May 2011

On the front lines of motherhood

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May 2011

On the front lines of motherhood

Feature by
May 2011

On the front lines of motherhood

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We mothers know it isn’t an easy job. You struggle to find work-life balance. Your house is a wreck. You haven’t had a full night of sleep since Clinton was president. But these inspiring, honest and heartfelt books will remind you that raising children is both a blessing and a challenge—and that you deserve to celebrate Mother’s Day each year.

In this wry, warts-and-all memoir, Good Housekeeping contributing writer Kyran Pittman offers up snapshots from her life, and she is nothing if not very, very human. We’re barely into the first chapter of Planting Dandelions when she reveals that she cheated on her first husband. Later in the book, she writes about very nearly cheating on her second husband, and she is equally candid on plenty of other topics, including nearly losing their house to foreclosure.

Yet this confessional tone is balanced with her clear affection for family life in all its messiness. Now a mommy of three, Pittman is just as passionate when writing about life in suburbia as when musing on postpartum sex.

“The slope of my nutritive backslide can be plotted by each of my kids’ first birthday cakes,” she writes. “When the oldest turned one, I made him a whole wheat carrot cake with pineapple-sweetened cream cheese on top. Two years later, it was a homemade chocolate layer cake, frosted with buttercream, for my middle child. Three years after that, I ran by the warehouse club and picked up a slab of corn syrup and hydrogenated vegetable oil, spray-painted blue, for the baby.”

Being a mom isn’t always (or even usually) glamorous, but Pittman recognizes the beauty of family life in this interesting, funny and fresh entry in the mommy memoir genre.

I’ll be honest: This book reminded me why I will never, ever have another baby. I was exhausted just reading the section called “A baby’s life: sleeping, eating, peeing and pooping,” with its accompanying chart on 24 hours in the life of a newborn. On the plus side, I was glad to learn my stomach wouldn’t be in any better shape had I used cocoa butter during pregnancy.

The Mommy Docs’ Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy and Birth is full of such useful tidbits, penned by three Los Angeles OB/GYNs whose TV show “Deliver Me” airs on Oprah’s new network. With common-sense information and advice on everything from breastfeeding to baby blues, these are the doctors every new mommy wants at her side.

The comparisons to the seminal What to Expect When You’re Expecting are inevitable, but the Mommy Docs write in a more conversational, matter-of-fact tone. With anecdotes sprinkled throughout the book, authors Yvonne Bohn, Allison Hill and Alane Park share their own experiences as mothers and doctors. They do occasionally lapse into medical jargon, but mostly this is a thorough and useful guide from conception to pregnancy and delivery.

This book touts itself as “dispatches from the ridiculous front lines of parenthood,” but it’s actually more like “dispatches from two incredibly selfless and loving humans.” Astonishing and deeply humbling, No Biking in the House Without a Helmet is two-time National Book Award finalist Melissa Fay Greene’s account of raising four biological children and five more adopted from Bulgaria and Ethiopia.

After their eldest biological child left for college, Greene and husband Don worried they’d be empty nesters before they knew it. Some might solve this by planning a home remodel or a retirement vacation. Instead, the couple brought home five more children over the next decade.

“Donny and I feel most alive, most thickly in the cumbersome richness of life, with children underfoot. The things we like to do, we would just as soon do with children,” Greene writes. “Is travel really worth undertaking if it involves fewer than two taxis to the airport, three airport luggage carts with children riding and waving on top of them, a rental van, and a hall’s length of motel rooms?”

But Greene is no Mother Theresa (thank goodness). In one of the most affecting chapters, she writes candidly about her struggles after bringing home their new son, Jesse. He doesn’t speak English and is developmentally delayed from years in a Bulgarian orphanage. Greene anguishes over her decision, at one point thinking, “If I leave right now, drive all night, and check into a motel in southern Indiana, no one could find me.”
Needless to say, Jesse eventually fits into the family as one of many puzzle pieces. In the end, No Biking in the House Without a Helmet is a lovely patchwork of moments from a house filled with love, life and acceptance.

“Four months ago I saw my husband lying in a coffin. Tomorrow I get to hold my baby boy in my arms for the first time.”

In Signs of Life, a clear-eyed account of the months following her husband’s accidental death at age 27, author Natalie Taylor recounts what it was like to be a five-months-pregnant widow, navigating a strange new world with humor and honesty.

A high school English teacher, Taylor turns to classic literature to help tell her tale. It’s a neat trick that works surprisingly well. She compares her sense of powerlessness to that of migrant farm worker George from Of Mice and Men, and her grief and frustration to the scene from The Catcher in the Rye when Holden Caulfield breaks his parents’ windows after the death of his brother. Pop culture also figures in Taylor’s imagination, as when she fantasizes about a version of the popular TV series “The Bachelor,” which she would call “The Widowette”: “I’d insist that the entire show be filmed here in Michigan, in the middle of February when the days are gray and bleak and snowy and no one has a tan,” she writes. “The first guy to wake up early and scrape the ice off of my car and shovel the driveway gets a rose.”

Taylor’s story really kicks into high gear after she gives birth to son Kai. Through sleepless nights and maternity leave, she struggles to find her new normal. This is a story remarkably free of self-pity, instead focusing on the power of relying on others and drawing on the strength you didn’t know you had.

Planting Dandelions

ISBN 9781594488009

No Biking in the House Without a Helmet
By Melissa Fay Greene

ISBN 9780374223069

Signs of Life

ISBN 9780307717498

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