So Much Advice

What a huge industry parenting books are. I confess I’ve been largely disenchanted with the genre. I totally rejected all the how-to-make-your-baby sleep books: my God! 7:10, open curtains in baby’s room, 7:15, nurse, 7:30, sterilize pumping equipment, 7:35 diaper change, 7:40 pump, 7:50 put child on floor for tummy time, 8:15 start naptime music, close curtains, 8:25 time for nap … jesus. Non merci. I preferred something along the lines of: wake when the baby wakes up, nurse, hang out for a while, maybe walk to Starbucks for venti latte, do email while nursing, make grilled cheese for older child while nursing, insert wine IV at 5pm and keep right on nursing, etc. And for the nighttime sleep? I confess the Ferber in-and-out every 20 minutes method just seemed to make things worse for everyone. I preferred my pediatrician’s advice: at 7pm, bedtime. Tuck in. Close door. Open door at 7am. Good morning! Easier for my pea brain to understand, and apparently also for those of my children.

And now I find myself trying to read the next iteration of parenting books. The ones that want to coach you into a better parent. Playful Parenting was a recent gift, and yes, I think I could use a lot more playful in my parenting … but, disappointingly, the playfulness ends with the title. The book is dull and boring and … well, after 20 pages, I think I kind of get it! Am I being stupid? Does there really exist 200 pages of insight on playful parenting? Perhaps it is over my head. Raising Cain has been in my stack forever. That one I swear I’ll get to. And maybe for Title IX reasons I ought to also read Reviving Ophelia (though I have a few years until I need that one, I think). And I have heard great things about The Price of Privilege and So Sexy So Soon, both of whose central topics (the potentially corrosive impact of wealth and the terrifyingly early encroach of sexuality onto my six year old) I care about a lot. So maybe I’ll give those a whirl. But somehow all of the instructional parenting books I’ve read so far seem redundant, repetitive, and not a little holier-than-thou. Maybe I’m defensive about my own subpar parenting and not open to input, who knows.

Which brings me to the three books about parenting that I absolutely, passionately adore. They are The Blue Jay’s Dance by Louise Erdrich, Operating Instructions by Annie Lamott, and Waiting for Birdy by Catherine Newman. What these books have in common, in my opinion, is that they are not out to offer advice. They are really not about parenting, actually, but about life broadly defined. Each woman describes her experience in exquisite detail, telling stories both hilarious and tear-jerking. None of the three writers subscribe to the Deification of Motherhood school, which I deeply dislike, so that’s a plus. They are by turns dispassionate and deeply committed, funny and wise, unsentimental and tender. These are motherhood books I can embrace, and I think that’s because they are really about personhood, about the experience of living as an adult in this world.

Waiting for Birdy’s subtitle captures it best of all: “…frantic tedium, neurotic angst, and [the] wild magic.” Doesn’t motherhood – and, really, life itself – contain each of those three in every hour? If you haven’t read all three, I can’t recommend them highly enough.

A deep desire to raise hopeful children

I really enjoyed this article/book review from the New Yorker (thank you Kara!). The discussion of the perils of overparenting resonates with me. I am so opposed to doing this that sometimes I think I overcorrect, to Grace and Whit’s detriment. I especially like the reality check at the end of the article, where the author’s call to arms is calibrated against the much more real urgency (in my view) of one in six children in America growing up below the poverty line.

I love this line: “It may be that robbing children of a positive sense of the future is the worst form of violence that parents can do to them.” Many of my instincts about parenting strive from the deep desire to raise children who are hopeful and not afraid of the world (to me these two things are inextricably linked). This is precisely why the allergy diagnosis in Whit bothered me so much (well this and my tremendous guilt that my lackluster nursing performance visited this onerous responsibility on him): to carry an epipen, to read labels, to know you are one bite away from a 911 call and the ER is to live in a world that seems scary. Anybody who knows my aversion to vacuuming (I do not own a vacuum cleaner and never have) will know that the hygiene hypothesis is not at work in my son’s case. My Lord that child ate more dirt and boogers (he often, to this day, tells me how yummy his boogers are) than most – and somehow he’s still allergic.

Feeling safe is something I crave profoundly, so I am not surprised that this desire to help my children feel at ease and not at risk is a priority for me. It is the reason I put Grace on that airplane by herself (the parenting decision that has caused me the most insecurity, bar none). Of course if she had not wanted to go I would never have done that. I think one can only support and promote qualities and inclinations that are already there; I think pushing a child to do something that he or she is uncomfortable with is by far the wost offense.

As I drove this morning I thought more granularly about my parenting, about where I am strict and where I am lax. I believe in the notion of a few, firm rules. This is my current thinking:

Things I am strict (rigid, inflexible, Nazi-like … pick your adjective) about:

– sleep
– manners (please, thank you, look adults in the eye)
– treating all other people with respect
– not behaving in a spoiled or entitled way
– safety (hold hands crossing the street, in parking lots, etc)

Things I am loosey-goosey (cavalier?) about:

– food (you want string cheese for dinner? breakfast as bag of Kix in the car? fine)
– baths (routinely skipped bc I am lazy)
– cold (you want to take your gloves off? fine by me)
– television
– being away from G&W for work travel (more than fine, awesome by me)
– germs (share toothbrushes? cool. bring 4 week old into the MGH ICU? sure.)


Hadley and I named my future book tonight. It’s called …

Please take your heathens and go

(and I did)

Running for those fabulous countries

“George Orwell once said something about how childhood necessarily creates a false map of the world but it’s the only map we’ve got … and no matter how old we are, at the first sign of trouble, we take off running for those fabulous countries. It’s like that for me.”

Preface to The Middle Place, Kelly Corrigan

Four Families

Growing up, Labor Day was always about the Four Families. Before we moved to Marion, our family had a house on Point Connett in Mattapoisett that we shared with the Young family (Maja, blonde, and Nella, bride, above). For at least a week at the end of August the other members of the Four Family tribe would arrive and we’d pile into bedrooms and spend our days together. There were Ethan and Tyler Vogt (Ethan the token male above, my oldest friend, one of Whit’s godfathers) and Ann and Matt Moss (Ann in black and white dress). We windsurfed and swam and went for walks and created elaborate song-and-dance shows for our parents. We slept wall-to-wall in the back part of the house and snoozed in the big hammock in the front yard during the day.
These other six children were the extended family of my childhood. They have remained dear to me, though we’ve scattered to the winds as we grew up. The picture above was taken at Nella’s wedding in late June this year. We have seven children of our own now (Andrew, Oliver, and Emma Vogt, Hannah Mead Gilheany, Eden Young, and Gracie and Whit) and the weddings come fast and furious. We grew up in the loose embrace of communal parenting, shared responsibility, and vast and varied experiences.