Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Book Review: Jump At The Sun by Kim McLarin

For some time now, authors have made it very difficult for me to follow through on my intention to review the books that I read, by writing books that left not a lot to say about them. Or only negative things to say which makes me look catty. Whenever I read another predictable boring book, I think “I can’t believe that got published! I could write a book if this is the standard!”. Then I remember that I can’t even commit to getting a paragraph out on my blog more than once a week. If that.

Anyway, finally I read a book that was intriguing enough to mention. The book is called Jump At The Sun by Kim McLarin. I’m not getting paid to summarize the plot for you (for that, you can go read all the budding book critics over on Amazon.com who fall all over themselves trying to outdo one another in plot summaries) but to set the framework, the story is about this professional and accomplished married woman with two young children who is struggling to find contentment in her life, who apparently yearns to be free to focus on her work, or at least do as she wishes. In addition to this story line, there is a parallel story line of her ancestors who were slaves, and some of those relatives also seemed to have the anti-settle down gene.

I have a love hate relationship with dual story lines in that it’s kind of a free second story, but it’s also one more thing to keep track of. Given that I usually have to read these in stops and starts, sometimes I can’t remember who is who with just one story, never mind two. And so it is with this book, there are a lot of characters to keep track of and it can get a little muddled. Especially in the historical story line.

This book has a unique story line, which makes it worth reading. It’s clearly not the 500th remake of Bridget Jones Diary, which a lot of authors apparently aspire to (note to them: It’s been done. Please stop.). However, as a warning, this book can be a little harsh for doting parents out there, like me. The woman in the story says she loves her kids, but clearly the less glamorous, tiring, frustrating things about parenting weight more heavily in her mind. It’s a little shocking to read about a mother who is not endlessly devoted or charmed by their children. However, in its darkness, I did find some things I identified with. She is an expert in the frustrations of raising children and she is very proficient in articulating the moments when you think your head is going to explode if your child repeats himself one more time (you know what I mean if this sounds familiar: “I want yogurt. I want yogurt. I want yogurt. Mommy, I want yogurt. I want yogurt...”).

She writes about how as parents, you will be surprised at your behavior occasionally when it comes to children. I suppose she is right that you would never screech like a manic and come within inches of spanking the behind of someone who was NOT your child, but then again, speaking from experience, young children are not regular adult people. Regular adult people don’t laugh when you stub your toe, or pitch a fit when you are trying to drag in heavy groceries from the car, during a hailstorm, while 8 months pregnant, after a full day at work, because they want a purple popsicle RIGHT NOW. For me personally, there are days when I wish I had a camera on me in the house to show off my endless patience, my careful teaching and purposeful interaction, and other days I stick my screaming or misbehaving kid in his crib in the middle of the day and close the door for 5 minutes to avoid having a serious meltdown of my own. At those moments, I know why I have not been signed up to star in my own reality TV series about successful parenting.

For me, it was hard not to project from the woman in the story to the author herself, however unfair that might be. I knew from her writing she had children. “Research” I’m sure is a great tool, but there are some things you can only know by having been there, and I see it in this writing. There are also thoughts in there that I definitely have never had and you can’t help but worry about how someone would even know they existed enough to write them. This is a terrible explanation, but you will know what I mean if you read it. As I was reading, I couldn’t help but feel bad that this person (author or character?) had the dutiful love, but was also consumed with the resentment and frustration. I can’t imagine life without my child, however hard it may sometimes be. Despite the inherent sacrifices of having children, it is by far the best thing I have done. If I think back to the happy highlights of life, my wedding or falling or love or the feeling as a teenage girl heading off with all my friends for a big night out or anything where you get the sense of happiness and optimism about life at that moment, having a child has brought those moments to me sometimes 100 times a day in short bursts. The most random things will bring them out- the way their hair glints in sun, the way they wrinkle their nose when they are thinking hard, or the funny thing they say at dinnertime. Whatever it is, they bring these bursts of happiness that are like a drug. They get you through the hard work of children and they are completely addictive. The love is overwhelming and it changes you forever. Except, I guess, it’s maybe not like that for everyone.

All in all, I found it to be a well written book, with unique content and an interesting, if not dark, perspective. I’ll give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Monday, September 18, 2006

One Sign Your Child Is Spoiled

Ever wonder if you are the parent you think you are? I dont have to wonder so much anymore. Turns out I have some work to do.

Our nanny, Maria, lives with us, in the basement "au pair suite". Which is basically a decked out brand new top of the line pad complete with mutiple rooms, a full kitchen, granite counters and travertine floors. Meanwhile "my" kitchen is 1988's finest, including oak cabinets and laminate counters. But I digress, I can be jealous of the nanny later. Anyway, one of the nice things about my nanny being a live in is that she is a clean freak. So it's sort of a two-in-one, nanny and housekeeper. She is constantly straightening and washing and waxing and all sorts of clean-frenzy activities. I can carefully observe her full range of skills as I lounge on the couch reading the newspaper. Ah, I know, I sound like a "rhymes with witch" but she loves cleaning we couldnt stop her if we tried. Not that we did.

My son loves the nanny. But will drop her like yesterdays news at the first sign of mommy or daddy. He is close to her, but doesnt ask for her when we are around. It's a good sign. He still likes us best.

Occassionally our nanny leaves to go stay with friends over the weekend, as she did this weekend. On Sunday, my son was wrecking havoc in the family room and toys were strewn everywhere as if there had been a massive toy box explosion (or, as in this case, a two year old boy on the loose). As it got closer to bath time, I looked at the mayhem and sighed, it never gets quite this bad with the nanny around. Maybe Jack is neater on weekdays. Then I thought of my friend recently saying how their children put away all their toys every night before bed. So I said (in a stern parental I-aint-kidding manner), "Jack, I want you to clean up this mess and put all the toys away before your bath".

Jack paused and his eyes swept the length of the playroom. He too seemed concerned with the level of destruction and the fact that it was now between him and his bath. He looked at me, and straining for a casual innocence, said "Where's Maria?".

Friday, September 08, 2006

Out of the mouths of babes

Yesterday I was blowing up balloons that Jack found in a drawer. I would let them go without tying them and they would race around the room deflating. He found it very funny so I did it 100 times. The balloons were Halloween themed and some were orange with faces on them so they would look like pumpkins when inflated. One of my nicknames for Jack is "pumpkin" so as I blew up one of the balloons I said to Jack:

"Look Jack, it's a pumpkin balloon! What is Mommy's nickname for YOU sometimes?"

And he looked at me as he thought about it, wrinkling his nose in concentration, and said:

"Be Patient?"

Sunday, September 03, 2006

I Want My MTV

Could anyone pinpoint the last time MTV actually played music? I heard recently that MTV celebrated their 25th anniversary. You have to wonder how slow of a news day it must have been for this to make the cut.

However, this news did remind me that I was part of the original MTV generation. My parents didn’t have cable (an inconceivable luxury) and weren’t crazy about the questionable morale value of MTV, so after school I would race across the street to friends’ houses where we would enter a trance-like state watching MTV and waiting for Michael Jackson’s Thriller video to run again. It’s probably similar to today’s teen rebellion where youngsters sneaking around and pop Ecstasy and meet up with strangers they met on My Space.

Now I don’t remember a lot about what we were watching, but I do distinctly recall that it was musical. Flash forward 20 years and my two year old likes to listen to music on TV before going to bed. The preschool channels apparently assume that responsible parents put their young children to bed before 10pm, and therefore are running “Laguna Beach” reruns at that hour and not singing animated toasters. Well, he can watch some MTV I thought, I can’t shelter him forever.

So I finally located MTV like a needle in a satellite-TV-1000-channel-haystack, and it was showing “Cribs” or something where apparently the obscenely wealthy take you through their house and slowly grind away all your self respect until you are weeping at what a loser you are because you don’t have solid gold light switch plates or wall paper made from endangered lizards skin. This isn’t music, I thought.

So I flipped to MTV 2. A second MTV! My goodness, so many videos to run they had to make two channels!? Except this one wasn’t playing music either. Instead they had some sort of show where 16 year olds throw lavish parties costing hundreds of thousands of dollars while their insipid parents, who are apparently unaware of how shallow and manipulated they look, and who presumably signed off on allowing this footage to air, permit themselves to be berated by their snotty teens because they didn’t book the right famous-name band for their big day. But haha, don’t worry, they actually DID book the right famous-name band, they just wanted their sweet pea (now tear-stained and spewing venom) to be surprised! A sad commentary on the life of the entitled. But again, not music.

I flipped to VH1, VH2, BET, Country Music Channel. None played music. Son no longer trusts that mommy really knows where to find music as confidentially expressed 20 minutes ago.

I repeated this survey of the music channels several times over the last couple of weeks. And no kidding, never once was any of them playing music videos. I guess times really have changed.