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Just Let Me Lie Down

Before I review this book, I must preface it with a couple of personal stories, one of which happened this past Saturday.  I was away for the afternoon, signing books in a quaint small town in rural Minnesota, so my husband and daughter spent the afternoon gallivanting around town doing errands.  They stopped for sushi.  This particular sushi place is notorious for loitering waitresses–you know, the kind that stand there in some sort of amazement, oogling a three-year-old child who will eat (no, consume!) all sorts of sushi.

“When are you going to have another child?” the waitress asks my husband.

If you know anything about Dan at all, he doesn’t like personal questions (unlike me), and he’d rather nip things in the bud at the first reply, to stop the downward spiral of “going there.”  “We’re not,” he said.  “This is it for us.”

Her face registered shock, disappointment, disbelief.  “What?!” she practically screeched.  “Why not?!  Why you not have more kids?”

Now let me interject here this is not unusual for our neck of the woods.  As much as everyone outside of our neck of the woods thinks this is the land of Minnesota Nice, there are certain topics which are always up for grabs.  The number of children you’re going to have is one of them.  I could relate dozens of these kinds of stories.

So.  Dan just looked at her…willed her away with grim silence.  Which worked.  I can only imagine how she’ll look at me the next time we walk into her restaurant.

Second story.  When Dan and I were deciding if we actually wanted to go down the route of having kids (and let me tell you, we’re the odd people out, just to voice this–at least in this geographical area!), one of my friends asked me if I thought I was being selfish.  I got to sleep in.  I got to travel.  I got to have my own time.  I got to have unlimited time with my husband.  I got, I got, I got.

So, as gently as I could, I asked her a question.  “Why did you have kids?” I said.

Without blinking a eye, she said, “Well, we wanted to carry on the blood lines, you know, and certainly, we wanted someone there when we’re older, and I suppose we wanted to have other little people to share our life with…”  She trailed off as soon as she realized the obvious.

So.  Coming to this book, let me ask a few questions.

Why is it that how many children Ralph and Susie have is anyone’s business?  Why does it rankle anyone that they have none…or six?

Why is it anyone’s business whether or not Susie breast feeds her babies?  Lets them sleep in bed with her?  Lets them eat a chocolate doughnut for breakfast, rather than, let’s say, oatmeal or eggs?  [This list, sadly, is endless.]

Why is it anyone’s business whether or not Susie decides to put her kids in part-time daycare or preschool?  Or better yet, whether or not Susie decides to work full-time and hire a nanny?

Why are play dates (with multiple mothers) so awful?  So mind-numbingly mean and trite and trivial?  [I speak for myself, of course.  I’ve been “attacked” several times by well-meaning mothers, but I’ll tell you that as calm and firm as I am in my answers on the spot, in person, I’m dissolved to tears when I get home.  Now I just politely refuse.]

Why can’t we all just leave those kinds of decisions to each family?  To each their own?

I have both stay-at-home mother friends and go-to-work-in-an-office mother friends, and let me tell you, there’s good and bad on both sides (and yes, I know that implies some sort of judgment on my part).  I think it’s the mother that makes a difference, not whether or not she’s home full-time.  But that’s a whole other hot-button issue.

Now to Just Let Me Lie Down.  Kristin van Ogtrop is the editor of Real Simple.  I’ve referenced her one other time, on a blog post that you can read here.

This book is for those mothers who are worn out and need a little validation.  It’s a tongue-in-cheek, sometimes sarcastic, most of the time hilarious diatribe of what having a family is really all about.  And van Ogtrop is generous to “both” sides–the at-home working mothers and the at-office working mothers.  We all feel frazzled and beaten up.  We all fantasize about the disappearance of our families for several hours (dare I say days?).  We all lose our tempers.  We all have embarrassing moments.  We all do what we can…to live the best we know how.

Written as a dictionary of sorts, with necessary terms mothers must know, it’s a book you can pick up at any time.  Some definitions will fit your situation; others won’t.  [Truth be told, if you don’t live in Manhattan (or its suburbs), the fact that you shouldn’t wear sneakers–EVER–unless you’re a model or going for a quick jog might confuse you momentarily.]  But there many terms that fit, just so, and as you read, you’ll be nodding your head, going, “Yes, yes, yes–that’s so true!”  van Ogtrop explains what she was trying to do: “…I do know a few things, starting with the fact that a good many working mothers could use some sort of organizing principle, a few labeled bins to hold the chaos.  Hence this collection: an alphabetically arranged dictionary of terms, observations, lists, complaints, questions, musings, and the occasional diatribe about the little joys and major nonsense that define life for me, and untold women like me, on a daily basis.”

A few examples, to illustrate:

Caller ID malfunction: When you have dialed a number and cannot remember whom it belongs to, but the telephone is ringing and it feels too late to hang up, in case someone has gotten up out of a chair on the other end to answer your call.  Are you calling the pediatrician?  Your boss?  The plumber?  It’s anybody’s guess.

Guilt curve: And so my children and I grew, with guilt shadowing us.  Sometimes guilt looks like the fantasy you once had about your future and sometimes it looks like the ghost of the family that you are not.  Sometimes it’s a dull hum in the background; sometimes it’s a giant rock that falls on your head.  But it continues to change as you change and, unless you are irredeemably neurotic, it gets smaller as you get wiser.

Along the way there are setbacks: distinct moments on your guilt curve that confirm that you have made all the wrong choices and probably never should have had children in the first place.  Maybe no one else remembers these moments, but you certainly do.  For example: the day before Easter 2000, I was at the Shoe Boat in the Concord Mall in Wilmington, Delaware, buying new sneakers for my six-year-old son.  I have never been a great mother where shoes are concerned because I just can’t seem to remember that feet continue to grow.  That morning at the Shoe Boat, the helpful (seeming) gentleman who worked there measured my son’s foot and announced that it was two sizes bigger than the shoes I had been wedging his feet into for the past who knows how many months.  “Bad mommy!” he exclaimed.  Everybody laughed, except me.  Of course, the reason I remember this incident so clearly is that it became honed in my mind into a fine, hard guilt-thorn that poked me in the side every time I thought my life as a working mom was progressing smoothly.  And if you had all the time in the world I could give you about three hundred other incidents just like that one.

It takes a village: The nifty if unrealistic notion that we can all just band together to attain the unattainable when it comes to the care of our children.

I don’t know about you, but I could certainly use a village for the following:

  • To find all pieces of a boy’s lacrosse uniform, including helmet, mouth guard, and cup, and help the boy get dressed
  • To outfit my children for any dressy occasion, as there appears to be a creature who eats khakis living in our attic
  • To convince my husband that four sports for one child in one season is about three sports too many
  • To get my middle son to eat anything in less than half an hour
  • To show my husband how to empty and refill the Diaper Genie
  • To convince my oldest son that when you brush the dog right outside the door, all the hair will blow back into the house, which defeats the purpose
  • To keep our two-year-old as sweet as he is right now–forever

Learned helplessness: The epiphenomenon that micromanagers unwittingly cause in everyone around them; or yet one more example of why micromanagers have no one but themselves to blame.  If you make your children’s sandwiches every day, your husband will never know whether they prefer mustard or mayonnaise.  If you always hang up your children’s coats, they will never realize that there is a coat closet.  If you don’t let anyone who works for you make their own decisions, pretty soon they’ll all be coming to you for permission to use the bathroom.  And is that a very good use of your time?

No child left behind: The reminder running through the heart of nearly every working mother after just one brush with disaster.

All mothers have a story: my friend Janice left her newborn in his car seat in the front hall while the rest of the family took off for Boston.  (Luckily, they made it only down the block.)  My neighbor Ann locked her toddler in the car and had to explain to a two-year-old how to work the automatic lock.  And then there was the time I left my son at church….

Time management: What?

Zero-sum living:

If you try to get in shape, you will never be well rested.
If you get enough sleep, you will always have a little tummy.
If you have too many enjoyable “date nights” with your husband, you will wish you never had kids.
(If you have dinner every night with three young boys, you may also wish you never had kids.)
If you dress to get promoted like all those career-building self-help books recommend, your colleagues will think you are putting on airs and band together to hate you, and you will never get promoted.
If you are a women who is too tough, people will say you’re a bitch and no one will want to work for you.
If you are a woman who is not tough enough, people will say you are a bad leader and no one will want to work for you.
If you wear flats to work, you will look dumpy but smart.
If you wear high heels to work, you will look pretty but stupid.

So.  I have only one thing to say before I offer up three copies of Just Let Me Lie Down.

Are you letting others drag you down?  Are you living true to what you want for your family?

If you need to laugh about your life, if you need a little commiseration, if you need a little pick-me-up, then comment below.  Simply write a short phrase, indicating what else might give you a little lift, something like, “a luxurious bath” or “a fast-paced read” or “a hug from my little one” or “the end of poverty.”  And if you want to use one of mine, go ahead.  If you’d rather not post here, please e-mail me at comment4elissa at gmail dot com, and you’ll be entered automatically.  [One extra requirement, though, and I’m sorry about this…since the publisher is giving me the copies, they’ve stipulated that only U.S. or Canada residents are allowed to win.  I’m guessing this is because of international shipping costs.  I’m not sure.  Utmost apologies to far-afield readers.]

Deadline: Wednesday, April 14 at midnight, PST.  Winners will be announced Thursday morning.

Have the loveliest of days!

Update posted on April 15, 2010:

This morning, we have three book winners (for Kristin van Ogtrop’s Just Let Me Lie Down).  Well, actually, four, since I’ve decided to add one.

Congrats to Megan, Angela Taylor Bisek, Ashley, and Kristi B.  Some of you commented over on my Facebook thread, so if you don’t see a name below, that’s why.  Will you four contact me at comment4elissa at gmail dot com, and provide your full name and address?  Your books will be on their way shortly!  Thanks for entering, y’all…

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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