What Mama Reads: Lovely War

For a blog dedicated to books, I write surprisingly few book reviews.

I feel insecure when writing a review, worrying I don’t share enough or share too much. Or maybe my thoughts don’t make sense and won’t promote the book well.

Really, it’s too much drama.

Yes, this is a silly thing.

Every now and then, though, book comes along that I have to share. Like, Daisy Jones & the Six, A Man Called Oveand The Book ThiefBut those books are obvious winners. Maybe this one is too, but I want to help spread the word.

Lovely War by Julie Berry fascinated me. I’ve read a handful of WWII-era novels in recent years, so they seemed to rise in popularity. (Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein comes to mind. Fabulous book.) Honestly? I don’t love wartime books. The reasons should be obvious, but I tend to read books that make me feel good. War, obviously, doesn’t usually evoke much feel-good.

This book, though. I just kept thinking, “How in the world did this author come up with this?” One critic said the author “writes the past as if she lived it,” and I completely agree.

wp-1595039003080.jpgThe story is technically set in December 1942, but the majority is set between 1914-1918, the era of World War I. It’s a remembered love story told by–wait for it–Aphrodite. Yes, the Greek goddess of love herself tells a gripping love story between a British soldier and a beautiful dame he met right before shipping off to France.

She’s telling the story to her husband, Hephaestus, god of fire/forge, and her sometimes-lover, Ares, god of war. She also pulls in Apollo, god of music (there are a few musicians mixed into the love story, as it also circles the birth of jazz), and Hades, god of the underworld (because…wartime).

Aphrodite tells this story to reveal what “real love looks like” and speaks of how she envies the mortals, who chose the pains of love even with their limited time on the planet (as opposed to gods, who are immortal).

Her story follows Hazel Windicott, a promising pianist, as she meets James Alderidge, a young man with a week left before deployment in France. Their story winds through the pains of separation and the horrors of war.

As a volunteer for the YMCA, Hazel travels to France to entertain soldiers with her music. She befriends Colette, a grief-stricken Belgian who lost her entire family to the Germans, and American Aubrey Edwards, a black pianist who joined the war and faces racial prejudice from his own countrymen across the Atlantic. (Spoiler!) As with any good love story, these two fall in love as well.

The author, Julie Berry, pulled in plenty of “based on a true story” moments, and I loved learning about numerous details from the early 1900s. I feel like World War II has gotten a lot more attention, so I’m fuzzy on the WWI details, like the Harlem Hellfighters and how the YMCA sent volunteers overseas to care for soldiers when they weren’t on the frontlines.

I just…I loved this book, y’all. Though, Hades nearly made me throw the book across the room, so fair warning.

Now, I’m keeping my eye out for a lovely pink coat.

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Currently Reading:
First off, I LOVED Tweet Cute by Emma Lord and stayed up waaay too late reading the second half last weekend. My heart was sad when I returned it to the library.

I finished Lovely War yesterday and have moved onto There’s Something about Sweetie by Sandhya Menon. I read When Dimple Met Rishi awhile back, and this is the YA sequel. It’s fun to have the smallest glimpse into Indian-American culture, and I think Sandhya Menon does a wonderful job. See? Young-adult novels fill my need for happy, fun books. I mean, there’s always some angst, but as long as it’s not too…angsty…Mama’s happy.

When Your Son Is 7,000 Miles Away

We don’t have a cable service, so very few commercials make their way into our home. Years ago, though, before I took on the title of “Mama,” I saw a commercial that made a lasting impact. I don’t remember where I was or when I saw it, but I remember who made it…

Google.

I mean, of course it’s Google, right? Google is everywhere!

Maybe you remember it.

It was just a computer screen opened to an email inbox. You quickly learn a dad has set up an email for his newborn daughter, and he’s writing emails to her future self. First birthday, new sibling, ski trip, etc.

(OK, I Googled [of course] and found a link to the “Dear Sophie” Google Chrome ad.)

I remember thinking, “I’ll do that when I have children! It’ll be so sweet to record my thoughts as my children grow!”

And, surprisingly, I followed through and did it! Both of my children have email addresses, and I plan to continue writing to them until they’re–oh, I don’t know–18? Maybe? We’ll see how this thing goes. I mean, I did take a yearlong break already, so, again, we’ll see.

I love the idea, though. I’m not going to sit down and hand-write a journal. I learned that when I was about 12 and had a stack of journals with only the first page filled in. Typing is so much easier and more convenient these days.

Well, yesterday I decided to create an email account for our soon-to-be-adopted son. But for him, there’s a deeper reason, beyond the reasons I created accounts for my two biological children. I want my two kiddos to hear about how silly they are at 3 and 5. I send them pictures of things they make. I sometimes mention the things they do that frustrate the stew outta me.

But for our second son, I’m creating part of his story. He’s in China right now, and I can’t hold him and sing to him. I can’t rock him to sleep and wipe away his tears. My story is happening in America, and his is happening thousands of miles away. I may never get to meet his 2-year-old self.

And I have zero control over any of that.

But I can start the narrative, our narrative. I can tell his future self how I feel right now. In case he ever has any doubts, he can one day look back and see that his mommy wanted him before she even met him. How she prayed for him. How she assembled his crib. How she filled out every form and waded through all the red tape to get to him. How she missed him even before she knew him.

I want him to know me even before he meets me, which means I need to carve out some time and share my heart right now.

Adoption Update: We’ve gotten through paperwork until we hit the wall where we need visas, which aren’t being issued right now. We’re now waiting with hundreds of other parents for news regarding travel dates and flight openings.

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Currently Reading:
Tweet Cute by Emma Lord – OK, I haven’t actually started reading yet, but I’ve heard good things. I’m apparently on a young-adult kick. Late last night I finished Ashley Poston’s Geekarella, which was a super-cute retelling of Cinderella. It’s for anyone who loves nerdy fandoms and can catch a lot of the references (think cons, Star TrekThe Princess Bride, etc.) Actually, it reminded me of one of my favorite YA novels, Lily Anderson’s The Only Thing Worse Than You Is Me.

When Swim Lessons Make You Ugly Cry

When I was a young teenager, I read a novel that described the heroine crying. Apparently, she didn’t make a sound, but silent tears slid heartbreakingly down her porcelain cheeks. At that moment, I decided that’s how I wanted to cry. Not blubbery, but beautifully and with poise.

Well, sadly, the good Lord didn’t bless me with poised weeping.

Nope.

I’m an ugly crier.

Thankfully, it doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it’s like…

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Yes, this is a reference from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien.

…and it ain’t pretty. Hence the ugly crying.

And I don’t like anyone to see it. Yes, we can blame my own ungodly pride for this.

But there are times when your pride is going to take a blow, regardless of what you expect or anticipate. And this week’s example of Mama-not-being-able-to-control-her-circumstances?

Swim lessons.

Due to this lovely pandemic, we’re much farther into the summer than normal for swim lessons. In Florida, we did ISR lessons starting in April, but with Covid, I didn’t even consider signing the kids up until pools began to reopen. Also, both ISR teachers in the area were booked solid, so onto Plan B.

Last year, we did private lessons at the YMCA, so I figured we’d try group lessons. Maybe a little peer pressure and other kiddos leading by example would help my cerebral 5-year-old embrace pool school. I even signed up Olivia, who is 3, for the same 3-5-year-old class, assuming they’d be together in a tiny group of tiny children. I imagined them holding each others’ hands as they dipped their little toes into the water before loving all that swim lessons had to offer, maybe even getting their heads wet!

Whelp. I was wrong.

We missed the first lesson, then the second was cancelled. So, yesterday was our first day. I was immediately frustrated because all the other little kids just went straight into the pool. They knew exactly where to go. There wasn’t anyone around to direct us, as there were numerous classes and teachers. I was pointed to an empty tent with a “go ask someone at the tent for a roster.”

My tears began to brim. They tend to accompany rising frustration.

Once the roster finally appeared, I was told my children were in two different classes. On opposite ends of the pool. My 3-year-old was in the deep end, while my 5-year-old was in the shallower end. Olivia immediately started hyperventilating.

“You’re going to do great! You’ve got this!” I told her enthusiastically.
“I don’t got this! I don’t got this!” she wailed.

Olivia and I walked George to his class. He refused to get in the water. The other preschoolers were about five minutes into their lesson. I was hoping the 19-year-old lifeguard gal would grab him and pull him in, but she had four other 4- and 5-year-olds to manage, so I don’t blame her for vaguely trying to help. She really tried her best. With 35-pound Olivia on my hip, I kicked off my flip flops and marched George into the “too cold! too cold!” water myself. That’s when he started crying.

I sat him on a lounge chair and told him to watch his class while I tried to get Olivia happily splashing with her fellow 3-year-olds at the other end of the pool.

Y’all, those little kids were phenomenal. They were laughing as the teacher dunked them each under the water. Olivia took one look at that exercise and started crying wildly, gripping my shirt.

And that’s when I couldn’t stop crying.

It was all so overwhelming and frustrating.

I needed another adult, another lap, another set of hands. I needed someone to grab my child and pull them into the pool, ignoring the screaming until they got used to the water. I wanted someone else to be the bad guy.

I didn’t want to be the sideshow all the other parents and grandparents were pretending not to watch. I didn’t want to be the mom having the emotional breakdown. Two other moms even came over and sat with me and Olivia. They gave wonderfully reassuring comments, and I’m tearing up thinking about how they were compassionate enough to reach out. I hope I’m always that fellow mom.

My kids have to learn how to swim. It’s nonnegotiable. And yet, they were unwilling to negotiate. (In case you haven’t heard, preschoolers aren’t great with the logical reasoning yet.)

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George and Olivia with their grammy a week before. See? They don’t fear water. Maybe they fear beautiful, young lifeguards wearing red one-pieces? No clue.

So, we sat and watched George’s swim lesson take place without him. In the beating sun. While attempting not to make eye contact with the other parents.

And then George began to perk up. I talked encouragingly about how now he knew what to expect, so he’d be a fantastic swimmer when he got into the pool the next day. He even looked excited. I was so relieved.

(Side note: I did decide to let Olivia skip swim lessons. Without sounding like I’m pandering to my children, she’s definitely not ready for those particular lessons. I’m not willing to scar her experience in the pool and set her back further. We’ll work with her and set her up for success next year. Also, we don’t have a pool, so she isn’t around water very often.)

So, let’s skip the part where I ugly-cried all the way home. We can even skip the part where I collapsed into my husband’s arms, thankful he’s still working from home (oh, there’s that silver lining, Covid!). My husband agreed to extend his Thursday lunch break and join us at swim lessons the following day.

Fast forward to today. I prayed during my morning quiet time with the Lord. I felt helpless and didn’t see a good solution. I even asked for forgiveness for my massive pride and recognized the, uh, opportunity to work on humility.

So, we’re at the pool again. Olivia is thrilled she isn’t asked to swim, though now she wants to play in the pool (eye roll here). George is looking OK. His swim teacher shows up, and the other kids crowd around her to be fitted for their back floaties. My husband grabs George’s hand and walks him toward her.

That’s when the 30-minute battle began.

And this time, I had another adult, another lap, another set of hands. This time, there were no tears rolling down my cheeks, but there was serious whine/screaming coming out of my 5-year-old.

My husband was awesome. Neither of us know what to do when George hits this fever pitch. We don’t want to be the catering give-ins, but sometimes a kid can be so far gone there isn’t much coming back, especially before the end of a 30-minute swim lesson. It was ugly, y’all.

I just didn’t know what to do. Private lessons? Try to force the group lesson? Do nothing at all and hope next year is better? Clearly, group swim lessons weren’t this year’s answer. We left feeling defeated.

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The Hubs and George, three days before swim lessons began, loving Dollywood’s Splash Country with all his heart.

Except George. He immediately perked up when we got back to the car and started talking about Pokemon. I told him to stop until we got home.

That’s when God provided the perfect answer.

My husband stepped up to the plate. He volunteered to take George to the pool and work with him. He even said he’d do it this afternoon.

I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before. I feel very insecure at the idea of teaching my children to swim, so I would’ve thought he’d feel the same. But he didn’t.

So, after my husband finished his afternoon workload, I cautiously told George that he was going to swim with Daddy this afternoon and “wouldn’t that be fun?” I said in my brightest mom-voice. He immediately agreed.

And when the two came home, both were happy with their time together. George even dunked his head in the water numerous times. He kicked. He floated. He generally had fun with his father.

I’m so, so grateful. And relieved.

I’m fully confident my husband can teach him the handful of basic skills any 5-year-old needs to be safe in the water … and he’s willing and patient.

OK, disclaimer that it’s only the first day of trying this (as my husband said when I mentioned I wanted to blog about this). However…

HAH-LEH-LOO-YAH!

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Currently Reading:
No Other Will Do by Karen Witemeyer – I’m taking a few editing classes with The PEN Institute. I thought I’d get a few certificates under my belt even while offering my editing ministry to you.

This month’s class is about romance novels. Christian fiction romance was my bridge between children’s books and adult novels, as the young-adult market wasn’t a thing back in the day. So, since I’m learning how to edit Christian romance novels, I thought I’d read a few along the way. I read Witemeyer’s Short-Straw Bride, which is basically a retelling of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, which I love.

No Other Will Do tells us the happily-ever-after of Malachi Shaw, a young, homeless boy, and Emma Chandler, the spunky girl who found and “adopted” him into her family. They haven’t seen each other for ten years, but when they do *gasp!* they each think the other is gorgeous but, of course, out of reach! Emma founded a town for women who need a fresh start and Mal works in demolition across the country. When someone threatens Emma and her ladies, she telegraphs Mal for help. He comes racing to the rescue! I’m assuming there’ll be a wedding in the end.

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