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.