Small Talk: Learning From My Children About What Matters Most, by Amy Julia Becker
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Zondervan Press in exchange for an honest review.]
This particular book is a touching book written by a mother about the wisdom her three children, each so different, taught her by the questions they asked and what was noticed but unasked. Penny, the oldest child, has Down’s Syndrome and is the least competitive and most patient of the lot. Middle child William is a lot like her mother, a driven and competitive perfectionist who simply cannot stay still and rest from his earliest days. Youngest child Marilee is fun-loving and eager to please, so undemanding that she can often be neglected among the more obvious needs of her older siblings. Together these three children and their parents, a schoolmaster father who is patient but immensely expressive, and a restrained mother with a critical and rationalist bent, a certain restlessness and difficulty in forming intimate bonds with others, who lacks any interest in arts and crafts and jealously guards her free time to write, make for a compelling context to read about the deep thinking that can be spurred by sensitive and expressive little ones.
In terms of its organization, this book reads like a collection of insightful and touching blog entries that have been loosely connected together in a fashion that is decidedly not chronological. The book overall has three parts, “Holding On,” “Letting Go,” and “Growing Up,” each is filled with a variety of short chapters on subjects like prayer, death, Christmas, Easter, heaven, friendship, marriage, baptism, prayer, beauty, waiting, forgiveness, tragedy, money, and many more. Although the organization is a little sporadic, there are a lot of common bonds that tie these short chapters together. There is a consistent focus on the love and loyalty for family, the use of music to express emotion and to penetrate the walls of reserve, the struggle to show the love to others that we feel in our hearts, and the immense tension between honesty and kindness that is felt by people who both think and feel deeply and struggle to harmonize the two. Of particular interest is the way in which the author tries to justify her practice of pagan traditions like Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and Sunday-keeping not out of biblical grounds but out of believing the lies told to her by others as well as her desire for her children not to stand out too much from the crowd or miss the fun of following along with the crowd.
Nevertheless, although this book has some deep flaws, it is a worthwhile read for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons is that the book is the product of obvious love of a somewhat harried mother for her imperfect but adorable children. Anyone who has ever loved children will find much in this book that will hit home. Mrs. Becker is able to convey her own flaws and her appreciation of her children as their own little people in a deeply touching way. Likewise, this book has some startling insight that ought to bring a great deal of comfort. Among the most important insights this book provides is its recognition that our cries are invitations to be loved, and the same is true of our little ones. Likewise, our limitations remind us that we are ultimately dependent on God, and this dependence, rather than something that ought to be mourned, is something to celebrate, as our desire for independence from God and from others is itself a mark of the lasting effect of sin on our lives. For we were not created to be alone, but rather created for relationships, to be part of communities and families and congregations. To be alone is not a sign of maturity and freedom, but rather a sign of lacking and poverty, for isolation is itself a violation of the order for which we were created, a violence against the wholeness and unity that God wishes for us all. So it is touching and immensely meaningful when this book speaks about sickness and weakness as reminders that we were created to be whole, to be well, and that this requires that God live within us so that we may become more than that which we are by our own efforts.