What do parents do differently in Finland, Sweden, Germany, Japan and other countries? Christine Gross-Loh, a mom and Harvard-educated expert, has lived all over the world, and made it her goal to find the answers. I can’t wait to read her new book, Parenting Without Borders, that comes out today.
Here’s a preview: Guatemalan children don’t go through the terrible twos and Italian children love to eat healthy food. Finnish kids have the highest test scores and get the most recess. Intrigued, I asked Christine to tell me more. She even picks her favorite country and gives reasons why. (You’ll be surprised!)
KK: In three sentences, how would you describe your book? CGL:Parenting Without Borders is about surprising lessons I learned from other parents in other cultures about raising kids with less stress, more joy, and more conviction. While some of the thinking I encountered was sometimes just about the opposite of ours (for instance, in some countries, such as Norway, people say that you keep your child safe by letting him take some risks so that he can learn how to hone his inner judgment about his capabilities, while in our country we tend to keep our children protected from risks until we deem them ready), I came to see how we American parents could benefit from taking a fresh look at our own assumptions. Seeing that there are so many ways to define good parenting and so many ways for children to thrive has made me a more relaxed parent.
KK: What are the three most helpful parenting tips you’ve learned from other cultures? CGL: 1. To be careful not to get in my children’s way too much. Kids in other cultures experience more autonomy and independence, and are given the message that it’s okay to make mistakes, to stumble and fall–this is part of growing up. Research shows this approach has lots of benefits.
2. At the same time, we could take a more concerted role in certain areas, such as teaching eating as a life skill, teaching children patience and respect for others (it’s not stifling them; it’s giving them some great tools), giving them responsibilities around the home, and not pulling back as much as we are told we should when they become adolescents. Young adolescents who know that their parents have expectations for them tend to do better in school.
3. Don’t feel you have to do it alone. It’s the norm in most cultures for parents to be supported by others (extended family or a community of friends). It’s good for our kids to bump up against all sorts of people and perspectives and it’s good for us too, not to feel like we are solely responsible for how our kids turn out.
KK: What is your favorite country you and your family have lived in and why? CGL: I write about Japan a lot in my book because we lived there for so long that our kids think of it as a second home. There is lots to love about the country: Young kids have freedom to roam there, children are given more time to play (academics don’t start till grade 1 and kids have plenty of recess, art, gym, and music class), and it feels like a whole community is on the same page about expectations for kids, which helps take the burden off of you as an individual parent. You know other adults around you will help reinforce and back you up. But I have to say our favorite place to be is right here in the U.S. What I love about parenting here is our positive spirit; how much we want to do well by our kids, and how open-minded we are. We are very willing to consider all sorts of perspectives.
Did you love Kristin Hannah‘s novel Firefly Lane? Or maybe you adored one of her other 12 books. If so, you’re in luck today. Her newest called Fly Away hits stores. The bestselling author brings back the characters you know and love in this book that centers around Tully–and how she deals with loss, commitments and love.
Kristin answered some questions about writing and motherhood. Her own friendships inspire her to write about them with skill and purpose. Read more from this prolific and beloved author below:
KK: What’s one thing you want fans to know on why they should read Fly Away? KH: I hope readers enjoy the journey of this book and are reminded about how important it is to be there for the people we love.
KK: Did you have fun revisiting the characters from Firefly Lane?
KH: I don’t know that fun is the right word. I felt a real burden with this novel to not let my readers down. Firefly Lane was such a special novel to so many people. I wanted to write a story that lived up to their expectations and still surprised them.
KK: You write about your hometown Seattle/Bainbridge often, do you find that a majority of your inspiration comes from there?
KH: Absolutely. I love the Pacific Northwest and want to share that passion with my readers.
KK: You’re known for writing about your mother/daughter and girlfriend relationships. Can you share one of your favorite girlfriend memories?
KH: I have so many fabulous memories of great times with my girlfriends. Probably the best of them begin with two of us sitting on a beach, just talking. And laughing. We always laugh.
KK: You have a son. Can you tell me more about him and your relationship?
KH: Motherhood is the most important facet of my life. I really just love being a mom…even when it’s hard, and we all know how tough it can be. Now I’m in the empty nest phase of motherhood and learning how to be mom from a distance. I love watching my son come into his own.
KK:What inspires you to write so many great books? KH: I am endlessly fascinated with the moments and issues that shape our lives, and I love writing. I am so fortunate to have the ability to do this every day.
What if you knew you only had a few years to live? That’s what happened to working mom Susan Spencer-Wendel when she was diagnosed with ALS (commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) at age 45. In her bestselling memoir, Until I Say Goodbye, she quickly sets off on special trips with her kids, husband, sister and best friend and vows to live joyously. Susan and her publisher, HarperCollins, have teamed up with Princess Cruises to offer Susan’s readers (that means you!) a 5-day Caribbean cruise called the “Experience of a Lifetime.” Princess Cruises is sending one lucky winner and her guest on a 5-day Caribbean cruise! Enter the sweepstakes before April 30, 2012 to win.
Susan’s book, Until I Say Goodbye, shows what one determined woman does to make the best of life under terminal circumstances. She goes to the Yukon to see the Northern Lights with her lifelong best girlfriend. She’s an adopted child, so Susan ventures to California and Greece to uncover her biological parents’ pasts and try to recover the family Bible. Friends help her organize thousands of family photos so her two boys and teenage girl will receive a special scrapbook. She builds a tiki hut in the backyard by her pool where she rests, socializes and writes this book with her only working finger–her right thumb–on her iPhone. Her husband, John, shows big, devoted love as he cares for her while working full time and rounding up their children ages 9, 11 and 15, plus the dog.
This book is not about dying. It’s a beautiful tribute to living with purpose. Susan proves to be a strong, determined, wise and witty woman. Her journey will make you want to do something special with your family and friends right now. Until I Say Goodbye will make you laugh and cry (just a little).
John Wendel, Susan’s husband, answered some questions for me about his family’s journey. Currently, he lovingly takes care of Susan.
KK: Do you have a mantra that has helped you cope in this difficult time that might provide inspiration to other parents in your shoes? JW: My mantra is, “Be happy.” I figure if she (Susan) can be happy, I can be happy. Very early on Susan decided to “live with joy.” It may sound simple, a bit hokey even, but it gets us through. Being happy isn’t like flipping a light switch. It’s hard. An interviewer once asked Susan, “How do you live with joy?” Her answer: You try.
KK: What was the most surprising thing you learned about your family during this ordeal? JW: I think what surprised me most is the resilience that our children have shown. Susan and I didn’t rush to tell the kids of her diagnosis. Why drop the bomb on them? The progress of her disease was so slow and nearly imperceptible that they didn’t seem to notice that Susan went from healthy and fit to unable to move and barely able to speak. When they did ask if Mommy is going to die, I answered simply and honestly. I think they already knew the answer, but were just confirming. Their responses have been very matter of fact and accepting — like their mother’s. In fact my 11-year-old son Aubrey recently told me that one of his teachers had spoken to the class about our situation on a day that he was absent from school. Aubrey was upset and told me that he knows what’s happening to mommy and doesn’t need any special treatment from the other kids at school.
KK: What was Susan’s favorite memory from the cruise she took with her sister? JW: Susan said that the best part of the cruise was the opportunity for her and Stephanie to just talk without any interruptions or distractions. Even though we lived on the same street as Stephanie, it seemed that kids, work, and crazy schedules kept them from having any time alone to just talk.
KK: How do you communicate what is happening to your children? Do you have any advice to offer others in a similar position to you? JW: Before we communicated anything to the children, Susan and I talked with each other about what would be best. We also sought the advice of counselors. We knew we wanted to be honest with them. The counselors advised us that the children would ask when they were ready. Many friends and relatives seemed concerned that we hadn’t sat the kids down and had “the talk” with them. Our philosophy was that they were going to have their worlds turned upside down regardless. Why not let them go along blissfully unaware as long as we could. As it turned out we never really had to have “the talk”. They asked. I answered, and that was that. They asked two follow up questions: How much longer will she live, and is it contagious?
My advice to anyone in a similar situation would be to seek advice from a counselor, have a plan, and be honest.
I love my job! I was invited to sit down with actress and screenwriter Nia Vardalos–the writer and actress from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. She was so friendly and gracious and nice. She hugged me when we said hello. Then we sat down in New York City to talk about her amazing new book, Instant Mom.
With her trademark wit and warmth, she detailed her journey from Hollywood success to infertility and eventually adoption through the foster care system. She talked candidly to me about her 10 IVF treatments, the day her daughter arrived, how she does it all and what she’s working on next (a new movie!).
Here’s the scoop from our chat:
KK: Did you really have just a few days before your daughter arrived at your house? NV: I had 14 hours.We got the call (from foster care) at 11:30 p.m., and she was there the next morning. Ian (Ian Gomez from Cougar Town) went that morning and got everything and by late afternoon, she was there. She was almost 3 years old.
KK: You write that the transition was hard for her–can you tell me about that? NV: Even though her brain and body were not formed, her emotions fully were. She came with a full set of personality and pain and feelings of betrayal. My biggest job now (Ilaria is 8) is that she knows that she was not abandoned. Two people who did not stay together chose to do the right thing and place her in foster care, and that’s a good thing.
KK: You unveiled yourself, in a way, for My Big Fat Greek Wedding. But you unveil yourself in a different way for this book. NV: Tula is obviously an extension of me, but that screenplay is mostly made up. But the base is from my real marriage–my husband (Ian Gomez) got baptized. But this book, it’s all real. We’ve already gotten calls about making this a movie. It’s already started. But I think it makes a better book because the words are exactly how I want to describe it. So once again, I’m just staying in the moment. I’m not thinking about it. I’m just trying to get through the interviews without crying.
KK: You went through so many hard years. How did you keep going after 10 IVFs? NV: The years of infertility… I felt so alone. My advice is not to stop what you’re doing. Instead, I think that each person knows when it’s time to keep going. And there are so many successful IVF stories.You know when you’re in a relationship with a bad boyfriend? You take it and take it and take it. Until one day you sit down and tell your girlfriend, and you hear it for the first time, that’s how I felt when I sat down with the adoption facilitator. When I said what I’d been through, that’s when I realized it. That’s when I also knew the best thing I could do is take some time off and process it. That’s the best thing I did that led me to my daughter.
KK: Did the press ask you nosey baby questions? NV: Constantly and just when you least expect it. One guy I remember saying to me at a party, ‘Yeah, my wife and I were just talking, now that you got skinny, there’s no that you’re going to get fat with a baby. You’re going to hire some kid to have it, huh?’ His wife went on to say crazy things, too. I would’ve traded all the success of My Big Fat Greek Wedding for the simple chance to have a baby. It was a terrible time to go through it. Now, I wouldn’t trade one minute of it because it led me to my real daughter. I’m at peace with it, and that’s why I can talk about it without crying.
KK: Did Ilaria read this book? NV: I don’t think she’s going to read this book until she’s about 16 or so. Because there are adult topics in it. From the infertility to the victim crying in my front yard.
KK: Was it hard to write about the horrifying attack you experienced in your front yard? NV: Women have this thing where we feel like we can’t exhale because then the other shoe will drop. That is a fact, whenever you think, ‘Now I’m done,’ something else happens. That’s why I kept this part in. If anyone was going to exhale, it would be me after the adoption was finalized. And then that peacefulness was taken away from me by a selfish stranger. It happened very soon after the adoption was finalized. I kept it in because people need to carry pepper spray and look behind them when they’re on the street.
KK: Tell me about your lovely babysitter, Anna. NV: She’s our babysitter, and Carmen became our housekeeper. They come about two or three hours a day about three or four days a week. I acknowledge it because I don’t like when actresses pretend they do it all on their own. Come on, you don’t make your own pesto, your chef did! So I’m just saying out loud, the whole ‘Can we have it all?’ Well, sure–with some help.
KK: What do you think is the one message you want to get out overall? NV: The thing that touched me the most was the kindness and compassion of women. The mothers I met at the park who had children the same age as mine and saw the dismayed and confused look in my eyes as a new mom of a 3-year-old were so comforting and welcoming for me. They never dug for secrets, but they were curious and kind. That’s how I realized by the end of the book that we’re all Instant Moms. None of us are prepared for this. The uniqueness of my story is that I had an almost 3-year-old child furious at us that she was living with us on Day 2 and sleeping only on two-minute increments.
KK: I heard you’re donating the profits for this book.
NV: The money will go directly to people trying to adopt or people who need help to defray the costs. I found an orphanage in another country, I met the man who runs it, and I’m going to give them some money. That’s what we decided. We’re going to just share the proceeds.
KK: What are you working on now? NV: As soon as I finished Instant Mom, I was proofing it, recording the audiobook, and then I started writing a script for Paramount. Then I flew to New York City to film an episode of SVU. Ian was off from Cougar Town, so he told me to get out. I came for 10 days. I went back to Los Angeles and turned in the script. It’s for Paramount, and it’s called Leftovers. It’s an anti-romantic comedy romantic comedy. I’m trying to fill the large dearth of films out there for men and women who are single and are happy about it. It’s about all of the myths we’ve been fed, and are they for us or not? Usually not. If everything goes according to schedule, it would be out in about a year. I’m starring in it and producing.
KK: You’re super busy! NV: I always wonder, does something have to give. And I think, ‘Yeah, a little bit.’ So what if I gained six pounds, let it go. Who cares? If I didn’t return that mom’s text about a playdate, that’s okay. I think I just allowed myself to be much more fallible than I did before. The only thing I won’t do, is I won’t hand in a script late. I am on time!
Nia is very easy to love, and I wish her much success with her new book and movie. Check out Instant Mom. It’s great for anyone who has been through infertility–or knows someone who has.
My fiction pick of the month: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. If you want an enlightening and beautiful read, this is it. The author describes her book in detail below, but here’s my rundown: In a sweeping, well-researched tale that spans from 1929 to the present day, two women–both orphans–try to find their way in a harsh world. Expertly woven together, the main characters Niamh (pronounced Neeve) and Molly are fascinating and unique as they complement each other. I adored the history, latched onto the sadness and felt redeemed by resourcefulness and hopefulness. Christina’s writing is lovely, and the pace is perfect. Pick up the book at Target, where it’s an April selection or do what I did: Download it on Audible. The narrator of Orphan Train, Jessica Almasy, does an incredible read. Listening to Almasy’s rendition of this book–so vivid and emotional–was as much fun as getting swept away by an Oscar-winning movie.
But enough from me. Here’s what the talented and lovely author (she lives in my town) has to say about Orphan Train.
KK: In three sentences, how would you describe your book? CBK: Set in present-day Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, Orphan Train highlights the real-life story of the trains that between 1854 and 1929 carried thousands of abandoned children from the East Coast to the Midwest. It’s the story of two women who build an unexpected friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and a troubled teen with one last chance at redemption. As they get to know each other, they find unlikely common ground and together are able to undo the emotional knots of their troubled pasts.
KK: What turned you on to the idea of writing about orphans? CBK: Years ago I read an article about my husband’s grandfather, who had been orphaned along with his five siblings and sent on a train to North Dakota. I’d never heard of the orphan trains, and was appalled to learn that the children who rode them were as young as two. As the mother of three young boys, I couldn’t imagine what that would’ve been like! So I began to do the research to find out.
KK: Orphan Train is so beautifully written, and the characters are inspiring. What message would you like your readers to take away from Orphan Train? CBK: Many train riders were ashamed of this part of their past, and carried the secret of it for decades, and sometimes until they died. I think that the main message of my novel is that shame and secrecy can keep us from becoming our full selves. It’s not until we speak up that we can move past the pain and step forward.
KK: What advice do you have for moms who want to take on–and finish–a dream project like a book? CBK: The writer Anne Lamott tells a story about when she was a kid and her little brother was overwhelmed by a school project about birds. Their father’s gentle advice: “Just take it bird by bird, buddy.” That’s useful to remember. You can write a draft of a book in a year if you write a page a day. The secret is not to get overwhelmed by the big picture. Set yourself concrete goals (in my case, four pages a day or 20 pages a week) and try to stick to them. Yes, this is easier said than done!
See how great it is–check out Orphan Train’s book trailer below.