ones. Each time, more connections meant more conflict, more energy, more chaos, more silliness, more work, more joy. Sometimes in the throes of adjusting we would look at each other and despair: "What have we done?!" mourning the version of life we left behind.

Photos by Luca Zordan, found  here

Photos by Luca Zordan, found here

You know where I'm going with this. We've maxed out the "one-little two-little three-little" song and now we're subtracting. We're shrinking! It's a different business shrinking a family rather than growing one. You still adjust as a group, take on new roles. Someone new gets to be the "oldest child" for a while.  But where before you adjusted to something new that was added, now you adjust to having something crucial that was subtracted. Some days it just feels like the family fabric has simply extended over mountains and oceans--stretched, sure, but in tact. Other days it feels like there's a gaping, whistling hole in the everyday fabric of our days. Where before there were moments of "what have we done?!" now there are moments of "what shall we do?" mourning the version of life we left behind.

photo by  Luca Zordan

photo by Luca Zordan

So we've started our third family--or sixth?--depending on how you count. This new family, the one currently under our roof now that Maddy has launched like a second family satellite--far away but still orbiting--this little family is quieter than the others. More independent. There's less laundry, fewer dishes in the sink, fewer rides and appointments and places to be, no more need for Costco (!). For the first time, I'm outnumbered, genderly speaking. This makes me feel kind of queenly but also who will watch period dramas with me now? The boys (that's how I think of my at-home family now, "the boys") outnumber me but, perhaps the strangest feeling of all, the adults outnumber the kids again for the first time since 1995. Our silly quotient has taken a dive without those contagiously hilarious moments between siblings. Now there are no siblings here, just a guy and his parents! I like to think we are pretty fun people, G and I, but still.  I miss our maximum silliness that is achieved only when everyone's here. Fewer under-one-roof connections means less conflict, less energy, less chaos, less work, more nostalgia. (Oh, the nostalgia!)

I fully confess that these are first world mama problems of the highest magnitude. I remember the days--years, really--when receiving a prison sentence of solitary confinement sounded like a pretty attractive way to live compared to the never-ending touching/eating/rocking/chasing/wiping/calming/feeding demands of a younger family still in the throes of heavy duty bootcamp parenting.  I think of dear friends whose children didn't live long enough to launch or who didn't arrive in the family when hoped for or as expected. Others have children who will always be with them for physical or emotional or other reasons. 

And, really,  I know this family gig continues for all of us. The revolving door revolves, bringing folks out and back in, and we are fixtures in each other's lives forever. But the in-house, full time setting with all my people at home together feels like such a whirring blip of time in retrospect. When I came across this passage last weekend, I underlined it and put a star in the margin to share with you. Whether your child is in kindergarten this year or 10th grade or college, you will understand all the layers--one through sixteen--of these sentiments:

"Dave was fifth in the straggled line of returnees, running easily, neither trying for a dramatic finish nor easing up, but finishing just behind the lead pack of three seniors and the tall thin sophomore. Dave's dad watched with a complex mix of feelings--unutterable pride in this son (that kid was two years old two minutes ago, and look at him now those scything legs!), a sigh that he was so damned skinny (how can he possibly compete against those kids--they are twice as thick as he is...he looks like a heron running with deer), worry about him not being dressed properly (aw, a sleeveless shirt and shorts in snow for heaven's sake), and deepest of all, beyond any words he could have summoned to drape on the feeling, a sense of impending loss and the cruelty of time and the yaw of mortality.

"Very soon, all too soon, Dave would go away--college, work, the navy, traveling, who knew? And while his dad, from layers one through fifteen of his soul, was delighted and thrilled and proud and happy that this would happen, pleased that things looked good for Dave to grow into a cool and responsible young man over the next four years, enough that he could launch into a stimulating life of his own, which every good dad wants for his kid, he also felt, silently, at level sixteen, in the innermost chamber of his heart, a terrible sadness that there would come a day when, look for him as he might, there would be no Dave in the cabin, in the school, on the mountain, and good and right and healthy as that would be, it would also be a hole that could never be filled by anything or anyone else. He loved Maria with a deep and powerful love, but he had two children, and one is not two." (Martin Marten*, Brian Doyle)

(photo by  Luca Zordan

(photo by Luca Zordan

*Book recommendation: Okay, friends, I just finished Martin Marten and cannot stop thinking about it. It's a delightful read. Here's what you do: wait until you have the time and headspace to really savor this book and sink under the spell of the writing. Give it a few chapters to settle in and to abandon your skepticism. It's a coming-of-age story about a teenage boy growing up in Oregon and a young marten (yes, an animal, that kind of marten) growing up in the forest nearby. Don't let that put you off, though. I've never been an animal book person--I could never be convinced to read any horse stories whatsoever, not even Black Beauty--but loved this. Though I have to admit I might have read faster/skimmed through one or two descriptive nature passages but not because they weren't fantastic--because I wanted to find out what happened next.  Masterful storytelling and an unforgettable, unique narrative voice about family and community and layers of stories and place. It's kind of hippyish, too, as Oregonians sometimes are :) but just such a good read overall--and he clearly loved commas at least as much as I do! (15+? Some language, complex themes and relationships)

Here, read this: The Meaning of Names

Meet The Meaning of Names, your next good read.  Karen Gettert Shoemaker has written a beautiful, poetic novel that belongs on your bedside table, in your hands, and (I think) on prize lists this year.

This is one of my top three favorite books I've read this year so far (along with All the Light We Cannot See and Love Letters of the Angels of Death, which I'll review here soon) and, as you can tell, I feel a little proselytory about it. Humor me?

Here's the set up, according to the book cover: Stuart, Nebraska is a long way from the battlefields of Western Europe, but it is not immune to the horrors of the first Great War for Peace. Like all communities, it has lost sons and daughters to the fighting, with many more giving themselves over to the hatred only war can engender.

Set in 1918 in the farm country at the heart of America, The Meaning of Names is the story of an ordinary woman trying to raise a family during extraordinary times. Estranged from her parents because she married against their will, confronted with violence and prejudice against her people, and caught up in the midst of the worst plague the world has ever seen, Gerda Vogel, an American of German descent, must find the strength to keep her family safe from the effects of a war that threatens to consume the whole world.

It's a great story, made exquisite by Shoemaker's way with words in capturing the dynamics of marriage and family and life in Nebraska in 1918, making it feel universally poignant and yet fascinatingly unique to the set of circumstances in which Gertha find herself.  Shoemaker has written a quietly brilliant gem that belongs on the shelf next to Stegner and Cather. 

A few excerpts (there were really too many to choose from):

Everyday dangers offered a new chance and a new way for her to teach them to save themselves. "I can't be everywhere," she told them. Ray, her clown, rolled his eyes at that. "Seems like it to me," he muttered.

. . .

Gannoway was not the kind of man to be biased by appearances. Still, as Father Jungels lumbered up the center aisle behind the altar boys and approached the altar, Gannoway did wish he had someone with whom he could exchange glances.

. . .

She held him even as one small part of her rose from the bed and prepared to leave. Her mind checked the list she had made the day before when the telegram came. Her sister's terse message gave her scant time to respond in any way but with movement, and she began immediately to get ready to travel to her aunt's funeral. She had no time to consider her welcome at the other end or Fritz's response to her leaving. She mentally counted out the clothes she had packed for the three boys she would bring with her and rethought the instructions she had written out for her daughter, who would stay wit Fritz. Breathing in the musky scent of him, she held the image of the train tickets in her satchel alongside the image of the food she had prepared for Katie-canned beef and corn, salt pork--easy choices an eight-year-old could handle. The boys she had bathed the night before, the trunk they would share already packed and loaded into the wagon. Sighing at the trill of pleasure that came with Fritz's lips beneath her earlobes, she remembered the lunch that still needed to be packed for the trip, the chickens that still needed to be fed, the items needed to occupy those rambunctious boys for the long hours ahead.

. . .

"You know," Gerda went on after a moment, "how most of your life if you think about how you're doing something, whatever it is, if you think about the how, a part of you is always thinking you could do it better if things were just a little different, or if the time was right, or you were stronger or better?" She looked at Margaret to gauge her expression. Her friend nodded. That's how it is with me anyway. I'm always thinking about the next thing I need to do, or the last thing I did. I'm never really--whole." She stopped to think about how to say what she meant. "But with having babies, there's this moment after each birth when I see the baby for the first time and I hear that first cry and I smell the blood and the--I don't even know what it is. That new baby smell and when I look into the baby's eyes for the first time and see...I see..." She knew words weren't enough for what she meant. She didn't know how to say how in those first moments of seeing this new life, this new soul, she felt for that one moment complete joy. She knew she would never be a better person than she was at that one moment in time. She wanted to say how all that she is goes into that moment...her touch, her breath, her eyes looking into that one tiny new being. She looked up at Margaret again, feeling a little embarrassed at what she was about to say. "For that moment I know I am as close to God as I can ever be."

p.s. A quick postcard from our nests: You may have noticed already from last week's posting pace but Sarah and I are taking a more relaxed blogging schedule for the next little while. We'll still be posting here--just not on a daily basis--as we scale back a bit to enjoy the end of August and nudge along some other projects and roles that are clamoring for our attention. I'm sure you can relate!

Book review: Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland

I'm somewhat reticent to write book reviews for Nest & Launch. Book reviews can be boring -- like watching someone else's vacation slides or listening to your (darling) child recount, in detail, the antics involved in an hour long television show. 

However, I enjoyed Lahiri's novel so much, that I'm breaking my own rule. Also, this isn't so much of a review as it is a hearty recommendation. And don't worry, I'll keep it short. (Well, my version of short.)

First off, Lahiri is one of a handful of contemporary writers who I recommend without reservation. I read everything new she produces, and as of this novel . . . I've never been disappointed. 

Secondly, I'm fascinated by India and Indian culture and how Indian culture works to find a space in the United States -- all things Lahiri tackles with intellect and eloquence.

Third, Lahiri writes about family relationships. These aren't 'boy meets girl, there is an obstacle to overcome, boy marries girl' kinds of stories. Her narratives are messy and complicated and disappointing and joyful, which make them believable and touching and, in an odd way, hopeful. 

What I thoroughly enjoyed about The Lowland is that the story is told from a variety of points of view. The perspective changes from older brother to younger brother, to wife, to child, to mother-in-law, which gives this slowly rounded portrait of the characters and makes you empathize -- even with the crusty mother-in-law or the troubled wife.

I will warn you that (somewhat uncharacteristically) Lahiri has a penchant for wandering into philosophical reveries in this novel (one of the characters becomes a philosophy PhD), so this is not the type of book to rush through. Typically, I like to take a good novel and gulp it down, barely taking time to breathe. But The Lowland doesn't really allow for gulping. I read a few chapters at a time. Slowly. Waiting until I was thinking and wondering about the characters to pick it up again. It was a beautiful, literary read through an entire generation of sorrow and violence and love. 

I might start it again tomorrow.

A few good gems

We are officially on summer break in Texas!! Well, my kids finished up school yesterday, but I'm still in NYC helping Maddie find all the best restaurants in her new neighborhood. It's a tough job, but I'm totally up for it.

Maddie and I are off to try to get some last-minute Jimmy Fallon tickets (a very, very, very long shot), but I wanted to share a few good gems I've turned up over the past week. Enjoy!

via  ishandchi

I love everything about this Zoey Murphy dresser. I'm trolling Craigslist for a likely candidate for some striping of my own. Lots of color ideas at ishandchi.

Last weekend I read The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. I have mixed feelings about the book. I mean, I liked it, but it somehow left me feeling a little deflated . . . in a everything-turns-out-crappy kind of way. BUT . . . it also reminded me of this Slate article about kids at camp -- a place where their essential version of themselves can fully emerge. I'm curious if you would agree.

When her son left for college, this mom dealt with her sadness and anxiety by drawing advice for him. Check it here.

Have you looked into #YesAllWomen? I'm thinking a lot about it as I drop my 19 year-old daughter off in the big city all by her lonesome. Mostly to make myself feel better, I keep saying "You won't run around NYC at night by yourself. Right? RIGHT??" I like how DesignMom talked to her kids about #YesAllWomen.

Billy Collins and Cheerios.


Typography makes me happy. Framing and enlarged book page is genius. I can't find the original post, but I'm thinking Staples engineer prints would work here.

Amen! Have a happy weekend!