Sunday, October 9, 2011

I Don't Know How She Does It

I didn’t see the movie, but I recently finished Allison Pearson’s book, I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT. It’s written in that British chick-lit-speak that became popular during the BRIDGET JONE’S DIARY years, except that I didn’t find it as appealing as BRIDGET JONES, just snappier and more repetitious. The story of a young mother battling the impossible tasks of her dual careers as an investment broker/wife and mother begins with her smashing the crusts of store-bought mince pies, then sprinkling them with sugar to look homemade at two o’clock in the morning in order to compete with the stay-at-home moms bringing treats to a children’s play. The scene works, but as the novel progresses we find our heroine claiming to love her high-powered job enough to settle for a manipulative, exorbitantly expensive nanny who loses receipts, a long-suffering husband and a boss who disregards the most basic of human needs. How could a woman who managed to claw her way into “a man’s world,” her words, meekly settle for the kind of life that makes the meat-packing factories of Upton Sinclair’s, THE JUNGLE, appear relaxing? I found the book exaggerated and hard to swallow. The author, although a working mom, admittedly, never worked in the field she describes.

I suppose what really bothers me is that my daughter, also the product of a working mother, raved about the book. In fact, it’s her copy that I borrowed. The possibility that my own child related to the attention-deprived children of Kate Reddy, appalled me. I was a teacher for pity’s sake, home after school, on weekends, holidays and summers. I made breakfast, lunch and dinner, volunteered frequently, helped with homework and chauffeured, to and from, practices and games. What more could I have done, I wondered, except not work at all, an option, I believed, wasn’t possible for me? And yet, was it? Could we have lived on less, moved to a less affluent area, shopped more carefully, eschewed the lessons and summer camps, the sports’ fees, vacations and dinners out? Would my children have benefited from a more relaxed mother who didn’t panic when the thermometer pulled out of a protesting mouth read 100 degrees at 8:30 in the morning? I’ll never know. Those days are long gone.

“Mothers have enough to do at home,” my daughter states emphatically.  “Read the book. How can anyone possibly manage a life like that and raise anything but neurotic children?” I stare at her, mutely wondering how she can ignore the obvious. Finally, I muster the courage to broach the question. “Was it really so terrible?” She hesitates, formulating an answer somewhere between her usual brutal honesty and the natural desire of a loving daughter to protect her mother’s feelings. “Summers were good,” she replies, “and holidays were great. You always made holidays great.”

Then my son called from Chicago. “Honestly, how would you rate your childhood experience?” I asked him. He laughed. “Are you serious? I had a great childhood, Mom. No one had it better than us.” My relief was embarrassing.

Two children. Six years apart. One female, one male. The same parents. Go figure.

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