Years ago, I used to read Judith Warner’s mommy-blog (Domestic Disturbances) on the New York Times website. Many people found it twee and annoying, but I thought it was fascinating. Motherhood is some important stuff. It’s still mothers who do most of the childrearing (and housework) in this country, and it’s fascinating to see how they navigate this difficult job.
Anyway, I’ve been kicking around a story idea, so I decided to read some mom-books. The first of them was Jill Smokler’s Confessions of a Scary Mommy. It is both eye-opening and amazing. Smokler entered the mom-industry as aa blogger who irreverently documented her own entrance into childrearing, and each chapter starts with a number of choice quotes culled from other moms who’ve written messages to Smokler. How could you not love quotes like:
• My husband thinks I need to be more patient with the kids . . . this coming from a man who hasn’t spent more than two consecutive hours with them EVER.
• I tell my husband we are out of milk so I can run to the store for ten minutes of quiet time. I don’t tell him I drank the last of the milk.
• I’m married, but sometimes I feel like a single parent.
• Sometimes I let my kids sleep in bed with us so I have an excuse not to have sex with my husband.
• If I’d known the kind of father my husband would be, I never would have married him.
• I picked a fight with my husband last night just so I could storm off and lock myself in my room. If he didn’t think I was mad at him, he would just keep coming in there every few seconds, asking me for things.
Which is from the most amazing chapter of the book: the chapter on husbands (it’s entitled “The Biggest Baby of All”). The whole thing is dressed up with humor, but it’s actually very brutal. Motherhood involves lots of great things, but also lots of awful things. For instance, Smokler cheerily details how she’s given less and less attention to each consecutive child she’s had, and how becoming a mother entailed losing all her friends, and how her husband is kind of useless. It’s obviously a bit of an act, but it’s also pretty amazing.
Speaking of books that are a bit of an act, the greatest parenting book I’ve ever read was Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother. This book (which is about the author trying to raise her children in what she described as a traditional chinese style) was one of the greatest literary performances in history. The genius of it was very simple: the author did not shirk from portraying a picture of herself that was absolutely awful.
It was my fond memories of the tiger mom book that led me to pick up Dara-Lynn Weiss’ The Heavy, which is a memoir about the author forcing her seven-year-old daughter onto a diet. As non-fiction, it was interesting and thought-provoking. But, as literature, it was lacking: the book was too self-aware and too defensive. A book that’s about a mom who’s concerned about her daughter’s weight but also cognizant of all the weight-related issues in our society is not interesting. That’s something we can all imagine. What we want is a vision of the archetypical ogreish mother that we wish we could be (and are scared of becoming).