Sunday, May 18, 2008


One of the lovely things about visiting my parents was that I had lots of time to just sit and read, while Zari played with her grandparents and cousins. My mom is a voracious reader, so I went downstairs to the bookshelves and browsed through the new titles. My first read was Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, which I disagreed with in many respects. However, I found some of her observations very fascinating, including the lack of social support for mothering (and parenting in general) in our country.

I also read Boys Adrift which, among other things, reinforced my longstanding opposition to allowing video games in our house. The author is an MD/PhD who studies gender and child development. He identified five factors that explain why we have an epidemic of underachieving and unmotivated young men in our culture: changes in educational approaches that push math and reading too early; video games; over-diagnosis and over-medicalization of ADHD; a lack of strong, positive role models for boys in our culture; and endocrine disruptions caused by certain chemicals.

Now that I'm back home and trying to get focused on my dissertation again, I started reading Bearing Meaning: The Language of Birth. It's heavy on feminist and sociological theory, but definitely worth the effort. I am almost 100 pages into the book so far. She includes her first-hand experiences giving birth and mothering, which I find quite delightful.

After that heavy academic prose, I am yearning for something a bit lighter. My first purchase would be If These Boobs Could Talk: A Little Humor to Pump Up the Breastfeeding Mom. It's a scream, and I've only seen a few pages of it so far.

Another book on my must-read list is Louise Erdrich's The Blue Jay's Dance: A Birth Year. Here's an excerpt to tease and delight (and hopefully entice you to buy this book, which starts for one penny on Amazon):

I'm an instinctive mother, not a book-read one, and my feeling is that a baby must be weaned slowly from its other body--mine. So I keep her close, sleep with her curled tight, tie her onto me with padded contraptions. My days here have become sensuous, suffused with the particular, which is not to say that they aren't difficult, or that I get much done. With each birth I have been thrown into a joy of the physical emotions, a religious and fixated delight that seizes me so thoroughly the life of the imagination sometimes seems a spare place. The grounded pleasures--nursing, touching the exquisite fontanel of our baby, a yellow-pink fragrance of sun-heated cotton & tepid cream, gazing eternally into her mystery eyes--are only tempered by sleep deprivation.


  1. I've read Perfect Madness - although there were things I didn't agree with, I did think she had a definite point about competitiveness, and also about over-scheduling children.

    I feel sorry for children who have so many activities that they never get to chill out and just be children.

  2. I love the excerpt from The Blue Jay's Dance, that is going on my "to read" list. Thanks!

  3. Yes, Rebekka, it's a fascinating--and scary--glimpse into a world that I really haven't been a part of. Well, except for my summer job every year in France, where we work with the kind of children she talks about in her book.

    I think the author herself cannot let go of the idea that everything is a competition, even as she critiques the idea. Her scornful dismissals of attachment parenting ideas, of breastfeeding, and of natural childbirth/home birth, all arise because she feels they are motivated by a desire for oneupmanship. My experience with families who embrace some or all of those values is that they tend to be very humble, mindful people who are quite far from the competitive, anxious world she describes. We've got to get over the idea that breastfeeding, or home birth, or cosleeping, or whatever, are inherent displays of better-than-thou judgmentalism.

  4. Gosh, I don't look at breastfeeding and cosleeping and home birth as me trying to "oneup" the mom next door. I look at them as the easiest alternative in a plethora of choices. Why go to the hospital when it is easier to stay home? Why bother with formula when breastmilk is so cheap, so handy, and so easy to use? Why pad down the hall at night in the dark to nurse a screaming baby when it is so much easier to just roll over and nurse while I go back to sleep?

    I have very definite ideas about the over-scheduling of children, too. I think if deprives them of their childhood. My children are very unlikely to feel like they missed out on all the fun if I keep them home instead of constantly running to ballet and soccer and baseball and music lessons and... and... and. I would KNOW they'd missed out on something if they couldn't ride their bikes in the warm summer sun, play in the dirt, make mud pies, creat forts in the bushes and let their imaginations run wild. Childhood is supposed to be carefree. How can it be if my kids never have time to sit back, get bored, and create wonderful new adventures out of their heads? That's what childhood really is about. There is a time and a place for the other stuff, but not too early and certainly not all at once.

    And now I will step back down off my soapbox, but first I will put that book on my to-be-read list. Thanks for the tip.

  5. Oh, couldn't agree more - none of the parents I've met who've coslept, practiced extended breastfeeding etc have been *at all* competitive about it - in fact most of them don't even mention it unless you bring it up first - I think it's thought of as so strange by the mainstream that they're mostly scared people will think they're "weird".

  6. Thanks for some book suggestions. It's summer and I've been looking for suggestions.

  7. the "weaning your baby from it's other body -- mine" is exactly how i've always felt!! i'm buying this book!

    i've always had that thought of "i understand his crying, he's been held for 9 months. he needs to wean off it, not go cold turkey!"

  8. I'd love to hear more of your birth book reviews! I am always looking to add more things to my reading list.

  9. Thanks for the reviews! I want to tell you about a great book. Parenting Well in the Media Age. It is really well written and easy to read. It reminds me why I limit any screen time for my boys, or if I had girls, them too!

    I added these books to my reading list!

  10. I've read Perfect Madness as well and enjoyed it overall (though I disagree with her assertion that attachment parenting is the "dominant parenting style" in our culture right now!).

    I also have read and enjoyed Blue Jay's Dance. I have several quotes from it in my blog post about it:

    One of the best, I think, being:

    "Women are strong, strong, terribly strong. We don't know how strong until we are pushing out our babies. We are too often treated like babies having babies when we should be in training, like acolytes, novices to high priestesshood, like serious applicants for the space program."



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