A mother's guidebook for the road less traveled

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Katrina Kenison's first book, "Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry," is not just another collection of pithy, bite-sized quotes destined for a stack of bathroom literature. Like Anne Morrow Lindbergh's classic "Gift from the Sea," Ms. Kenison's musings on family life, motherhood, and her own search for balance belong by the bedside, where it can be savored again and again.

As the mother of two boys, editor of "Best American Short Stories," and, most recently, a contributing editor to Oprah Winfrey's new magazine "O," Kenison has firsthand experience with juggling the demands of work and motherhood. While she has never been a "crazy, out-of-control mom," she says, sipping a cold drink in the spring sunshine, she is forever striving to protect her family life from distractions of the world.

Kenison's holiday letter, penned a couple of years ago, and the wildly enthusiastic response to it, inspired her to write "Mitten Strings for God" (Warner Books, $16.95).

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"Two years ago, with no major life events to report," she explains in the book's introduction, "I wrote a different kind of letter, describing my own desire to slow life down in the midst of the holiday season and to tune in to a gentler rhythm. I found that in those moments when I did pause long enough to fully experience my own life, my children seemed happier and more peaceful as well. Suddenly, I realized, we truly did have something to celebrate: the joy of real togetherness."

After her letter went out, Kenison was inundated with notes and phone calls from people on her holiday list, many of whom asked to make copies of her letter for their own friends. "Apparently, I had struck a chord," she says.

That chord has to do with mothers' common wish for close, meaningful relationships with their children amid the daily press of obligations and events. "I don't know a single mother who doesn't feel overextended in some way," she says.

One of Kenison's best time-management tricks is to underschedule: "Then, when all the unexpected things pop up, my day ends up being full but manageable."

But most important of all, Kenison says, is to constantly examine your choices. "This isn't a book about changing lives," she writes. "It is about paying more attention to the life you already have, about taking your own life back as you protect your children from the pull of a world that is spinning too fast."

As though she's speaking to a friend next door, Kenison shares her own trials and triumphs. Some of the most rewarding choices she has made include working from home, turning off the TV for good, and making time for sharing simple pleasures such as reading, baking, or taking a walk. "The capacity to be enchanted by the quiet gifts of everyday life is perhaps the greatest legacy we can bestow on our children," she says.

Kenison's voice is one of support, not condemnation, for those mothers who make different choices. "There are as many ways to live as there are to love, and each family has its particular rhythm, its own way of doing and of being," she says.

Since the publication of her book, time-strapped moms have often approached her for advice. She urges them to look within.

"Ultimately," she writes, "we each have to decide where the balance lies - between work and family, between doing and being, between acquiring more and accepting what we have. At some point, we may begin to ask ourselves: Just whose standards am I living by anyway? Only when we stop long enough to figure out what we really care about, and begin to make our choices accordingly, can we create lives that are authentic expressions of our inner selves."

Kenison doesn't claim to have mastered the demands of motherhood. Instead, she speaks with characteristic modesty of her quest as a never-ending journey. "I am always on my way there," she says, "never fully arrived."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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