Why I Love Ayun Halliday
I just read "The Big Rumpus," and am awaiting the arrival of "Dirty Sugar Cookies," Ayun's memoir about food.
First, though, a little gripe. Whenever a funny female writer publishes anything about parenting, she's immediately compared to Erma Bombeck. Or if she just writes funny, she's called the female David Sedaris. I find the comparisons to miss the point entirely. Erma and David are great writers, and what makes them great is how they revealed themselves hilariously and honestly. We connect with them through their idiosyncrasies, some of which echo our own. When that sort of thing happens on the page, there is no comparison to be made -- there won't be another Erma; there won't be another David. Those two lives, like any of ours, are singular.
But we do have Ayun Halliday, who in her own way, is hilarious, deep, comforting and beautiful in all the ways that matter to us, particularly those of us who are mothers.
She just seems to have so much fun with her kids, and she's so able to let them be who they are without getting the 21st-century mama-angst that feels so hard at times to avoid. So I asked her how she does it.
Me: What do you think moms who want to relax and have more fun and less stress should do? How do we let go of all the cultural expectations of motherhood? I figure anyone who'd let her kid keep the spare thumb has some pretty good methodology here.
Ayun: It seems to me the answer to the first question lies within the second. Mothers have more fun and experience less stress when they shake off the insanely high expectations with which Western society has burdened the office. The second the kid emerges from between your thighs, the pressure to measure up is immense, because you know you’ll be judged harshly if you don’t get straight A's in every single subject associated with child rearing. Well, who’s doing the judging? That’s what I want to know. Mothers-in-law aside, I’d say it’s primarily magazine editors, p.r. firms, and large corporations who stand to profit substantially from reinforcing the idea that we’re doing a shitty job. Other mothers can play a particularly pernicious supporting role, but my data shows that they’ll stop judging you if you refrain from overtly judging them.
A close friend recently had her first baby. She was a great help and comfort to me when I had my first baby nine years ago, but despite her ringside seat for that circus, the physical rigors and emotional rollercoaster of new parenthood still knocked her for her own loop. She’d seen that it was hard. She’d witnessed the limits, the fatigue, the frequent feelings of powerlessness, but that couldn’t prepare her for living through it her ownself. Motherhood is wicked-hard, particularly those first couple of years. New mothers need to seek out anything that acknowledges this, because it’s very easy to sink into the slough of despond, to feel that you’re the only one who’s feeling lonely, sad, unfulfilled, crazy, whatever…
Some books I that I’d recommend with that goal in mind are:
The Mother Trip by Ariel Gore
Fruitful by Anne Roiphe
The Blue Jay's Dance by Louise Erdrich
Mother Shock by Andrea Buchanan
and Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott, not that she needs my help to boost her Amazon ranking.
A movie I’d recommend, with the caveat that it’s perhaps not the greatest film you’ll ever see, though it’s one of the few that nailed early motherhood for me, is The 24 Hour Woman, starring Rosie Perez. Please forgive her her perfect abs in the scene where she dissolves in tears when her double breast pump falls off after a long day at home with her newborn.
What I recommend more than anything is seeking out a community. You can’t wait around for someone to ask you to join their reindeer games, you need to equip yourself with companions NOW. Go to the playground. Go to the park. Go to free cultural events. Join the co-op. Invite the childless friends who never invite you anywhere anymore to spend a night hanging in your messy (don’t you dare spend precious naptime cleaning up) apartment, and tell them to pick up a pizza and a bottle of wine on the way. Accept offers to help, and if it’s not the kind of help you really want (i.e. babysitting, when in your heart you don’t feel ready to leave the baby) ask if you can put the volunteer to work in another way.
For mothers of older children, I recommend tea time. (I recommend it for mothers of all stations, but it’s particularly important for those old enough – or depending on how far down the road you are, young enough – to sass and demand and wear out your last nerve just by virtue of their existence. You know how kids get whiny and obstreperous when they’re hungry or tired? Yeah, well, mothers do too. Particularly Bitchmother, who is who I morph into at around 4pm, unless I take a little break to eat something, maybe read a magazine article, sit the fuck down…