I’ve been contemplating a lot of the aspects of motherhood and parenthood and modern American parenting and school choice and all that crap this week.
One of the preschool moms is wrestling with getting her daughter into school right now. She (the mom) is smart but young, not particularly well educated, and married to a flaming ass hat. She (the daughter) was recently diagnosed as mostly deaf and is working on dealing with hearing aids and speech therapy. They are moving and the little girl got rejected from the private schools they applied to. One of the schools suggested “keeping her back.”
The mom freaked the hell out. It took me a while to figure out that this mom had never heard of redshirting and thought that this was a big deal, when, in fact, something like 50 percent of private school kids are redshirted.
Now, since this little girl is clearly in need of some extra time to catch up — she’s only been able to hear properly for a few months — this isn’t really redshirting, it’s doing what’s best. But the mom, basically acting alone since her ass hat husband doesn’t give a flying fuck, is doing what any good and smart mom would do in that case. She’s reading every damned book she can get her hands on.
Books about deafness, books about parenting, books about the culture of private schools, books on all-girls schools, you name, she’s getting it out from the library. She’s talking to friends but she doesn’t have a lot of close mom friends (she’s moved around a lot with the ass hat), so she’s relying on books.
And I started thinking, seeing her toting around all those tomes, that I haven’t’ done a lot of mom reading lately. Partly because I have a few fantastic mom friends and we can talk each other through things, partly because I just have felt lazy, and partly because I did TONS of reading when The Child was two and I got burned out on mom books.
But she’s four now and parenting is getting more complicated. So… I think I need to start reading again. The problem is, as ever, the problem of choice. The field is enormous. (There’s another post there, on how the various ideas reflect either the wide diversity of parenting styles or the massive anxiety about parenting in America. Probably both. In fact, the post is probably about how the lack of a single standard has lead to a massive sense of anxiety….)
So I’m looking for recommendations. What parenting books have you found useful? Which ones have been awful? I’m open to everything except how to parent babies, since I don’t have a baby any more. Bring it on.
One of my cousins, for Christmas, bought The Child a beautiful book called The Quiltmaker’s Journey. I’d been getting into quilting and even made a small quilt for her newborn son the year before, so it was a thoughtful gift. And the illustrations were truly stunning. Not my favorite style, but lovely.
I’d seen the author on Simply Quilts. I didn’t remember much about the episode other than I didn’t like the block they chose — the rosebud block, which was paper pieced. Paper piecing is WAY past any skill level I’ll ever reach.
Weirdly, I never got around to reading the book. That should have said something right there. Maybe I did and got annoyed and never picked it back up, I dunno. But tonight The Child picked it as one of her three going-to-bed books so I sat down to read it.
It’s just…. dumb.
The main character is a girl who is incredibly rich and wonderful. She’s brave and strong and has good friends. Her parents die (without a ripple in the story or the girl’s mood) and leave her the biggest fortune in the town! So big that she runs out of things to buy! Which is impressive because she lives in a town where everyone is rich and wonderful. But the town Elders tell them never to leave the town because it’s surrounded by horrible dreadful terrible things.
But she feel sad and empty, nonetheless. Her friend, the seamstress, teaches her to make little things from cloth, one day sees that she’s unhappy and tells her that she will find her way soon enough.
Of course one day she goes outside… through a secret tunnel (guarded by six sleeping guards! Don’t know which is dumber: to guard a secret hidden tunnel that no one knows about or to hire morons that fall asleep.) Her candle goes out, because apparently she only brought one, and then magic candles light her way.
Outside she discovers, of course, poverty. A town so poor that people slept on the street and cried from hunger. Instead of turning around and going back to get some of her stuff to feed, clothe, and care for these people, the girl starts to walk. She walks for days in her big beautiful white silk gown. And, of course, the stupid git hadn’t brought food or blankets so these poor people, starving unto death, had to feed the bint. And, of course, they gave up their food happily. A junkman hands her a perfect rose, the only thing he owns of value. A girl gives up her only shoes when Her Nibbs’s slippers fall to pieces. All the poor people are cheerful, loving, and not at all resentful.
Finally, she realizes that “HEY! I should go back to my rich house and get some stuff to help these people!” But she’s lost (moron) and takes forever to get back. When she does get back, she marches straight up to the Elders (who all look like Victorian caricatures) and tells them whatfor. They scold her and say that if she leaves they will take away all of her stuff!
So she marches away with nothing but her clothes and a ring from her dead mother. Not even a coat. She wanders, hungry and alone, blah blah blah, finds some apples and instead of eating them, she gives them away. Instead of feeling hungry, she felt happier and more full than ever! Giving things makes her happy!
But she has nothing to give! She can’t help fix a house, she can’t catch fish… oh, there’s a mom and a son sleeping cold without a blanket. She sells her ring, buys cloth and thread and needles and then wanders up to the top of some godforsaken (but beautifully drawn) mountain to make a quilt. A cheerful happy warm quilt. And the sun shines upon her and the animals bring her food and the birds all make an umbrella of their wings if it rains. (Just think about the poop!)
Then she sneaks over and wraps the mother and child in the quilt (and it really is a lovely quilt) and realizes that this is her gift and spends the rest of her life making and giving away quilts to those in need. No mention of how she gets more thread or cloth or whatnot.
I think I understand the message that the author was trying to convey. But it’s so badly done that I think that book may got to the shelf of “bad books” never to be seen again. I tried to explain the problems to The Child while we were reading it: “She’s going to go exploring. Should she go exploring without proper provisions? No food or warm clothes?” But there are so many problems that I just don’t think it’s useful even as a discussion point.
All that said, I may keep it in among my quilt books because I really love that quilt.
I’ve talked about the Scholastic Book program before. For those that don’t know, the preschool sends home a newsprint catalog of books from Scholastic that you can buy at discount prices! Apparently, if you sell enough books you get points to spend towards something for the classroom. I’ve bought some stuff, but the titles don’t really interest me, so I really haven’t bought a lot.
But The Child likes to look at the catalog. Tonight, while we were flipping through the catalog, I started noticing something. Male lead character. Male lead character. Male, male, oh, a girl but she’s Strawberry Shortcake. I grabbed a scrap of paper and a pen and here, ladies and gentlemen, are the numbers.
- Books with obviously male lead characters: 57
- Books with neutral lead characters/no lead character/two lead characters, one boy/one girl: 52
- Books with female lead characters: 22
- Of the books with female lead characters, those that I would call “pink” (i.e. excessively and obnoxiously girly, Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Pony, etc.): 12
Most of those neutral books, btw, were I Spy books, or non-fiction (The Lifecycle of Sunflowers, or Amazing Weather!). I’d say about 30 of them, though I didn’t keep accurate count.
I want to rant, but I’ve got bronchitis.
I decided years ago that, though I care about many issues, I had to focus on just a few when really educating myself. You know, reading studies, paying attention to policy here and abroad, just generally being wonky. I picked education and the environment, because really, without those two, you have no future.
I’ve since added one. Or rather, become super-wonky in one subspecialty: Food.
Not just how to cook it. I’ve started really deeply immersing myself in nutrition, in agriculture, in studing foodways and foodchains and how that porkchop on your plate got there. I’ve discovered some really terrifying and fascinating stuff. Our entire agricultural world is built on a fragile infrastructure of on-demand shipping, cheap oil, tragicaly huge monocultures, extraordinary use of pesticides and herbicides and chemical fertilizers, and it’s deeply deeply unhealthy. Not to metnion vulnerable to attack from a thousand deliberate or accidental vectors.
Food has become, in many ways, I think, one of the central issues of our time.
Read Omnivore’s Delimna. Seriously. If you think and eat, you need to read this book.
Anyway, during the primaries, with not a lot to choose between the two (policy-wize), I picked Obama over Hilary because he’s at least mentioned food policy. And now Michael Pollan has written a brilliant and important article outlining an ambitious and vitally necessary food policy for the next president. (Someone please ask this man to be an advisor! Please, please, please, put Michael Pollan in charge of our food!)
Praise the Lord and pass the (locally grown, heirloom, organic) potatoes!
I try not to engage in stereotypes. But sometimes, it’s so hard not to.
For instance, my writing class this week. It’s been ages since I took a writing workshop, so I had forgotten that most of the people in these workshops (myself included, I’m sure), fit into fairly standard categories.
There’s the tweedy, intense slightly older guy named William, John, or Richard. He’s got white hair that’s receeded up and over the crown of his head and a beard. He wears work shirts rolled up to his elbows, likes science fiction and has some esoteric but highly disciplined hobby (reading 1,000 page Finnish spiritual poetry, making reproduction Viking boats with handmade tools, restoring WWI airplanes). He’s usually quiet but self assured, a little geeky, and usually one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.
There’s the Emo Boy. He’s 20-soemthing, self-conciously hip, there’s usually some unattrtactive facial hair and he’s really ernest. The one this week declared that he’s “lived inside this narrative so long that I really feel like the only way I can present it is from memory.” He was writing hard sci-fi.
There were several variations on the theme of : Woman of a certain age who has bee writing for thrity years and is working on the same novel for most of them.” Most of the major sub-tyoes were also represented — the one who used the f-word and wore heels, the lesbian, the anti-Catholic church second-wave feminist with the dangly earrings who is writing lyrical historical novels. (Yes, that’s a type.)
There’s the almost-but-not-quite successful writer, who’s gotten a few things published (always out of print, always in a niche), who likes to intimidate us all by dropping names of agents and publishers. This time it was a she, but regardless of gender, this person always wears black turtlenecks. It’s astoundingly consistent.
Of course, we had to have the ingenue. A slim blond girl who has never written before, who, when she spoke, always seemed on the verge of bursting into tears. She gasped about how she wanted to write a memoir, but she would feel too naked, too exposed (here, she clutched her cashmere cardigan around her tiny breasts) to write so directly about her experieinces, so she chose to fictionalize it. Her hands trembled, her lip quivered, she read in a tremulous voice. All the middle aged women rushed to reassure her that she was doing fine, she was an excellent writer. (She wasn’t.)
And finally, our Papa. The just-past-middle-aged, self-conciously brusque man who writes masculine, muscular men’s prose, usually about some war. In this case it was about a specific division of WWII soldiers. For some reason, they use too many adjectives.
And I suppose there was me: overweight young mom writing trashy genre. I’ve never met another like me, but I can’t imagine that I’m all that unusual. Maybe I’m writing urban fantasy instead of bodice rippers, but there’s not much to chose between the two, when you step back. Because, let’s face it, in a lot of cases, it’s just porn for women. (One of the women said, with just the very slightest edge to her voice, “What’s your intended audience for this?” and was shocked, shocked I say, when I replied: “Urban fantasy has a huge following of twenty and thrity something women.” I didn’t add, “who regularly put their favorite authors on the best sellers list, even in hard back.”)
I know I sound snarky. I was a little snarky in my head. I’m sure as I get to know them, they will turn from types into people. But in the brief exposure I had last night, they were just all perfect examples of the types I remember from my collegiate and post-collegiate writing days. The only instance where I think I’ll have any trouble overcoming the stereotype is the trembling ingenue.
In the meantime, i’ve almost finished rereading my novel. It’s actually fun! It’s been almost three years so I’m coming to it totally fresh and I can see where I need to make changes. I’m not sure how to make those changes, but that’s what this workshop is for.
Though I do wonder what all of those non-sci-fi types thought of my first two pages.
La la la la! I wasn’t paying attention so I didn’t notice that “Blood Lite” is (in theory) due out tomorrow. That’s weird, though, becuase books are usually released on Tuesdays.
See. I’m a real book geek. How many people do you know have internalized publishers’ release schedules?
It’s an anthology of humorous stories by my favorite urban fantasy authors — Charlaine Harris, Kelly Armstrong, Jim Butcher. I need humourous stories right now. Laughing is good.
I don’t see it on Amazon, though. Frown.
Plus, a new Jim Butchen novella on Halloween. (It’s about vampires… so a Friday gimmicky release date makes sense.) La la la. I like books!
Did I mention that I’m taking a writing course this fall?
About five years ago, I quit my job to take a year off to write a book. I managed to write about 9 tenths of the thing when I got pregnant and discovered that I can’t write while barfing every two hours. Also, I was one of those lucky few who had pregnancy induced carpal tunnel. My hands were numb or painful for almost all nine months — before I even knew I was prenant.
Then, of course, I had a child and writing was… tough.
But now she starts prechool next month. For two days a week, three hours a day, I’m going to have some glorious time to myself. And I plan to finish the damned book, do a first rewrite, and find my ass an agent. Because if this stuff can make it to print, my book sure as hell can.
The thing is, I’ve never written long fiction before. Hell, I haven’t written much short fiction, either. And while I can do a great scene, while I can write good dialog, holding the whole structure of the book in my head while mucking about in the details… that’s tough. So I’m taking a course on Novel Development. It’s exactly what I’m wrestling with and it’s intended for people who have at least a good idea of what thier book will be. I’ve got (95 percent of) an actual manucript.
THis will give me deadlines and impetus to get work done. Preschool will give me time to do the work.
I’m really excited. A little scared, too. I haven’t actually read my own book in three years… what if I think it sucks? What if I think it rocks but my friends read it and say, reluctantly, “Uh, honey….” What if I finish it, rewrite it, polish it, and then can’t get an agent? What if three years of not writing anything more complex than blog entries has dulled my ability to craft a sentence? What if motherhood has removed me so far from the place where I was when I conceived of this (twentysomething, very footloose) character that I can’t hear her voice in my head any more?
Normally I’m not beset by qualms over writing. I’m a very competent writer, with a workmanlike prose that doens’t get in the way of the story I’m trying to tell. But it’s been THREE YEARS! More, really. Writing, like any skill, requires that you keep your hand in it.
Maybe I’ll do a short story first.