Confessions of a Scary Mommy

Confessions of a Scary Mommy by Jill Smokler

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I’ve enjoyed the Scary Mommy blog for over a year now, so I was glad to pick up Jill Smokler’s book. This is her first book, and she actually has a second, more recently released one called Motherhood Comes Naturally (and Other Vicious Lies). What I love most about Scary Mommy is the philosophy of seeing the trials of parenthood with humor, and opting out of competition, prefectionism, and judgement. If everyone could live by the Scary Mommy Manifesto, the world would be a better, more compassionate place for mothers everywhere. All of this comes out in the book, which is kind of a memoir. It is organized into mostly chronological chapters on different topics relating to motherhood, like pregnancy, baby names, favoritism, and birthday parties.

Some of the stories and ideas are a bit cliched, like when Smokler talks about how she didn’t know what to do with her baby when she brought her home from the hospital, because they don’t come with an instruction manual. Or when she goes on about hating the ‘hot mom’ at the pool rocking a white bikini. One chapter title is “There are no sick days in motherhood.” In this way, I don’t think I really learned very much new from the book, or got a whole lot out of it that I hadn’t seen on the blog. It was kind of enjoyable to read because Smokler’s voice is friendly and fun, but it wasn’t really groundbreaking. Then again, that might not be the point.

The most interesting and original parts of the book are probably the confessions–one-liners from moms telling something “shameful” they did, said, or thought. I think the best service that the book and blog provide is allowing women to anonymously confess to these “sins” of falling short of our ridiculous ideals of mothering, so that we can all see that we’re not alone, and how impossible perfection is to achieve. The mom who looks like she has it all together might really be barely holding on, and the confessions are evidence of that. Knowing that others are struggling helps create a feeling that we’re all in this together, and undermines the urge that makes us judge and compete. To me, that is a great achievement.

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Lessons of Motherhood

I became a mother on May 29.

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Here are a few of the things I’ve learned in the past week.

1. Nitrous oxide is a miracle drug that should be available for all women in childbirth everywhere. It can change a woman in the most intense stages of labor from a despairing sufferer lashing out at everyone, to a chilled-out paragon of courage and strength.

2. Breastfeeding is hard and painful. It is bullshit when they say that it shouldn’t hurt as long as the latch is correct. A bad latch certainly hurts worse, and the initial suck is the worst part, but even with a good latch, a baby with strong instincts, and experienced caregivers providing support, each individual suck can pinch and pull. Engorgement means that I’ve passed the point of no return–not nursing hurts even worse than nursing does. For me, for now, on the whole, breastfeeding is bearable. For others, it may not be, and I understand that more than ever now.

3. I am amazingly lucky. My child is healthy. My labor was relatively quick and free from unnecessary medical intervention, and my physical recovery is going well.  My caregivers in the hospital did a great job on the whole. My child is healthy and beautiful, with gorgeous skin, a rosebud mouth, and bright, curious eyes. I have been overwhelmed with help and support from friends and relatives, especially my mom, who has coached me in labor and in establishing breastfeeding, helped with the baby’s restless nights, cleaned my whole house, stocked my fridge, and waited on me hand and foot while I fed the baby. My child is heathy and strong, with amazing feeding instincts and the head control of a baby several weeks older. My partner is committed to both of us and eager to learn his new role. He and I have all the resources we need to care for this baby. My child is healthy and seems happy, or at least he’s easy enough to satisfy, has some ability to self-soothe, and doesn’t seem to cry for no reason (so far). My body is producing the food he needs. In almost every aspect of this experience, I have had the best possible outcome, or at least the best outcome anyone could reasonably expect. Each one of these things is an amazing piece of good fortune, without which I might be struggling. Each one of them is too good for me.

4. I want to express my happiness and gratitude without being smug or self-satisfied. I think the best way to strike that balance is to recognize that I have done nothing to deserve this luck. There is nothing that I did before, during, or after pregnancy to earn or deserve a  relatively easy delivery and healthy baby, much less the other blessings, which have more to do with the generosity of others than with me. I want to be grateful for my good fortune without implicitly condemning less fortunate women. Also, I want to acknowledge that the hardest days are ahead of me and that this good fortune may not last. I want to mix my gratitude with humility, appreciating the many good things in my new motherhood more because I know I don’t deserve them. They are gifts, and can’t be earned.

The Red Book

The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan

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Deborah Copaken Kogan recently published a startling essay on the sexism she encountered in marketing a memoir she wrote about being a war photographer. The book was called Shutterbabe, and I think that title says it all. If this novel hadn’t been on my reading list before I read that essay, I would have added it then.

The title, The Red Book, refers to a Harvard alumni publication in which former students brag about their accomplishments from the past five years. The novel has an interesting format, alternating between entries from the Red Book for each character, and then telling the story of their 20th reunion. The main characters are four women who were roommates in college and have kept in fairly regular contact. Addison is an old-money prep school legacy, an unsuccessful artist in a bad marriage raising her kids on her trust fund. Jane is a war reporter based in Paris with a young daughter. Mia is a frustrated actress married to a successful director/screenwriter with several kids. And Clover is a former hippie child turned ousted banking executive who’s trying to concieve.

This book reminded me a lot of Motherland, another novel I read recently about privileged women around age 40 with children and troubled marriages. Motherland focuses more on the comedy, while The Red Book is more dramatic or tragic, with funny moments. Of the two, I think I prefer The Red Book. Adultery is a major theme; the only couple in the book that doesn’t struggle with it is the one with the worst relationship of all. That’s kind of depressing. There’s a strong message that says carpe diem, encouraging the characters, and through them the readers, to hold on to the dreams and aspirations they had when they were young. Kogan’s sentences and dialog are sharp, perceptive and wise. The book was a pleasure to read.