All my life, whenever I’ve relocated to a new place, the first thing I’ve always done, often even before the household goods are out of boxes, is pay a visit to the public library and apply for a card, an impulse which means the library cards I’ve held serve as a pretty good road map of where I’ve been:
Writer that I am, I still find it a fairly admirable trait: to receive spiritual sustanance from books, and for libraries to serve as the churches one turns to for solace. But to put this same trait in a perhaps less positive light: I am always on the look-out for Operating Manuals (capitalization intentional), a method of moving through your life which means you damn well better have a library card. If I don’t know something, I assume there’s a book out there that can fix this lack in me, a lifelong search for meaning through the written word that might explain why The Husband and I have checked out a total of 27 books about bathroom renovation in the past six weeks, though the fact that much of the upcoming weekend will probably be spent trying to undo an abortive attempt at bathroom caulking indicates either that we never read them or that we forgot every instruction they gave within seconds after reading it.
All this is a roundabout way of saying that as soon as Elder Girleen was born, I hightailed it to the library for my fix. And oh, did I score! As Elder Girleen slept a total of approximately fifteen minutes in the first two months of her life, I was particularly fixated on infant sleep and in quick succession read:
- Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
- Baby Wise
- Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems (The Ferber Method)
- The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night
- Dr. Sears Baby Book
- What to Expect the First Year
- Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care
- Some book put out by the American Academy for Pediatrics that you get for free if you join the Publix Grocery Baby Club
I now know that some children simply don’t sleep and there was no answer to my problem. But at the time, (just to continue the odd religious thread of the past few posts), I felt as devastated as if I had staggered to a church and found the door barred against me.
Because I was nursing Elder Girleen (a lot, because remember, she didn’t sleep), and I had gotten so proficient at it that I could read voraciously while I did so, I was also simultaneously reading every single “motherhood” book I could get my hands on. (Talk about being a glutton for punishment — where else, given all this, could I possibly have ended up but on the primrose path to postpartum depression?)
What was I looking for? I think what I was looking for was a lifeline, a comforting voice that would say something along the lines of hey, it’s okay if you think you suck at this; in fact, it’s also okay if you actually do suck at it, as long it’s in a sort of minor way and you’re not like, a crack addict who sold her baby or something. Or maybe what I really wanted that comforting voice to murmur was Forget sucking at this parenthood stuff! It’s actually okay that you hate it, or some of it, that you’d rather have ground glass shoved in your eyes than go to another playgroup, that what you want more than anything else is to go see a movie or walk in a coffeeshop with your prebaby body back and unencumbered…
Most of the writing I found instead seemed to fall into one of two camps. The first, which I’ve come to think of as the “And Then I Stared Down at the Little Miracle in My Arms” school of parenthood writing was so unrelentingly sentimental that I had to return those books to the library unread (I like my sentiment as much as the next girl, but it has to be leavened with something… I dunno, gore, or something). The second took the place of the lifeline I’d been looking for. Frayed, it was a lifeline that wasn’t pulling me anywhere I particularly wanted to go, but at least it kept my face out of the water. “The Wry Jocularity School of Parenthood Writing.” It felt subversive, even though it often schizophrenically veered off into “The Little Miracle in My Arms” territory in its final paragraphs. I liked it. It made me feel better. But if the “Little Miracle” school was formulaic, so was all this Dry Wit.
Part of loving reading may be a longing for that elusive, inexplicable moment when, reading something, you think yes, that’s it, that’s exactly what I felt. The two schools of parenthood writing, as formulaic in their ways as romance novels, could be good reading, were good writing, were sometimes excellent writing, but the jolt of recognition I occasionally got from them was more like the sort of feeling you get when you talk with a kindred spirit at a cocktail party that it was a profound expression of emotion. (And who am I to expect this from anything, anyway, now that I think about it?)
Two weeks of this blog under my belt and I’d be thrilled if any of this served as good example of the Wry Jocularity School of Writing — I mean, I want my Dear Readers to want to read this, want them to be at least momentarily entertained. At the same time, I’m also seeing how easy it is to fall into one of these two camps when you start writing about Parenthood. Is it because we live in sound bites, these days, and both techniques, the sentimental and the jocular, lend themselves to that? Is it because there’s something ineffable about the very state of parenthood, and that words fail it?
One of the definitions of ineffable is “not to be uttered” and maybe the problem is that parenthood may be one of the last social realms we have left that’s full of taboos. (Using the words “hate” and “parenthood” together in the same paragraph made me more uncomfortable than I like to admit). Or is it that the state of parenthood is bent almost to the breaking point by its cliched baggage?