Book Review of Kristina Kuzmič’s “Hold On, But Don’t Hold Still”
*Warning: spoilers ahead!
The first time I ever heard of Kristina Kuzmič was a few years ago way before I was a mother, was married, or even met my husband. I remember scrolling through viral videos in my college dorm room one night at about 2:00 AM and stumbling upon her video, “I’m not your friend, kid!” Now, I didn’t have kids yet, but I agreed with the message of her video: that there is a line between friendship and parenting and that line is an important one. Once the video was done I kept on scrolling and didn’t even think about Kuzmuč or her videos until about a year and a half ago.
I was quite pregnant and going through mommy tags on Instagram and came across her name again. I vaguely remembered her video from college, so I took some time and reviewed her material. I learned a lot. I didn’t know that she was an immigrant from Croatia who experienced a war, I didn’t know that she was previously divorced or endured poverty, and I didn’t know that she had a blog, was on Oprah, etc. Needless to say, I was intrigued by her life and experiences and began following her.
Then her book, Hold On, But Don’t Hold Still came out. I remember seeing promotion videos online and reviews. In all honesty, I used to shy away from mommy books, mommy blogs, etc. However, I learned to kind of enjoy that subculture of parenting because a lot of moms experience similar experiences. And no, not all children are the same, but I do guarantee that all parents at some point they will shove their noses against their child’s behind to sniff for poop. I also began participating more in the mommy subculture after being diagnosed with postpartum depression because I learned that speaking about our shared experiences helped me overcome hard days.
Still, I didn’t buy the book for months after it was released for various reasons. However, about three weeks ago I decided to finally order it when all the chaos of life calmed down a bit, and finished the book in about 2-3 days. Hold On, But Don’t Hold Still was a book that I couldn’t actually put down and I had to keep reading.
Overall, I liked the book. I liked Kuzmič’s voice, her honesty about her life experiences, and the overall sense of hope that the book provides. My favorite chapters were “As Is,” “Ne brini. Divno je.,” and “Kids First, Ego Last.” I loved reading about her experiences in Croatia during the war before coming to America in “As Is.” It is quite rare in the literary world to read about wartime from the female perspective (hence my obsession with Mrs. Dalloway). It was refreshing, informative, and heart wrenching. The wedding scene in the chapter was also very beautiful. I think she highlights important aspects of romantic relationships, family life, etc. in that scene, namely that even when things are planned we have to prepare for the unexpected. Despite the endless planning that goes into preparing something as important and large as a wedding, life simply happens. A war was occurring and there was no way to prevent how the situation unfolded. Still, despite the changes to the wedding day, the couple was still happily married. I think this story in the book is a healthy way to think about marriage. So often women (and even men sometimes) only think about the wedding day, despite the fact that marriage is lifelong commitment. It is more important to be looking forward to the marriage than the wedding day. Yes, of course the wedding day should be wonderful! But it will be wonderful no matter what if you’re with the right person.
I also enjoyed reading about the time she spent with her grandmother in “Ne brini. Divno je.” mostly because it reminded me of my relationship with my own grandmother. I actually cried while reading this chapter, especially when Kuzmič descried the last time she saw her grandmother and their last goodbye. She explains her hands, the last thing her grandmother whispered to her, etc. I felt tears streaming down my face. It was a very moving scene. The chapter carries on to explain Kuzmič’s decision to replace worry with hope and the benefits of doing so, which was also quite beautiful to read about.
I also enjoyed “Kids First, Ego Last” because I think this chapter speaks to the uncomfortable aspects of life that no one prepares anyone for, whether they be single, married, be parents, etc. Life is full of awkward times, but sometimes we have to move past the uncomfortable for those who matter the most to us. Kuzmič and her current husband seem to have a very good relationship with her ex-husband in order to make her children’s lives less complicated, and that’s quite difficult to do. All of the adults in her life put their own egos aside to benefit the children. I think this speaks to Kuzmič’s responsibility.
With that being said, in an overall way, I enjoyed that the book did not bash her husband. Yes, she does talk about getting divorced and how difficult that time was for her, but she never trash talks her ex. As she says in the book, it would be unfair to only have one side to the story, and would potentially embarrass her children. Again, egos last.
However, even though Kuzmič decides to not speak ill of her ex-husband, the book does allude to neglect on his part. No, she never actually says that he was neglectful. But, where was he? The entire time I was reading I couldn’t help but to think, Where is her ex? Her children are struggling, she is working two jobs, cannot afford groceries, etc. How can he let his children and their mother live like this? Again, Kuzmič never delves into why she got a divorce (which I do think is responsible), but I do wish that there was even a hint of an explanation about why the father of her children was so completely separated from the hardships that she and the kids were facing. She did mention that he was getting a PhD, but was he not working? Was there no child support? I was left with a lot of questions. And the questions I had did not make me have negative feelings about Kuzmič, herself, but rather about her ex, which she was trying to avoid.
My only other criticism of Hold On, But Don’t Hold Still is that there are scenes that are kind of unbelievable. Hey, maybe they actually happened, but some stories were just hard for me to believe. I absolutely believe her stories about the war, her divorce, the poverty she endured, etc. What I had an issue with believing were some of the conversations she had with her children. One story from the chapter “The G Spot: Guilt, Grades, and Grace” stands out to me in particular. Apparently her son overheard her say the word “sh*t” and was completely flabbergasted because she rarely used profanity in their presence. That I believe. However, the dialogue of her child is where I became skeptical. After she tells the audience how she lied to him about saying a different word, he apparently said to her, “Mom, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry that I accused you of saying something bad, and you didn’t even do that. You were just caring about me and wanted to make sure that my friends would see my cool cake. I am so sorry” (73). Earlier in the chapter she tells us that he was just nine years old. I just cannot imagine a nine year old saying something with such profound sympathy and regret. If he did, Kuzmič is truly blessed with a great kid.
The only other comment I wish to make about the book, and it’s not really a criticism, is that I still think Kuzmič is still too hard on herself. Throughout the book she is discusses hope, parenting, being kind to oneself, and everything in between. However, she still talks about her experiences with poverty and depression in a way that comes across as self-deprecating. I wish she gave herself even more credit than she does. She migrated from Croatia during a war, learned English in a rather unpleasant high school experience, left an unhappy marriage with two children, lost people in her life like her grandmother, lived in extreme poverty, worked multiple jobs just to put food on the table, tried to help in volunteering, worked her way out of poverty, fell in love and got married, was on Oprah, had another child, started a humorous parenting empire…… the list goes on. However, she still seems critical of herself. It is a shame.
As I mentioned before, I genuinely enjoyed the book. I couldn’t put it down. This book is a parenting book, a self-help book, a book about relationships, a historical narrative, and everything in between. I would recommend this book to any woman looking for a good read, especially if she is a mother. Kuzmič’s ability to always look on the bright side of life is truly a gift, and her voice is extremely genuine.