Monthly Archives: May 2012

‘The Mama’s Boy Myth: Why Keeping our Sons Close Makes them Stronger’ by Kate Stone Lombardi

I am a bit of a CBC junky and even when I’m in the UK I tune in to various CBC programs on arts and culture in addition to news. I heard about this book on CBC and the topic intrigued me. If you are very interested in the topic or love parenting books, then by all means find it at your local library. However, I’ll do you a favour and just give you a few of the main points. ūüôā Click on the ABC interview below. It’s a good summary of some of the issues.

The book exposes a double standard ¬†in our society where the expectation is for mothers to be close to their daughters, but that being close to their sons can be inappropriate or detrimental to them. ¬†No one seems to mind a ‘Daddy’s girl’ and girls are regularly encouraged into masculine pursuits, but a ‘Mama’s Boy’ is frowned upon. ¬†Dad is cool when he teaches his daughter how to fix the car, but don’t let Mom teach her son to knit or engage in a heart to heart. What a boy gains by not being pushed away by his mother to fulfill the macho “Marlboro man” stereotype and by keeping him close, is sensitivity, communication skills, and emotional intelligence. The author is focussing on the mother-son relationship, so she overlooks, to a certain extent, the possibility that these things could be learned from a sensitive, communicative Dad. ¬†Of course she does admit that the very best scenario is for sons and daughters to stay close to both parents. Here are some of the points which I found interesting.

1) Keeping our sons (and daughters) close and encouraging healthy communication, makes them stronger.
2) Mothers can safely reject the notion that pushing a son away or withdrawing when he gets older is better for him; indeed the author proves that keeping him close will make him stronger without any of the traditionally believed pitfalls.
3) The workplace ideals for strong leadership are not necessarily still the traditional male attributes of brute strength, size, and dominance, now giving over more to things like group skills, negotiation, social intelligence, and open communication.
4) Socializing into gender begins even before birth when we ask the age old question, ‘is it a boy or a girl?’
5) Statistics for single parent or same-sex homes have been found to be no better or worse. The author states that “children can thrive with a diversity of different parental combinations”.
6) Boys who are close to mothers or sisters have higher verbal skills and suffer less from depression.

Are the traditional roles and assumptions the author highlights really true? Are mothers criticized for keeping their boys too close? Do they push their sons away? Is there really a ‘mama’s boy’ taboo? Are we still participating in strict gender stereotypes? Some food for thought…leave a comment if you have thoughts on this.

Watch an ABC interview with the author.
The Mama’s Boy Myth

‘Sidney & Norman: A Tale of Two Pigs’ by Phil Vischer

How can a couple of pigs in business suits teach us a thing or two about the love of God? Phil Vischer, creator of ‘Veggie Tales’, brings us a delightful story about ¬†two different pigs who both receive messages from God. It completely changes the way they see themselves and others. And the message is of course for the reader as well.

Sidney is messy. Always late and can’t keep up, he stumbles and struggles through life and though he tries, he never seems to measure up. Norman, on the other hand, is always on time, ever neat and tidy, and sometimes considers himself so good that it causes him to look down on others. Then one day they each receive an invitation from God because He has something to tell them. Norman is happy and proud to have the invitation, Sidney is terrified. What will they hear? Is it what they were expecting?

Phil Vischer is creator of Veggie Tales. Although I am not a huge Veggie Tales fan, this little story about how we judge each other and even ourselves is a multi-layered story for kids of all ages.

‘The Virgin Cure’ by Ami McKay

“I am Moth, a girl from the lowest part of Chrystie Street, born to a slum-house mystic and the man who broke her heart.”

So starts The Virgin Cure, a poignant novel about a difficult subject, but handled gently by master storyteller Ami McKay. Moth is a desperately poor 12 year old girl sold into servitude by her mother. The year is 1871 and the place is New York City. Escaping the filth and squalor of the tenements, Moth finds herself in a brothel with her needs suddenly cared for and her belly full. But what will be expected of her strikes fear in her heart. A bounty will be paid for a virgin, making these young girls sought after by the ‘madams’ of the ‘boarding houses’.

Virgins were at great risk during this time period because there was the mistaken notion that if a man suffering from syphilis slept with a virgin, he would be cured. However, the author is raising awareness of this issue also because “the time has not necessarily left us”. This mythical cure is still encountered in Africa with AIDS.

Ami McKay’s own historical great-great grandmother was ¬†a medical doctor during a time when it was difficult and courageous for women to be in that profession. She places her grandmother squarely in the middle of this story as an independent and compassionate medic. She did this in her other excellent novel¬†The Birth House as well. Sadie is a wonderful character and brings an element of hope to the story. Her fierce independence and determination to survive is evident in Moth as well.

Canadian author McKay is skilled at historical fiction giving us an easy to read, compassionate insight into another time and place. ¬†She brings the time period alive and allows us to enter the story, be educated, and build empathy. In this book she uses sidebars with historical detail and primary sources to enhance the historical element. In an interview on CBC’s ‘The Next Chapter’, McKay discusses how she did some of her research at the Tenement Museum in New York City. Here follows a brief interview with the author worth watching.

Bookstore Feature

About once a year I go to a little town called Georgetown, Ontario because I love the little shops on the Main Street and there is an awesome bakery. This time I was meeting someone at the new bookstore, well, new to me anyway. Before I went I visited the website to get directions and perused the blog. I discovered that the store was named after a little bar that I used to frequent when I was a student at Calvin College. Wow, even a connection! And it was the bar where my husband and I met over thirty years ago. Wow, nostalgia! I like this place already! Used bookstores are often dingy and dusty, but not this one. This one, in the words of a good Calvinist poet called Sietze Buning, has “class & style”.

‘White Rabbit Books’ is a charming and homey second hand bookstore selling quality used books, and more. The books are in good condition, clean, and thoughtfully arranged. The bookstore is in a century house with lots of windows and delightful nooks and crannies. The store features room after room of books, all neatly presented and interspersed with other items for sale: funky reading glasses, folksy framed prints, attractive notebooks and stationery, and humorous greeting cards. The books are not only categorized but also catalogued so that you can ask for specific titles. The website even has a searchable store inventory! Here is the link to the website:
White Rabbit Books

After playing the required rounds of ‘Dutch bingo’ with the friendly owner, (the White Rabbit bar being a good starting point), we were left to browse. We didn’t take advantage of the free coffee (too busy looking at books), but we could have. All in all it was a pleasant experience and I am excited that my yearly pilgrimage will from now on include another visit to this lovely shop.

‘Not Sure’ by John Suk

The sub-title suggests that this is a book about doubt, but I found it to be more about how faith is formed and articulated. ¬†Suk also talks about critical issues in the church and enters into a discussion about faith which is fresh and real. We are always going to live with a certain measure of doubt because there simply are so many things that we do not know.¬†We live by faith but we can also live with doubt, and that’s ok. In fact that tension can be good.

The historical look at the communication of traditions and faith through first an oral tradition of storytelling, then through a literate phase, and now back to a new oral (digital) phase was very interesting. How the confessions and doctrines emerged as part of a literate time should help us see that they will need updating or necessitate another format to be relevant today.

It is with great sadness that I read his observations about how people don’t engage in deep reading much anymore. It is sad, but true. How can even this important book reach those who don’t read anymore?¬†Hopefully the Kindle and iPad may still prove to provide a portable format conducive to readers on the go. ‘Not Sure’ is available on the Kindle!

The writing style seems to swivel back and forth between ¬†personal journey and theological dissertation.¬†I found both styles highly interesting, but I wondered if they belong together in the same book. Perhaps the author was being a bit ambitious, trying to appeal to two different audiences. Or perhaps the theological component is necessary in this type of reflection. At any rate, for me there were many ‚Äúaha‚ÄĚ moments and I took copious notes which I know I will return to (my Kindle highlighter was working overtime!).

Suk articulates the issues well and I appreciate his honesty in the journey. And oddly what I was left with at the end, was more hope and assurance. Just as there are books out there which are mostly about death, but oddly when you read them, there is really much more there about the wonder and joy of life. So with doubt. Following the well worn paths of our faith, even though we are not sure, will bring conviction again. We are on a journey, but we do not walk alone.

In case you read John’s book and are interested in reading more, visit his blog:
John Suk’s Blog

‘Before I Wake’ by Robert J. Wiersema

Guest Post: by Bill Van Geest.  Since I read this book a long time ago and Bill read it more recently, he kindly agreed to write a guest post. I would describe Bill as an avid reader with a great perspective on many things. Thanks Bill!

In “Before I Wake” Robert Wiersema takes a story of ordinary people responding to a tragedy in their lives and turns it into an extraordinary story with a cosmic stage setting.¬†Wiersema‚Äôs ‚Äėstage‚Äô is somewhat reminiscent of a C.S.Lewis story:¬† the normally visible world exists in front of the curtain and the world behind the curtain is experienced only by some of the characters.¬† The two worlds are woven together throughout the book.¬†In the end, it is a story of unexpected miracles.

The book begins with three-year-old Sherry Bennett falling into a coma after being hit by a truck while walking with her mother. ¬†They hope against hope for a miracle. ¬†Her parents’ marriage has been disintegrating and Sherry‚Äôs state appears to make the separation between the couple complete.¬† Wiersema brings in character after character‚ÄĒeach speaking in the first person, and recounting events from their¬†¬†own perspective. ¬†Some tell the story from one side of the curtain, some from the other.¬† We hear from Sherry‚Äôs father, mother, father‚Äôs girlfriend, the truck driver, Sherry‚Äôs caregiver and several priests‚ÄĒone false and one true‚ÄĒeach with their own response to the tragedy of Sherry‚Äôs accident. Some reveal a selfless love and care through their responses while others use the event to battle their own demons; several even to inflict their own demons on others.

A miracle does occur, followed by many others, but not the one which Sherry’s parents had hoped for. Each character responds to the miracles in his or her own way. However much each character responds to the tragedy, the healings appear to flow from a still deeper source than the intent of the characters.

I enjoyed the book as a good story, but also for its boldness and its strangely satisfying conclusion. ¬†The author’s willingness to challenge our assumptions about the way the world works drew me into the story.¬† Wiersema has not written a morality play. He draws no conclusions philosophically or spiritually, leaving each of the characters to explain their own realities.