5 Stories About Motherhood
For such an important job, motherhood is a remarkably inexact science. There are no foolproof formulas for raising a child, no hard-and-fast rules. The puzzle requires trial and error and a willingness to learn from the countless mistakes of others down through the millennia.
Forget about achieving any peace of mind. At least there are books to consult -- a veritable library of how-to volumes or, better yet, how-I-tried-to-do-it books that virtually shout out, "And this is what happened!"
In honor of Mother's Day, here are five recent examples:
1. Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son by Anne Lamott and Sam Lamott. "Without Anne Lamott, the entire sub-category of contemporary parent writing . . . probably wouldn't exist," writes book critic David L. Ulin of the Los Angeles Times. Lamott scored a mega-hit with her 1993 book, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year, about coping with her new baby, Sam. Now she and Sam team up (although it's mainly her book) to bring the same cynical humor and insight to the travails of raising Sam's newborn, Jax. The novice grandmother must stand aside and let the new parents handle it when Jax gets sick and is taken to the hospital. "When I didn't hear from them for a few hours," Anne Lamott writes, "I naturally assumed Jax was in the ICU, after thoracic surgery, or hooked up to a heart-lung machine." The author's "great appeal lies in her security in exposing her insecurities," says reviewer Heller McAlpin of NPR Books. "Her subject has always been, in a sense, addiction and a struggle for balance and moderation," McAlpin says. "Her grandson becomes her new obsession, and she strives mightily to keep her worries and infatuation in check."
2. Making Babies: Stumbling Into Motherhood by Anne Enright. The Irish author, who won the 2007 Man Booker Prize for her novel The Gathering, was married for 18 years before she and her husband decided to become parents. This account of the transformation was a bestseller in Great Britain. Enright writes unflinchingly of the ordeal of a long labor -- "It has been 45 minutes since I realised I could not do this any more" -- and the all-consuming obligations afterward, says reviewer Vanessa Thorpe in the British newspaper The Observer. "Rather like Rachel Cusk's even more forthright and startling book on the subject, A Life's Work, Enright's writing has the humour and urgency of someone who is grasping rare moments of solitude to communicate with the outside world," Thorpe notes. Merritt Tierce, reviewing the book for The Dallas Morning News, calls Enright's prose "equal parts wryly analytical and wholeheartedly emotional" as she addresses every facet of motherhood -- from nursing to a baby's formation of memories -- in a series of micro-essays. Reviewer John McMurtrie of the San Francisco Chronicle says, "No bedside mountain of over-earnest and mushy parenting books could stand up to the Irish novelist Anne Enright's slim but very satisfying collection" of observations.
3. The Sacred Thread: A True Story of Becoming a Mother and Finding a Family -- Half a World Away by Adrienne Arieff. Unable to have a child of her own, Arieff finds a willing surrogate mother in India and travels to meet the woman, Vaina, and her three children. What makes the story unusual is the bond the women form. While Vaina is carrying the author's twin girls, Arieff lives in Vaina's small village in India to help out and be near her unborn daughters. The motherhood blog A Passage to Baby quibbles with a few technical details involving pregnancy, but labels the book "an awesome read," saying, "There are plenty of places to weep with joy as well as with sadness, and not all in areas that one would expect." The blog Being Pregnant notes that India has a burgeoning surrogacy industry that caters to Western families. Reviewer Rebekahku Schmider calls the story "truly lovely."
4. Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman. Never mind that the French aren't as famous for child-rearing as for, say, quality wines and fashion; Druckerman, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, ends up having a baby in Paris and comes to appreciate the calm, philosophical groundedness of the French. Upon apologizing to her young daughter for the pain of an inoculation, Druckerman is scolded by a French doctor, who tells her, "Getting shots is part of life," notes reviewer Elaine Sciolino in The New York Times. Inevitably, the cultural differences -- and there are many -- open a door to debate. The French seem to expect more from children at a young age than Americans do, observes reviewer Clare McHugh in The Wall Street Journal. "They are determined to counter the squalor and disorder of life with small children," McHugh says, adding that Druckerman, who admires the approach, cannot always bring herself to follow it.
5. No Biking in the House Without a Helmet by Melissa Fay Greene. With four children already under foot, the award-winning author and her attorney husband couldn't resist expanding the brood. Seemingly against all reason, they adopted a young boy from Bulgaria, then four more children from Ethiopia. "You just know that a book's going to be good if you've already guffawed . . . when you've barely even finished the introduction," comments reviewer Terry Hong of The Christian Science Monitor. Predictably, problems crop up. "The children fight -- even come to blows -- give each other the silent treatment, lie on occasion, break rules, and figure out how to download porn on their cellphones," Hong says. Greene's story is "sprawling, imperfect, courageous and joyful" says reviewer Gina Webb of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Memorable anecdotes and hard-won insights may leave the reader wanting even more, writes Suki Casanave in The Washington Post. "Greene set out to write about 'the joy of living with these children,'" Casanave concludes, "and this joy -- experiencing it and conveying it to readers -- is her greatest success."
SecondAct asks: So what books are you enjoying? Share your recent reads in the comment field below
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