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Katrina Willis "Table for Six"
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Ever since I can remember holding a pen, I remember writing. Words are my constant companion, my solace, my connection to humanity. I write because I must, but I also write to share a common experience. If one of my sentences makes you feel like you are not alone in this wide world, then I have done my job. We have so much to share as human beings, don’t we? Thank you for letting me share my words.
Hands Free Mama: A Book Review
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Hands Free Mama: A Book Review

January 06, 2014 | 12:32 PM

I was first introduced to Rachel Macy Stafford (http://www.handsfreemama.com) when she posted "A Letter to My 16-Year-Old Son" (http://katrinaannewillis.com/2013/05/23/a-letter-to-my-16-year-old-son/) on the "Hands Free Revolution" Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/TheHandsFreeRevolution). I was astounded and overwhelmed by the instant increase in my blog traffic simply because she chose to share her space with me. Her loyal and prolific readers are a testament to her kind, caring spirit, her resonant message, and her lovely way with words. When my phone started buzzing with blog notifications, I reached out to thank her for her support and encouragement. And that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Before we moved from Mississippi, I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting her in person. I knew from the moment we hugged that we would be fast friends. We shared a perfect meal, some wine (both red and white), lots of laughter, and heartfelt conversation. She was every bit as wonderful and generous in real life as she was online.

When I received an advance reader's copy of "Hands Free Mama" in the mail, I was thrilled and honored… and a little bit hesitant. Why? Because in the itty-bitty cynical part of my brain, I wasn't entirely sure I could love her message any more.

And then I started reading.

I should mention here that while I was reading "Hands Free Mama," I used a picture of my oldest as a bookmark. In the photo (the one I've shared here), Sam is a chubby-cheeked toddler, sitting in his high chair with a mess of pizza and cookies smeared all over his baby face. He's 17 now. It was a jolt, this juxtaposition. The time, truly, has flown. What once was will never be again. It is all forward-motion. Every year, every month, every day, every second.

My kids are all older than Rachel's adorable girls, so the message for me is same-same, but different. Although "Hands Free Mama" is written primarily for parents -- and Rachel's stories are specifically about her young children -- her message applies to all of us as human beings. What is it we're sacrificing to our digital devices and life's other unimportant distractions? Is the cost worth the price we're paying? Are we present with our kids, with our spouses, with our lovers, with our friends? Are we noticing the world around us and acknowledging the gifts we bring, or are we limiting ourselves to the screens in front of us?

Rachel is open, honest, earnest, authentic… and some of her stories, quite frankly, made my heart hurt. It's easy to get distracted and out-of-focus in this lifetime. We have so many things vying for our attention. I think, at some level, all of us parents wish that maybe we'd given our kids a little more time, a little more presence. In the throes of chaotic child-rearing, however, it's a continual challenge. But as Rachel points out, small changes make dramatic differences.

This excerpt about the poignant journal entries made by Rachel's daughter, Avery, was one of my favorites:

"Through her entries, she reminds me that living Hands Free is not about being perfect; nor is it about being hyperfocused on the people I love. It is simply about making a conscious effort each and every day to connect." (Hands Free Mama, Chapter 2, Page 39)

It is so vital, this human connection -- especially with those who depend on and look up to us. And I will admit there are days I feel I haven't even looked into my children's eyes, into my husband's eyes. Rachel's words make me more cognizant of this interaction, or lack thereof. With her gentle Southern accent, she encourages me to step back, to slow down, to reevaluate, to reconnect.

And when reflecting on my own feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness, these words, too, hit home:

"Some days, I measure my worth by things that will mean nothing in the end. Some days, I question my abilities, my purpose, and my relevance." (Hands Free Mama, Chapter 8, Page 140)

And to that, I say, Yes. Yes. A thousand times, Yes.

"Hands Free Mama" is a book that's easy to read, but often times, difficult to digest. Difficult because delving deeper into the facets of ourselves that we want to improve is not an easy task. Rachel's words are mellifluous, but the soul-searching is challenging. "Hands Free Mama" is a go-to book -- one to consult time and time again when we're spiraling out of control, when we need a tangible plan to reconnect to our loved ones. I predict this little gem will become a dog-eared, coffee-stained favorite in my vast collection of made-up places and fictitious characters. It is real life, after all. It is What Matters.

I should note that I typically don't read much nonfiction other than memoir. I am a fiction girl down to my toes, and it's a conscious commitment for me to spend my time with another genre. And because Zondervan is Rachel's publisher, I should also point out that I'm not typically drawn to religion-based books, either. But here's what I found different about Rachel's book: It's real. It's personal. It's human. It's obvious that Rachel has a deep faith, and I have an equally deep respect for her conviction. Whether or not we share the same spiritual inclinations does not matter. What she offers is a message of universality, regardless of spirituality. "Hands Free Mama" is about one-to-one connection with those we love; it's about choosing what matters in a noisy world of not-so-importants. Whether it's a sentence here, a chapter there, or every word throughout, "Hands Free Mama" contains something for everyone searching for a more meaningful, more purposeful, more connected existence. Rachel inspires me to be a better Mom, a better wife, a better daughter, a better friend, a better human being. She helps make this little blue planet a better place… one word at a time.

I couldn't be more excited to reunite with my friend in Indy at 7:00 on January 21st (Barnes & Noble, 8675 River Crossing Boulevard, Indianapolis). Come meet Rachel, buy her book, and begin your own "Hands Free" journey. My sweet, kind, insightful friend has so much to offer to those in search of a different path. I'll be there… and I hope you will be, too. I can't wait to hug her again.


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