Oh, Good Scholar


I sat in the bathtub for a solid hour the other night finishing Lisa Brennan-Jobs’s memoir Small Fry. After the book ended, my thoughts swirled like the bathwater going down the drain. I was deeply moved by Lisa’s story of growing up with Steve Jobs as her father. What affected me most was the realization of how damaging it can be for a child’s sense of worth when the child longs for a parent’s acceptance and affirmation, but instead receives a parent’s unpredictability, coldness, and even cruelty at times. I felt sad for Lisa as I read her story, but I also felt sad for Steve Jobs. It was as if he wanted to be loving but couldn’t find a way to overcome his own pain, and thus continued to inflict pain on others. That Lisa was not vindictive in her writing and that she continued to love her father and long for closeness in spite of the continual disappointment she encountered testified to me of the resilience of the human spirit. It must be true that love covers a multitude of sins.

In the days since finishing Lisa’s book, I have been thinking of her and her father as my teachers. I am now reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs to learn more about him and to let him teach me how not to parent, just as Lisa taught me what she longed for and what every child longs for. I feel so grateful for the various things God brings into my life to teach me about motherhood.

I recently memorized this poem by Mary Oliver because a good friend sent it to me and because I love what it says about who/what our teachers are.


The same night I finished the book in the bath, I journaled for half an hour before bed. It was a time of reflection born from the trials of the day, as well as from the emotions stirred up in me by Lisa’s story. I share it with you now as a proclamation that there is beauty in failing and learning and starting again. We can’t help but grow wise if we look for and listen to the teachers all around us.

Saturday, May 25, 2019
10:39 pm

The hardest parts of my days are the times when I question what I’m supposed to be doing. When I get up and head out the door for my walk or run, that’s easy. I have a direction. Or when it’s time to make dinner, I’m content and devoted to the task. It’s the many moments I’m faced with now that summer break is here and there’s time - that I don’t know how to fill or to feel. What should I be doing? I realized today (not that I didn’t already know this) that my default is to leave the kids to themselves and go be alone (in the sun, if possible) with my Bible and journal or with a book. It is not my default to think - “Oh, now’s a good time to be with the kids, to take the opportunity to spend time with or among them.” I’ve never thought this and now I’m questioning what my goal should be.

I know relationships take time. Learning to talk and listen and enjoy people takes time - and I do have time. I think when I talk about how to spend my time, what I’m really asking is “What kind of mom am I?” and “What do my kids need from me now, this summer?”

As I was in the bathroom tonight, it dawned on me that maybe what they need on days like today is to know I’m glad they’re here, just happy to have them around, pleased by their presence, grateful to get to be together with them. I want them to have a sense, not that I’m trying to get away or be without them, but that I’m learning to enjoy them, to let their presence (and needs) be a good thing around our house.

Reading Lisa Brennan-Jobs’s book helped me see what having a mean, cold, unpredictable parent does to a child, and what message of defectiveness and unworthiness this sends to a child, a message that they are unlovable. I am so thankful for what came to light for me from this book and for the whisper to my heart tonight that my goal for time at home this summer might simply be to show the kids (by word, tone, action) that I like them and I want them here.

Could I give them that gift, and what might the Lord have for me in this shift from “Leave me alone. You’re on your own” to “You are a delight and I want to see you and I want to know you”? This feels different than the ways I’ve been working internally lately to process my places of lack.

A quote from Lisa’s book was helpful to me today, too, after the struggle I felt after taking the kids to Which Wich for lunch, following our stops at Costco and Trader Joe’s. I was feeling like, “What’s wrong with me that I can’t handle that kind of chaos/stress of deciding on multiple orders, etc?” It wasn’t crowded, and I wasn’t in a hurry, so the cards were stacked in my favor. Still, I felt like I missed the mark, and forgot to BE KIND. SOFTEN. ENJOY. LIVE IN TANDEM WITH THE SPIRIT.

Lisa quoted this line from Hinduism that her mother used to tell her, and it hit home for me today when I was feeling defeated:

It’s better to do your own job poorly than to do someone else’s job well.

That quote helps me see that my poor failed attempts truly are better than shutting down and not trying.

Oh, good scholar, keep going. Keep trusting. Keep trying. Keep looking up. Keep looking for teachers. And maybe look down too - because the little (and big) kids scattered about the house and yard are just as likely to be teachers as anything else you come to know.