I first discovered Nichole Nordeman with her 1998 album Wide Eyed and her songs were a blend of tender beauty, honesty and a great mix of poetry and theology. What I responded to with all of Nordeman's work is her ability to balance these with the assurance of a master craftsman but that she allows for questions and mystery. I remember being delighted when I opened the CD case for her second album and saw this:
I saw that quote from Emily Dickinson, as well as what she'd written about Madeleine L'Engle and how her book Walking on Water impacted Nordeman's songwriting for that album and I hollered, "Comrade!" I knew that this was an artist who wasn't afraid to explore and ask and not have to have all the answers. I have loved her music and own all of her albums, including her most recent, Every Mile Mattered. Using the title from a track, that first appeared on her album The Unmaking and a rerecorded version with her daughter, Pepper, on Every Mile Mattered, Nichole Nordeman has written a book on motherhood entitled Slow Down: Embracing the Everyday Moments of Motherhood.
As a Papa to a son who is in his senior year of high school and will be heading off to college before too long, when I heard her song "Slow Down," I will admit that I got teary eyed. She so perfectly connected with a parent's heart the desire to slow down time with their children. The days go by so slow, but the years go by so fast. As she sang in the chorus:
Won't you stay here a minute more
I know you want to walk through the door
But it's all too fast
Let's make it last a little while
I pointed to the sky and now you wanna fly
I am your biggest fan
I hope you know I am
But do you think you can somehow
The song, which she wrote for her son Charlie's fifth grade graduation sums up how all mother's (and father's) feel at the passage of time (much like Joni Mitchell's "The Circle Game," another song that brings tears to my eyes).
It's with a gentle heart, a poet and mother's eye, that Nichole Nordeman writes fourteen essays on motherhood that are poignant, humorous, honest and loving. In the opening, she writes of "The moments we never get back. The moments I was always trying hard to rush through." She writes of how she longed to rush through breastfeeding and diapers and not sleeping through the night and the baby speaking his or her first word ... and then, realizing, she wished time would just "Please. Slow. Down." This book is a soft voice whispering to mothers at all stages of parenting a child, "Don't miss this moment."
Just as she does with her music, Nordeman draws you in with both how well she can relate, but also how beautifully she writes exactly what you were thinking or struggling with. She is candid and encouraging: from being a new mother with a difficult baby and having postpartum depression ("I had never felt so frail. So inept. So alone and small") to all of the bumps and joys and heartaches that come with motherhood. "If I hadn't had babies and toddlers before Pinterest and mommy blogs, I think I would have cratered under the expectations," she writes in a chapter entitled "Pour Your Heart Out."
She's also enlisted some other well-known moms (Shauna Niequist, Jen Hatmaker, Amy Grant, Natalie Grant, and Sara Groves to name a few) to pen short essays about their own experiences of motherhood.
While this is a book for mothers, as a Papa who has been a stay-at-home-dad and am now working only part-time to be home for my two sons, I can relate to the material perhaps better many fathers. I have been grocery shopping with a child who pitched a tantrum because I wouldn't buy one of the many things that he wanted, gotten to the cash register where he then grabs a candy bar and attempts to put it on the conveyor belt, to which I snapped, "Oh no! You're getting something but it's sure not candy, mister!" The older lady who was a cashier chimed in, "Oh, get that cutie a piece of candy." She, too, experienced my snapping when I replied, "Shut up and stay out of it! You haven't been with this terror down each aisle of this store!" Love of Christ exemplified, I know. (So I completely got Jen Hatmaker's grocery tale in which an older lady informed her, "My children never behaved that way." Jen's response? "How nice for you, and may I offer my condolences to your daughter-in-law.") It's also why I am quick to go over to young moms who are struggling to shop with their young kids and tell them, "Your jobs hard and often thankless, so I just want to thank you for what you're doing." It's amazing to see their demeanor change.
I can also relate to Nichole Nordeman writing about her son who's now in the "nearly teen days" and the difficulty of having conversations about "delicate things." She writes, "He is a raging introvert, like his mother. And like his mother, he spends a lot of time in his head and isn't overly verbal or communicative, to say the least. He is a deep well - sensitive, intuitive, and profoundly bright... Charlie can live on an island at times, making it hard to reach his shores." This sounds very familiar because I was just like that and so is my older son. I love how Amy Grant writes that she doesn't "try to control the conversations or ask a lot of questions" but simply listens and is present to them.
Though this book is written for mothers, I believe fathers should read it as well, to at least hear the perspectives of parenting from women who often struggle with insecurities over whether they measure up. One of the passages that hit home with me was when she writes, "Let's be honest . . .we need our children to reflect back how wonderful we are. How hard we are trying, for Pete's sake. The loveliness we'd like to project. How thoughtful and intentional our parenting is." Yes, children fall short of our expectations, but then so do we. Sometimes our kids repeat a inappropriate joke at school - that they first heard from one of their siblings (as Sara Groves wrote about). My favorite essay is the final one written by Nichole Nordeman entitled "Stones and Swans." It's a heart-achingly, magnificent reminder that, as parents, our greatest calling is to teach them about a loving God. As she writes, we are to "Collect the stones. Hold sacred the stories of your journey with God, and stack them in front of your children as a reminder of what He has brought or is bringing you through." And of allowing them to collect their own stones. It is a deeply moving and tenderly profound essay that completes this wonderful collection.
All of these mothers write about the trials and the struggles, but also the joys and those moments that will be forever etched into one's heart. Yes, parenting is hard - really, really hard - but it is so worth it when we let go of picture-perfect and rest in what is present before us.
Along with the essays are some beautiful photographs of childhood moments and each chapter ends with extra space for journaling. It's a book that would make a wonderful gift for an expectant mom, a new mother, or a mother at any stage of parenting. Nichole Nordeman and her contributors all offer up candid portraits of parenting and family that will resonate with those women reading it. All of the stories are easy to relate to and it's enjoyable to read. This is not a how-to manual but a lovely work of encouragement, which I believe all mothers (and fathers) need.
Nichole Nordeman's official website:
Official website for the book Slow Down:
Nichole Nordeman's video for the song "Slow Down":