Talking about your children in public is like talking about sex: it's Freudian as hell, the things you say tend to be gendered, and you upset your audience with all the stickiness, cussing, and genitals. But like sex talk, it can be totally fun, as Lewis' book shows. When I was pregnant with my first kid, my mother gave me the best advice I've ever heard about parenting: never read parenting books. I ignored her, of course, choosing instead to learn from hard experience. I ended up embroiled in a nightmare of attachment parenting, Ferberizing (could anything sound more sinister?), the Mommy Wars and and spanking. (I said it was like sex talk, right?) But this book is to parenting books the way home-made pornography is to soft-focus douche ads. Instead of being cloying, euphemistic and off-topic, it's affectionate, explicit, and a little gross.
This was another back-porch read, gulped down in a sitting while my daughter rolled around in the dirt and repeatedly leaped off the unoccupied chair yelling “Princess!” as some sort of insane little-girl battle cry. When I started laughing out loud, I would read out sections to my husband, mostly centering on Lewis' kids' cussing in public. I'm almost physically restraining myself, but I could tell hundreds of stories about trying to reconcile my love of cussing with my desire to not get busted by my kids' teachers. Fuck, it's no good; here's a story from yesterday: I'm on my way to Giant Warehouse Store, to buy a pallet of fruit stacks and other sundries. Some gentleman in a truck doesn't let me merge in, and I politely request, “Let me in, you fucking dick.” There's silence, as I navigate the lanes. I begin to apologize, as per social conventions. The boy responds from the back, “Fucking's not a good word, mum.” He starts giggling, “Neither is dick.” I can't argue with this. Then, “What does dick mean?”
This book is almost offensively slender – I'm not sure that if I had paid money for this, I wouldn't be angry about how short it is. I suspect it may be better on audiobook, as the anecdotal quality would be intimate and familiar. (Eric W rocks the mic
for all time for sending me an audio copy, but due to technological incompetence, I ended up checking it out of the library.) It's light in other ways too: the tone stays pretty comically observational, but Lewis' observations tend to be pretty astute.
In my quest to learn things the hard way, I read a fair amount of stuff written for women about parenting, or books that were ostensibly for couples, but were secretly just about being a mother. They tend to be overly earnest, moralizing, and fear-inducing. (What to Expect When You're Expecting
is at the very tippy-top of my shit list.) It's rare enough to find a voice that isn't a buzz-killing finger-wagger in parenting books; finding one that is distinctly male even harder. I kind of love when a writer captures how darn funny being a parent can be, even if he uses rather more baseball metaphors that I would.
So, like home-made porn, this book is going to be more interesting to the fetishists involved, who in this increasingly overworked metaphor are parents of small children, or children who were formerly small. If you have kids, you may enjoy it. If not, might I offer you some Edward Gorey?