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Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry

Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry

4.4 19
by Katrina Kenison

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As mothers today we are faced with a daunting list of responsibilities. How easy it is to simply rush headlong through our lives, slaves to our daily obligations, and in the process race our children through their childhood. But there is a better way... In Mitten Strings for God, Katrina Kenison shares her own search for a more satisfying balance in her life. The


As mothers today we are faced with a daunting list of responsibilities. How easy it is to simply rush headlong through our lives, slaves to our daily obligations, and in the process race our children through their childhood. But there is a better way... In Mitten Strings for God, Katrina Kenison shares her own search for a more satisfying balance in her life. The result is a lyrical and tender series of reflections, interwoven with gentle suggestions and advice, that remind us what happens when we slow down and are fully present in our lives. Suddenly there is room for joy and play and intimacy, space for wonder and reverie, and time to awaken to the beauty of the world and discover the sacred in the ordinary. Tranquil in our own hearts and minds, we can offer our children the one thing they need more than anything else: us. And we receive something priceless in return -- the chance to savor our lives and the precious people in them.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Too often, in our hurry to be "productive" and to "achieve," we end up brushing aside exactly the kind of life we intend to create for our children. Katrina Kenison's new book, MITTEN STRINGS FOR GOD, offers mothers in a hurry a center of gravity, a call to remember the essential spirit of parenting. With short chapters on subjects such as Quiet, Simplicity, Play, and Balance, she reminds us of the things we would all like to hold onto. Whether or not we agree with all of Kenison's ideas, her personal essays invite us to carve out a space to think about each one. Each chapter ends with a few lines of inspiration to center our mothering.

In "Peace," Kenison writes of a moment quietly knitting beside her son, a moment of restful, nourishing peace for both of them. Do we always need to fill our days with rushing to the moon and back? Can we not give our children and our daily work our full, undivided, loving attention? In our rush-rush, bustle-bustle culture, can we not put more trust in holding still? Kenison writes, "In stillness, we find our peace. Knowing peace at home, we bring peace to the world." And that, it seems, is her central message: Slow down, bring the spirit of peace, love, and worthiness to your homes so that these feelings will be with your children wherever they go.

While Kenison's essays are certainly simple — therein lies their power and beauty — their messages are far from predictable. In her chapter "Truth," for example, she calls on us to tell our children the "emotional truth." When children ask if a story is true, she writes, they maybeasking for permission to believe. And aren't there different kinds of truth, like the universal truths of good and evil that have lived through the ages in our myths and fairy tales? Yes, she tells her children, this story is as true as true can be. "When we honor our child's faith in magic," she writes, "we extend the realm of the possible."

Although her idealism shines on every page, Kenison doesn't ignore life's underbelly — the hard choices, the bad days. In "Surrender," she offers for thought her decision to let her son have toy rifles and wooden swords, trusting that his peaceful nature would eventually reclaim his imaginary play. Her son revels in his new toys, and their home arsenal grows. Then, when she learns of the tragic school shootings in Littleton, Colorado, Kenison finds that she can no longer stand behind her decision, and asks her son if he will consent to cleansing the house of these beloved toy weapons, which he does, bar one. The story becomes a lesson for us in surrendering to our children, learning to grow from those surrenders, and helping our children surrender to us as well.

MITTEN STRINGS FOR GOD is a mostly rose-colored spotlight on the sweetness and joy in mothering and in our lives. Embedded in this view of mothering, however, lies a quietly radical agenda to bring our lives back into our own hands, away from those who would schedule us into "success," away from the hype of television, the bright lights of Hollywood, the consumerism that has invaded even our celebrations. Even the most cynical mother may find herself fighting back a tear as she recognizes in Kenison's elegant essays some of her strongest beliefs, along with the love and that sense of magic that we all want to pass on to our children.

—Kate Montgomery

Product Details

Gale Group
Publication date:
G. K. Hall Inspirational Series
Product dimensions:
6.34(w) x 9.50(h) x 0.82(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


We have become experts at documenting the lives of our children. From the instant my sons made their first appearances in the delivery room, they have been the stars of our home movies and our favorite photographic subjects. But the most precious moments of my family's life are not the ones illuminated by birthday candles, Christmas lights, or amusement park rides, and they cannot be captured on film or tape.

The moments I hold most dear are those that arise unbidden in the course of any day—small, evanescent, scarcely worth noticing except for the fact that I am being offered, just for a second, a glimpse into another's soul. If my experience as a mother has taught me anything, it is to be awake for such moments, to keep life simple enough to allow them to occur, and to appreciate their fleeting beauty: a lip-smacking good-night "guppy kiss"; a spoonful of maple syrup on snow, served to me in bed with great fanfare on a stormy winter morning; a conversation with a tiny speckled salamander discovered, blinking calmly, under a rock. . . . These are the moments that, woven together, constitute the unique fabric of our family life. Herein lies the deep color, the lights and shadows, of our days together.

I am fortunate to have had a mentor in the art of living in the moment. In fact, I received my most precious lesson from her after her death. My older son, Henry, was a year and a half old, and I had left him for the first time, to spend four days in Atlanta, going through the papers of my friend Olive Ann Burns. When Olive Ann and I had first met, eight years earlier, I wasan ambitious twenty-five-year-old, eager to make my way in the world of New York publishing. She was a sixty-year-old housewife about to publish her first novel after a ten-year battle with cancer. In retrospect, I suppose I was of some small help to Olive Ann, suggesting ways to cut pages from her enormous manuscript or sharpen a character, but I now know that she had much more to offer me, namely an unforgettable example of how life ought to be lived, even in the face of tremendous pain.

Cold Sassy Tree surprised everyone by becoming a best-seller, and Olive Ann Burns became a national celebrity. Having been confined to the house during all those years of illness, she thoroughly enjoyed her moment in the spotlight. But it was not to last. Soon after she embarked on a sequel to Cold Sassy Tree, her cancer returned. Although she continued to write, and later to dictate, from her bed, the book was unfinished when she died on July 4, 1990.

By the time of Olive Ann's death, I had left publishing to edit an annual short-story anthology from home. Much as I had loved my career, I knew that I could not sustain that kind of commitment to my work and to children, too. But my relationship with Olive Ann had long since transcended that between editor and writer. She was my friend and my teacher as well, for she embodied the kind of courage and spirit that I aspired to. On the other side, she had come to trust my editorial judgment, and she knew that I would be honest with her about the new book.

Olive Ann had completed twelve chapters when she died and had made notes for others. She had also left explicit wishes for the manuscript: She wanted it to be published somehow, so that the hundreds of people who had written her asking for a sequel would not feel let down. Olive Ann had told me this story many times; we had sat side by side on her couch as she showed me the family photo album, introducing me to the real-life characters who had inspired her work. So, with her family's encouragement, I agreed to supplement Olive Ann's chapters with a reminiscence of their author, telling how Cold Sassy Tree came to be written and fleshing out the story of the sequel. This was the task that brought me to Atlanta.

Every mother remembers the first night she spends away from her first child. Settling into the familiar little inn a few blocks from Olive Ann's house, where I had always stayed when visiting her, I felt that I had been yanked out of my current life, as a wife and mother, and hurled back into my former one. I was rereading Cold Sassy Tree as preparation for the work ahead, and—wonder of wonders—I was alone. For the first time since my son was born, I had time to reflect, to become reacquainted with myself, apart from my husband and my baby. I tried to appreciate the solitude, for I had always loved it, but now I felt unmoored, free-floating in a hotel room while my real life went on without me, someplace else. I realized how grateful I was for all the connections that usually held me in place, and I couldn't wait to get home.

It was in this mood that I sat down in the middle of a room filled with Olive Ann. There were all the drafts of Cold Sassy Tree, every typed page densely scribbled with her revisions; there were boxes of fan mail; manuscript pages of the new book, ideas she had jotted on the backs of envelopes and shopping lists, love letters from her late husband, and, perhaps most poignant of all, notes Olive Ann had written to herself to bolster her own courage during the hard times.

Late in the afternoon of my last day in Atlanta, I came across a sheet of yellow-lined paper on which Olive Ann had written these words:

I have learned to quit speeding through life, always trying to do too many things too quickly, without taking the time to enjoy each day's doings. I think I always thought of real living as being high. I don't mean on drugs—I mean real living was falling in love, or when I got my first job, or when I was able to help somebody, or watch my baby get born, or have a good morning of really good writing. In between the highs I was impatient—you know how it is—life seemed so Daily. Now I love the dailiness. I enjoy washing dishes. I enjoy cooking, I see my father's roses out the kitchen window, I like picking beans. I notice everything—birdsongs, the clouds, the sound of wind, the glory of sunshine after two weeks of rain. These things I took for granted before.

It seemed that Olive Ann was speaking directly to me. I copied the lines down and then taped them above my desk when I got home, where they remain to this day. For many weeks I found myself blinking back tears every time I read them, for my own life with an infant was about nothing if not "dailiness," but mine was just beginning, while hers had ended. The fact that she was gone was a powerful reminder to me to pay attention while I had the chance, and to respect the fact that our time here is short.

In a way, those words launched me on the journey into what I have come to feel is my authentic adult life. The idea of living in the moment is not new, of course, but the piece of paper that I carried home from Atlanta and hung above my desk was the inspiration I needed to begin to turn an idea into a way of life. Those simple words seemed to hold out to me a practice, a way of being, that was worth striving for. I didn't want to learn this lesson as a result of ten years of cancer and a few brushes with mortality, as Olive Ann had done—I wanted to learn it now, to be aware of life's beauty even before fate threatened to take it away.

Ours is a society that places high value on achievement and acquisition. The subtle rewards of contemplation, quiet, and deep connection with another human being are held in low esteem, if they are recognized at all. As a result, mothers are constantly pulled in two directions: Can we negotiate the demands of our careers and the world at large, and meet our own emotional and physical needs—not to mention those of our children—at the same time? Can we keep our sights on what is important in any given moment? Do we know how to shut the door, stop the noise, and tune in to our own inner lives?

We all have fallen victim at one time or another to the relentless cycle of our children's playdates and after-school lessons, to the push for their academic and athletic accomplishments, and to their endless desires for the latest toy, video game, or designer sneakers. The adage of our age seems to be "Get more out of life!" And we do our best to obey. Grab a snack, round up the kids, and we're out the door—to do, or buy, or learn something more.

But in our efforts to make each moment "count," we seem to have lost the knack of appreciating the ordinary. We provide our children with so much that the extraordinary isn't special anymore, and the subtle rhythms of daily life elude us altogether. We do too much and savor too little. We mistake activity for happiness, and so we stuff our children's days with activities, and their heads with information, when we ought to be feeding their souls instead. I know a mother who came upon her two-year-old sitting alone, lost in a daydream, and worried that he was "wasting time."

Over the years, I have learned to quit speeding through life, but it is a lesson I must take up and learn again every day, for the world conspires to keep us all moving fast. I have found that it is much easier for me to stay busy than to make a commitment to empty time—not surprising, perhaps, in a culture that seems to equate being busy with being alive. Yet if we don't attend to life's small rituals, if we can't find time to savor "dailiness," then we really are impoverished. Our agendas starve our souls.

Like all mothers, I harbor dreams for my children, and sometimes I fall under the spell of my own aspirations for them. We want our children to do well! But when I stop and think about what I truly want for them, I know that it is not material wealth or academic brilliance or athletic prowess. My deeper hope is that each of my sons will be able to see the sacred in the ordinary; that they, too, will grow up knowing how to "love the dailiness." So, for their sakes as well as my own, I remind myself to slow down and enjoy the day's doings. The daily rhythms of life, the humble household rituals, the nourishment I provide—these are my offerings to my children, given with love and gratefully received.

When I stop speeding through life,
I find the joy in
each day's doings, in the life that cannot be bought, but
only discovered, created, savored, and lived.

What People are Saying About This

Reeve Lindbergh
Kenison offers us…a rare chance to slow down, enjoy one another and our children, and live peaceful lives in an overscheduled world.

Meet the Author

Katrina Kenison is the author of The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother's Memoir (Springboard Press, 2009). She has appeared on Oprah and other shows. Her writing has appeared in O, Real Simple, Family Circle, Redbook, Better Homes and Gardens, Health,and other publications. From 1990 until 2006, Kenison was the series editor of The Best American Short Stories, published annually by Houghton Mifflin. She co-edited, with John Updike, The Best American Short Stories of the Century (Houghton Mifflin, 2000). She wrote, with Rolf Gates, Meditations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga (Random House, 2002).

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Mitten Strings for God 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mitten Strings for God made me think about the importance of the choices that I'm making for my child as well as our family. As my life (and every other parent I know) careens out of control with an over scheduled Franklin Planner....reading this book, I realized I'm creating the same for my children with sports activities/events/birthday parties/playdates etc. There has to be a consequence. When the book speaks of the days of 'our generations youth'....I found myself longing to go back there...to the simplicity and wonder of it all. Realizing of course, that my childs version will be of me telling her to 'hurry up..we're late for the next event'. A great wake up call.......
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Delightful, inspiring. Good food for thought. Certain chapters I want to read again and again. I've been encouraged.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this book. I have read and reread it. I have shared it with others, and they have loved it too. It has given me a sweet perspective on how to nuture the tender souls I have been intrusted to raise. I am a better mother for having read this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Name: Myla Age: 13 moon cycles Gender: Shecat Eyes: They are almond shaped. One is midnight blue and flecked with silver, and the other is silver and flecked withe midnight blue. Because they are so odd, they cause her to get stared at very often. Pelt: Tangled, matted, and uneaven at the moment. When it is brushed and washed, it appears as a mix of grays and different hues of blue and purples. Personality: Distrusting, because of her hard past of betrayals, very quiet, and doesn't talk much. Myla turns away from friendships, partly because she is afraid that they will betray her, and partly because she is afraid for them. She is very independent and determined that she can solve anything on her own. Kits: She is pregnant. Friends: Almost none Enemies: Too many Other: There is a dark secret to her past that she won't reveal.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
(This is my actual cat in rl tht im making onto a kitten.) Name: grayce. Nickname: gracey, gray, kitty. Age: three weeks. Gender: for the mentally retarded people, im a she. Description: cream and white fur with black and gray stripes and light orange splotches and highlights. Tabby siamese mix. Fwuffy!!!!! Medium length fur. Personality: very attention seeking, and wont let you touch her belly and paws. Not afraid to use her claws and teeth if needed, but usually sweet.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
mother-of-7 More than 1 year ago
so peaceful and beautifully written. this book helped me refine my vision of what i want for my family and gave me insights for how to get it. wonderful ideas. i've given away several copies to other moms, who have all loved it, too.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
LivingPeacefully More than 1 year ago
When I first heard of Katrina Kenison's book, Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry, I mentally brushed it off. With such a title, I expected the book to proselytize religious beliefs. When the book showed up in my mailbox from the publisher, I picked it up with apprehension, and found I was pleasantly surpirsed. There are a handful of religious references in the book, but Kenison mentions them only in context to her life and never comes out and says anything definitive about what she believes. There is no expectation or proclamation of what the reader should or should not believe. Instead, the book is about simple living or voluntary simplicity. We live in a world that is rushing about in search of something. If we just slow down, we would see that what we are looking for is right here. "Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry" is an accurate description of this book. As mothers, not only is it important that we slow down to enjoy our children in the short time we are with them; it is imperative that our children have the opportunity to slow down and figure out who they are. This is a fabulous book for anyone who wants to cherish their children and live a life of meaning. Take your time reading the book. Reflect on where you are at in life and where you want to be. Cut out the things which are detracting from the life you truly desire. Enjoy! Disclaimer: A copy of the book was provided by the publisher.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought the book thinking it would be a help for mothers in a hurry, but really it turned out to be a guide book for me on why mothers should not be in a hurry. Because of this book, our family has gotten rid of TV, have a resident 'Brownie', and tell stories until we are blue in the face. This book has truly changed my life like no other book ever has.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This beautiful book is a MUST HAVE for all parents everywhere...especially moms. Katrina gently awakens in you the realization of what is truly important in the helter skelter crazy-busy world we live in. She advises you on how to help your children grow into whole people. The book feeds your soul and will help teach you how to do this for your children. Don't miss it!
Michele Zmigrodski More than 1 year ago
I found this book very hard to get through. I felt she just kept saying the same things over and over and over!