Stephenie Meyer, have you been talking to J.J. Abrams?

(Breaking Dawn and Fringe SPOILER ALERT)

Dear Stephenie,

Did you catch the second episode of the new (almost-as-good-as Alias, probably-like-X-Files) show on Fox, Fringe? I know you’re sad, sad, sad right now about the internet-leaking of Midnight Sun, and probably you have better things to do than watch House and Fringe on Tuesday nights. Like write. Or play with your three sons or talk to your husband. But some of us don’t (or, we do, but, our husbands have Scouts on Tuesdays anyway, and the kids are asleep/snacking/screaming in their rooms, and writing isn’t getting us anywhere that it’s taking you).

So there I was, watching my new show Fringe, and I have to tell you that Bella’s pregnancy and delivery in Breaking Dawn was my favorite part of that book. I loved how Re-gag-me was a vampiric parasite, much like all babies, who leach the calcium from their mother’s bones and who, if you’re Rh-negative and have a husband who’s Rh-positive, all of your kids will be A-positive and you have to get two extra shots and even more blood drawn so your body won’t turn on them. Which, if you think about it and you think that vampirism is like a virus or blood disease, really makes sense.

Photo from You can watch full episodes at or

Anyway, the good people writing Fringe totally stole your idea of the baby who develops, in utero and out, much faster than normal. Of course, they followed the logical conclusion that aging and death would also come prematurely, whereas you came up with some ducks machine about development stopping at a very auspicious time, say, right when Re-gag-me would be a perfect age for the imprinting/newly-vampirphiliac Jacob.

I think Pacey would make a good Jacob, actually, which is another sign that you’ve been talking to J.J. Abrams lately. Or maybe you need a good copyright attorney.


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Eat, Drink, Vampire, Bella: a Review of The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer

The perfect romance novel of all time is The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. It was great when I was an innocent twelve, and it’s fantastic now that I’m the 31 year-old mother of three girls, who I would love to have read every single word of Montgomery’s. In fact, if they wanted to read her books and short stories all day long, I’d never make them go to school. I would never ask someone reading Anne of Green Gables to come set the table (see how glad you are that you decided to read the archives of Mom’s blog, 12 year-old Sally?).

If I ever wrote a book and someone (who knew where I got my first and third daughters’ names) said it reminded them of an L.M.Montgomery book, I would lock myself in the bathroom and cry happy tears for three days straight. And then come out and read the Emily of New Moon trilogy again.

So that’s my literary standard. I’ve also read just about every other kind of romance there is, from the classic to the near-pornographic. I’m a Mormon (didn’t say a good one), a woman, a BA-in-English reader, a mom, a wife, a sometime-aspiring writer, and I have to tell you what I think about Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, because either you’ve never heard of them and could care less, or you have heard and could care less or you’ve read them all and (love or hate them) have talked/blogged/read enough of other people’s reviews to care less about yet another review.

Still, I have to say that I am conflicted by the Twilight Saga — indeed, one could say, if one were inclined toward impassioned prose, that I want to both love them forever and to sink my teeth into them and drain all the blood from their weak, helpless bodies.

First I’ll admit that I’m jealous of Stephenie Meyer’s success. I’m jealous of her book tours and her new house, and that she never has to cook anymore, and I’m pretty sure she’s hired a cleaner and child-minder. But even more, I’m jealous of her inspiration and focus. That she dreamed a plot and then that she sat down and actually wrote the whole ding-dang thing. So that’s some of the conflict, but mostly it’s that the English major/fangirl/Mormon/Mom/latent feminist in me see the books very differently.


As a BA-in-English Reader

Holy get-an-editor, Batman. The first 75+ pages of Breaking Dawn should have been a 5-page epilogue to book three. If I’d picked up the last book in the series without having read the first three or being invested in the characters, I would have been able to put it down and never look back. I get that extreme popularity is an overwhelming validation of good-enoughness, but, these books are lazy. Lazy writing, lazy editing, lazy including-of-every-stray-thought lazy.

One plot point in particular — They’re terrified for Bella to see her own daughter, yet have no fear that the vampire witnesses will be tempted to drink Renesmee’s blood after they smell her half-humanness and listen to her heartbeat. These are vampires WHO KILL HUMANS on purpose. Wuh? Maybe if an editor had read the book this could’ve been discussed? Lazy.

As a Fangirl

I couldn’t put any of the books down. I love that all the ends tied up neatly, that Jacob imprinted on she-with-the-worst-name ever, that Bella got to finally become a vampire, that the vampires and werewolves (shapeshifters — whatever) are all friends. Things turning out well and happily-ever-afters divide enjoyable fiction from serious fiction, and thank goodness for that.

As a Mormon Mother

After Breaking Dawn, I agreed with Tara that how Stephenie Meyer handled the sex/intimacy in the book was fantastic. Meyer portrayed desire without any body parts heaving or throbbing. She also expressed the uncertainty (after months of anticipation) that surprised me on my own wedding night:

I was freaking out because I had no idea how to do this, and I was afraid to walk out of this room and face the unknown. . . .

How did people do this – swallow all their fears and trust someone else so implicitly with every imperfection and fear they had – with less than the absolute commitment Edward had given me? If it weren’t Edward out there, if I didn’t know in every cell of my body that he loved me as much as I loved him—unconditionally and irrevocably and, to be honest, irrationally, I’d never be able to get up off this floor. (p 83)

When Dick tried to get to second-base after our wedding ceremony and before our reception that night, I felt so weird. If you’ve spent 21 years believeing that all sexual intimacy should be reserved for marriage, suddenly being able to express all the desire that has been raging in your body is heady, frightening, exhilirating, nauseating.

And if you’re as lucky as I was, your 23-year-old husband is even more clueless about how the whole process will even work. Ten years later, the fact that, through faith and goodness on his part and, really, blind luck and strange circumstances on my part, the first time we ever experienced connubial bliss was with each other is really one of the biggest wonderful things in my entire life.

Does that sound naive and silly? I want that for my daughters — their own purity and their husbands’. I have good friends, friends I love like sisters who, through different beliefs, different experiences, or just different lives, had slightly different wedding nights. And most of them have wonderful marriages to incredible men. (And on the other side, my sweet sister who never even kissed a boy before her husband is going through a sad divorce. Obviously, virginity guarantees nothing, and experience doesn’t dictate disaster.) But this is still what I pray for for my daughters.

That doesn’t mean I think Edward is the archetypal husbandly-ideal, despite his refusal to sleep with Bella outside of marriage. I like that Mormons revere chastity. But it is incredible to me that fornication is so bad in Mormon terms that the fact that Edward has murdered people is a mere footnote next to the big headlines about his never having been impure. Sure, he now only hunts wild animals, we believe in repentance, yadda yadda, but last time I checked, you could repent for fornication, as well.

So for a woman who has read stuff she really ought not to have read, Breaking Dawn handles newly-married physical intimacy with exquisite appropriateness. But would I want my daughter reading it? This is important not only because I am liberal in the reading department, but because these books are intended for the tween-and-up crowd. If I’m praying daily (or should be) that my daughters will go to their wedding nights MUCH more unaware than I was, I’ll have to seriously consider that.

Other Mormon-ish ideas include the belief in a never-dying soul, the ideal of eternal love, the importance of forming families. My cousin even pointed out that the Cullen vampire coven/family could be similar to the Mormon pioneers in that they’re driven from place to place and misunderstood, but once you get to know them, they’re not so bad.

As a Latent (I hate wearing a bra, but I haven’t burned it yet) Feminist

Bella’s passivity irks. Oh, how it irks. Her existence having absolutely no meaning outside of Edward bites the big tuna. Because Edward is not even that exciting. He’s obsessed with expensive cars, he probably wears cashmere sweaters, and you can’t even warm your feet on his legs at night. What’s to like? And Jacob — what a whiny werewolf. Seriously have not ever read of such a melancholy, effeminate “hero” since Romeo. He’s almost worse than Bella in the “my life is ooooo-ver if I can’t have yoooooouuu” department. At least he’s warm.

But — the baby as parasite! The pregnancy and motherhood as point of entry to actual adulthood (and in Bella’s case person-hood). Oh, how it sings to me. If you’ve breastfed and never once thought of how that darling suckling has quite a bit in common with a vampire, you are less imaginative than I. I love how the baby almost kills her, and yet she is willing to die for it. Die for want of Edward = Let me vomit. Die for baby-love = I actually understand this.

And when Bella becomes a vampire, she almost seems to have her own will. She realizes she is not the center of the universe and that everything is not actually her fault. Of course, this is because all blame for everything since World War II now shifts to her child, but like every good mother she lies to Renesmee and shifts blame back to the bad vampires. Where it probably belonged in the first place.

We should all be so lucky

The best criticism I’ve read of the Twilight Saga was a comment on Mormon Mommy Wars after the third book came out. Someone said that she hated the books — all three of them. If I could be assured of that kind of negative reaction, along with sentiments like this comment I once got: “You obviously suck at reviewing a good book, can’t wait till yours is out so we can smear it,” I’d probably start writing tomorrow. Especially if there were any chance I could stop cooking and start book-touring when I was finished.

Twilight Review Links (if you just can’t get enough) (if you have or know of another review and would like to be on this list, comment or email me, and I’ll add you).

First, if you hated Ruh-nez-mee as much as I did (esp. with the cute Carlie as an alternative!), try Mormonizing your name. The phenomenon of making up your own name is not unique to Mormons, of course: look at celebrities and people who live in Harlem. But somehow I feel like we should know better, or just use some good, old Biblical names, like Keturah.

Gail Collins at the New York Times called Bella A Virgin Goth Girl, and worries that Edward is to the average male as a female porn star is to the average female.

In the same vein, Mormon Mentality discusses whether the objectification of Edward/men is seriously unhealthy. (hat tip to Conscious Intention for those two links, via Feminist Mormon Housewives which is discussing Twilight/Mormonism right now.

Normal Mormon Husbands has done quite a few Twilight posts. Here’s The Twilight Series for Dummies (And Totally Desperate Mormon Guys), and here’s Breaking Dawn: The Spoof. Sometimes I tell myself that I could be funny and interesting if only I had more time. And then I realize I’d also need talent.

Sue at Navel Gazing at its Finest is hilarious, and here’s Why I think Twilight Sucks and Other Important Thoughts. Yeah, talent would probably help in the funny and interesting department (Sue’s pretty busy, I imagine!).

Here’s Laura William’s Twilight Thus Far. I think she nails why Bella’s character is a bit unsatisfying.

Mormon Mommy War‘s the Wiz reviews Breaking Dawn.

Entertainment Weekly‘s 10 part interview with Stephenie Meyer, in which she says she wrote the books for herself and her adult sister (but still I think, as a Mormon, mother, writer, something, she can’t just shrug off the fact that her publishing company markets them to 12 year olds). (hat tip Mom of 3 Crazy Kids).

And can I just make one request: It would make my life so much more complete if Seriously So Blessed would do a review of Twilight. Seriously am on the edge of my seat to see what she (they? it?) would say!

Because I don’t think you understand (and I know I don’t) *Updated*

I got in trouble yesterday for a comment I left on my sister’s blog about her soon-to-be ex-husband. My sister is extremely circumspect, and, while she is open with our family and her friends, she isn’t one to badmouth or vilify or be vindictive. In other words, she acts in a saint-like manner where I would be slashing and burning, verbally, if not with sharp knives and blowtorches.

I just finished reading Joan Wickersham’s The Suicide Index: Putting My Father’s Death in Order. It is fantastically well-written, and, like the best writing, both original and yet completely inevitable. I felt that the “index” organizing scheme wasn’t entirely successful, but I appreciated the metaphor of not being able to organize thoughts on something as traumatic as suicide in any totally coherent manner.

Wickersham, with Mozart-perfect prose, discovers her father has shot himself and then circles back and back, like the ripples from a pebble, trying to understand the why. But I had a why of my own.

Why should I care? Somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000 people commit suicide in the United States every year. It seems self-indulgent and morbid for a brilliant writer to spend seventeen years obsessing over her father’s. And why should I, a reader who likes a good dollop of romantic escapism in her free time, spend 316 pages reading the (no matter how exquisitely-rendered) stark, painful accounts of a brutal childhood, a financially-failing adulthood, and, finally, the suicide of someone so removed from my own life?

Though I resisted caring, it was compelling, and so I recommend The Suicide Index without reservation. It’s a stunning piece of writing, and, to anyone who has ever known a suicide (noun, verb, adjective) or who has ever felt like a failure, it offers, if not soothing comfort, a wealth of understanding and not-aloneness.

Still: Why? My second reaction is Why not? Should not every life be examined in such great detail? On the one hand we can shrug and dismiss this particular suicide in light of all the others and all the other tragedies, petty and catastrophic, that occur everyday in every country. Or, we can hope and demand that each life, each choice means something, matters. Wickersham succeeds in making me care about her pathetic father and selfish mother, her supportive husband and her inconsolable self. I don’t ask more from a novel.

I did get one more thing, though. I finally figured out why it is so hard for my sister (and me) to come to terms with her coming divorce. Wickersham says of suicide: “When you kill yourself, you kill every memory everyone has of you. You’re saying ‘I’m gone and you can’t even be sure who it is that’s gone, because you never knew me.'” When you leave your spouse out of the blue, you kill every memory everyone has of you. You say ‘I want a divorce’ and we will never be sure who you were, because, obviously, we never really knew you. Even if we are not as surprised as we should be.

On the very last page, Wickersham remembers what she first thought on hearing that her father had shot himself, and it is exactly what I thought myself on the 16th of March, a Sunday morning four and a half months ago:

“Oh no,” and “Of course.”

Divorce, it seems, is not so different from suicide. It is the killing of one’s marriage instead of one’s self. And if that marriage was an intrinsic component of one’s self, one’s perception of one’s self, it is almost worse than death.

And so, even though I thought the “index” organizational scheme wasn’t perfect, it’s a helpful way to catalogue my sister’s husband’s leaving:

The Divorce Index

announcement of
necessary “strong language”

We are rushing to get ready for church. My mother calls. She knows when our church is, and I imagine she suspects how frantic we are at fifteen minutes to nine. She tells me she and my father are at my sister’s house, and that my sister’s husband has left her. I say, “That f—— b——.”

announcement of
to my sister

I would prefer a big fight at the end. My sister does not get that. One day he loves her and the next he is gone.

death and

I cannot imagine Dick leaving me, but if he did, I know it would hurt less if he died, “loving me.”

dreams and

The only thing my sister ever wanted is to be a wife and mother.

factors contributing to

?. If I understood, I would probably be able to make small talk with him again.

feelings of disgust and

The day before he leaves, Saturday, my sister and I dress our younger sister up and take pictures of her with our six children. He is working, and then he comes home for dinner. My parents are there. We eat lemon chicken lasagna my sister has made. I sit next to him, on his right. I drink one of the special Barrel Brothers vanilla rootbeers he stocks especially for his guests, for me. We talk running strategy. He runs marathons; I’ve just finished my first 15k. He is charming, friendly. I worry sometimes that my sister is unhappy, but I think he will never leave her. He loves his cars and his iPhone, but he is not a bad person.

impact on my children and

My 3-year old daughter asks if she will be getting a new daddy soon. My girls wonder why their aunt is crying all the time. My 7-year old asks, when Dick and I argue, if we are going to get a divorce now, too.

state of my sister’s heart and


state of their family and


timing of recovery and

Like any mourner, my sister has good days, accepting days, and she has days when she thinks she will never laugh, never relax, never be happy, never understand. She will probably write 316 pages in her journal before she is done.

And I think, “Oh no,” and “Of course.”



I have changed this post as much as I can to respect my sister’s privacy. One thing about this whole situation is that I have hurt worse over this than I did over my miscarriage. The miscarriage made sense. The baby was a mistake, God didn’t intend for me to have that baby. Divorce, in this case, still doesn’t make sense to me, and it hurts, because I liked and trusted him, too.

All you ever needed to know about manners, and how to teach them to your kids

Berenstain Bears Forget Their MannersEverything I know about manners I learned from The Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners. Brother and Sister Bear are just about as impolite as it gets. And then there’s Papa Bear, who’s basically Homer Simpson in a bear suit. In fact, if I were Promise Keepers: Men of Integrity, I’d be suing Stan and Jan Berenstain for their belittling representation of the American father figure.

Mama Bear, on the other hand, is shown as the fount of all wisdom and motherly goodness, which I have no problem with, in theory. But her Politeness Plan goes against everything learned from behavior modification studies, being a system of punishments for bad manners with no reward for good manners. (Good manners are their own reward.)

So it’s no surprise that a sound Theory of Teaching Manners is based not on the parental units, but on the actions of Brother and Sister Bear, who scheme to subvert the Politeness Plan by being overly polite, hoping this will irritate Mama into scrapping it altogether. Instead, as Brother and Sister enjoy the happier, sunnier, all-around celestial harmony that is greater politeness, they gradually forget to be overly polite, and, of course, the over-politeness never bothered Mama in the first place.

Game Plan: Overly Polite

It’s really quite easy to teach manners. Simply model good language. For example:

“Please, Sally dearest, say May I have a glass of milk, Mommy dearest? or you won’t get anything to drink all day.”


“Please, Susan dearest, put your freakin’ boots in the closet right this second or I’m throwing them away.”


“Please, Spot dearest, sit your tookey down before I come whack it so hard.”


Take it to the Next Level: Thank You

After you’ve taught your kids to say “please, xxxx dearest,” you’re ready to move on to possibly the most important phrase in any language: Thank you. Learning and using “thank you” in a foreign country is the best thing you can do to promote cross-cultural understanding and world peace. That and “I’m sorry”/”Excuse me”/”I’m just a clumsy tourist; please don’t judge all Americans by my cluelessness.” In Japan, for example, we used “sumimasen” liberally, to great effect.

Imitation: the Easiest Form of Parental Abuse

The Overly Polite Politeness Plan is highly effective. Sally, Susan, and Spot now often say “Please, Mommy dearest.” However, we’re still working on the “Thank you, Mommy dearest.” Here’s how it comes out as of today:

Sally (7): “Thank you, Mommy dearest” (snark, smirk, eye roll).

Susan (3): “Gank you, Mommy dearest” (sweet smile, syrupy singsong).

Spot (1): “dat do” (get the video camera: SPOT CAN TALK!).


Teaching manners by the book is what works for me this week. Head over to Shannon’s for the most amazing list of every tip you ever needed, and many you never could have imagined.

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In which I meet an icon: Dooce is about what you’d expect, as is her book

Dooce: love her or hate her (or both), you cannot deny that she does indeed live in Utah. On Thursday night, June 5th in the year of our Lord 2008, she had a book signing at a cute university bookstore in a seriously cute part of Salt Lake City. Dick and I went. We were late, just catching her in time to hear Jon ask solicitously, “Are you okay, Heather?” and to hear Heather, depressively writing her 180th inscription, “Yeah, today has been a really long day.”

Perhaps I should have brought her a caffeine-free Mountain Dew, as that is as close as I can come to a beer. Maybe next time.

Heather & Jon Armstrong w/ Dick & Jane

Notice how Dick horned in to be next to (and touching!) Dooce. Notice also how the short, chubby one was pushed to the front and therefore looks more short and chubby than strictly necessary.

I wanted to see Dooce, despite good advice to stop stalking her already. I didn’t want to have to buy her book, though. That’s what libraries are for. But we needed a Father’s Day gift for Dick’s dad anyway.

On Thursday evening I didn’t consider the book for my own dad because I worried that he wouldn’t appreciate the swearing. But the very next day I called someone a f—— a—— in my father’s presence. My brother was horrified, wanting it documented that that was the first defilement of the homestead by the f-bomb.

But Dad actually defended me, saying I was PROBABLY RIGHT. I’m sure he thought better of that later. No matter how much someone deserves to be called a f- a-, it’s just not good precedent to encourage Jane in thinking she’s right. She already knows she is, especially when it comes to derogatory nomenclature.

Things I Learned in Therapy book by Heather B. ArmstrongSpeaking of dads, fatherhood — having a dad, being a dad, being married to a dad — is an unexpected, and possibly inspired, topic for a Mommy Blogger’s first book. Heather’s essays (2 of the 17) are good. A bit disappointing if you are a faithful reader of, as there is very little (no?) new material. A bit impressive too, as her skill in framing a narrative, creating immediacy and urgency then deftly mixing in backstory and exposition, is just breathtaking. BREATHTAKING.

Jon’s essay about his father is troubling. I enjoy Jon’s blog, though I confess I read it rarely, and always as an accompaniment to Dooce. His essay here is a bit strained, a bit contrived, a bit forced. A bit rambling. A bit incoherent. I feel uncomfortable for him.

Being married to Heather B. Armstrong seems like as thankless a task as your basic wind-beneath-my-wings, X-could-never-do-it-without-Y role. It’s nice that the supporting role is played so well by a nice guy in this case (rather than the stereotypical nurturer-woman), but I don’t envy the pressure he must feel to produce writing as clever as hers.

things i learned about my dad (in therapy) and several initial reactions were covered well by Lauriewrites, and if you’re the type who compulsively reads the reviews on before cooking, check out the thoughtful Amazon reviews, which leaves me free to reflect on the great mystery that is successful writing.

I’ve been reading Laid-off Dad since just before he announced his divorce. In an era of seemingly-easily-disposed-of marriages, his anguish at succumbing to divorce, as a last resort, is immensely appealing and heart-wrenching. So I want to love his essay, I want to love every word that comes out of his mouth/pen/computer. And yet, his essay? A letter to his sons about the last summer before their family breaks irrevocably? It’s all over the place, with a genealogical section both baffling and distracting. 

It makes me wonder if writers reach a certain point of immunity from narrative flow. And if they do, probably it shouldn’t be before their first solo book is a bestseller.

I do love that LOD is emotionally candid about his divorce. His description of not-fighting in front of the kids as “two people ensnared in a fit of furious quiet,” “screaming in stage whispers,” is fantastic, and his ability to hope, while still in the acrimonious middle, that at some point mom and dad will be more amicable is a triumph of heart over instinct.

Then I read probably the most profane essay in the book, Peas and Domestic Tranquility, and I wanted to sit down Dick and my dad and his dad and Dick’s dad and my brother who will be a dad someday and every other dad and mother I ever knew and read aloud to them every profanity-laced sentence. I want to quote the entire thing here, but that might violate some copyright or other. Greg Knauss posted an excerpt on his own blog, though, so you can read a bit before running out later tonight to get the book for yourself.

His dissection of family dinnertime is so freakin’ spot-on that I will worship at the fount of his RSS feed for the rest of time. His essay is also organized, with what might even be called a thesis or road map: “Here’s what I’ve found that sets me off: disobedience, lying, and rudeness.” How deliciously un-p.c. and old-fashioned. Let’s here it for some basic, unquestioning-for-once-in-your-life obedience! On lying, he says:

If anything crystallizes the Pyrrhic victories of fatherhood, it’s the fact that my fondest wish is for hooligans instead of sociopaths.  . . . the lying bothers me . . . because I see my own weaknesses and failures in it. Lying is about not having the confidence to defend what you’ve done. Lying is about weaseling out of the consequences of your actions. I was a liar because it seemed easier.

I get angry at my kids for lying because now I know it’s not.

It’s a neat trick to inspire me to try to do better as a parent. I can read Love and Logic for Girl Children Aged 1-7, or Dr. Sear’s Discipline Book, but honestly, that kind of measured, well-meant drivel can make me want to match my three-year old tantrum for tantrum. Why do I have to be the adult? Why do I have to take the knees to the head and the screeches to the ear and the food spit out on the floor with a cheerful smile and maybe a lame time-out?

Somehow, Greg Knauss’s essay (and now the posts I have stayed-up-too-late to catch up on) are outrageously entertaining AND instructive. He understands, and informs me: 1) Why I do what I do, 2) Why my kids do what they do, and 3) That I am not alone in wanting my kids to just SIT. DOWN. FOR. DINNER. And (in the case of my girls) SIT UP STRAIGHT SO I CAN’T SEE YOUR PANTIES. DANG IT. 

What’s more, and most incredible, he makes me feel actual desire to be a better parent. I know what I should do. Making me feel inclined to do it is another thing entirely.

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MMSM: The Rainbow Fish Conspiracy

I could probably maintain an entire blog just about the (childrens) books that make an old-fashioned book-burning look totally defensible. But honestly, the gag-reflex I get from Angelina Ballerina is greatly eclipsed by the desire to glut myself on endless re-readings of Dumpy LaRue, Julius, the Baby of the World, The Ordinary Princess, and everything by L.M. Montgomery.

But where’s the fun in slavering adoration? Besides, the House quote I chose for today is: 

Dr. Wilson: Beauty often seduces us on the road to truth.
Dr. Gregory House: And triteness kicks us in the nads.

I don’t really know what this means: “Beauty often seduces us on the road to truth.” The wisdom of House’s comeback is apparent Every. Single. Sunday. At. Church.

Beauty often seduces us on the road to truth

Does it mean that on your way to falling for your chemistry lab partner:

 chemistry lab partner

You get distracted by the captain of the lacrosse team:

brad pitt

Or does it mean that if something looks good and sounds good, it’s easy to overlook the real message? Like, say, that great children’s morality tale The Rainbow Fish? Ostensibly about sharing (good) and vanity (bad), I am not the first to point out that it’s really a clumsy parable about the virtues of socialistic society in which anything good (beauty) must be shared  (enforced by emotional manipulation) for any kind of happiness to be achieved. But I think it’s even worse than that. I KNOW. Can it be?

Let’s consider how an earnest parent could use The Rainbow Fish as pre-standardized test preparation (Hey, it’s cheaper than Kaplan Review):

How to Read to Your Children so They Ace the ACT

1) Ask comprehension questions: Why is Rainbow Fish sad?

2) Introduce If-Then logic construction: If Rainbow Fish gives a scale to the other fish, then            ?

3) Vocabularic Analogy: Scale is to Ocean as Fur is to         .     

4) Math: If R.F. swims at 5 mph and Daddy still cannot find our house in the dark, how long would it take R.F. to get home?

5) Moral Dilemma: When the other fish refuse to play with Rainbow Fish if he won’t surrender his very epidermis to them, is that just a reminder of the IRS’s role in our lives or a commentary on the greedy, petty nature of mankind?

6) MD #2: When Rainbow Fish agreed to appear on TV in a mediocre animated series with dubious plotting and suspect moral pronouncements, was he selling out?

The problem with The Rainbow Fish is that every parent wants to see their child as Rainbow Fish, the  beautiful, unique, WELL above-average fish who learns that it’s better to look like everyone else if that means everyone else will play with you. Wait, that’s not it. I mean, R.F. learns that sharing makes him happy. Right.

What about all the ugly non-rainbow fish? What if my kid is an ugly fish, a fish without whatever it is the special fish has, pushing, covetous of someone else’s Wii? Do I really want her to learn from this book that she should withhold her friendship and empathy until that Wii is cut in enough pieces to share with the entire neighborhood? I don’t think so.


For an only-to-true look at the other House quote for this week, check out this funny post from Sit. Stay. Good Blog. I especially like the part where her boss asks her to find a heartfelt, personalized Mother’s Day sentiment for him to deliver.

Dr. Cameron: Men should grow up.
Dr. Gregory House: Yeah. And dogs should stop licking themselves. It’s not gonna happen.

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The Book of Mom, redux

It is very difficult for me to write this, but my conscience will not be silenced: I must admit that I have judged something unfairly. I have prematurely condemned it for being unoriginal and unenlightening. You know what doesn’t really bite? What actually has moments of soul-searching, and, as Sally (7) says, many scenes that are “laugh out loud”? Turns out, Hannah Montana is not a bad show — the interaction between father and daughter is well worth the time of any parent and tween. But that is a post for another day.

Today I must confess to another sin of pre-judgement. I was wrong when I said The Book of Mom Bites. The End. Now that I have read all 261 pages, I can in confidence tell you that what I should have said was:

The Book of Mom Bites the Big Tuna. The End.

First, though, I’ll list the things I like about this book. Because I can only imagine how awesomely scary it must be to send forth one’s book to an uncaring world, like casting pearls before swine, or sending your firstborn to kindergarten. Will her teacher recognize that she is WELL above-average the first day?

What I like about The Book of Mom

I like that life/friendship/marriage/motherhood/people are portrayed as having so many ups and downs that it’s nearly impossible to determine whether they’re “good” or “bad.” But it’s hard to appreciate this when the characters and their relationships change too conveniently based on what kind of foil the narrator needs at any particular moment. (NM = Narrator Mom, BF = Best Friend):

NM Depressed = BF Perfect Example of All Good Things.
NM Enlightened = BF In Need of Reciprocal Wisdom.
NM Open to Husband = Husband Complete Jerk.
NM Resenting Husband = Husband Unexpectedly Sends Her to a Spa.

I like that tough topics are addressed: alcoholism, near-adultery, cancer, incest, borderline child abuse, unhappy marriages, and unfulfilled motherhood. But it’s hard to embrace this aspect because too often the revelation of a character’s issues (e.g.: BF witnessed father’s rape of sister, p 241) are transparent deux ex machina (ducks machines) tacked on ex post facto (after they would do any good plot-wise) that presumably explain otherwise incomprehensible behavior.

I like that these issues aren’t resolved satisfactorily. That resembles real life, right? But this is fiction, and some sort of resolution would be nice. If you don’t mind manufactured conflicts, surely manufactured solutions wouldn’t sully your writing aesthetic too much.

I like that friendship is so important to NM. I also sometimes wonder what on earth I’d do without my best friend. But NM’s friendships are a bit codependent, and I can’t help thinking that if she could be only one-tenth as understanding of and interested in her husband as she is her BF, she would have the best marriage on the planet. At one point (p 113), BF says “Honey, where have you been? We are married,” and I think that’s just wrong.

I could go on, about the fact that this book is fiction when it isn’t and full of New Age-y profundities that aren’t (p 237) and man-bashing (p 224-5) and dialogue so contrived and stilted (p 154) that at one point (p 226) BF asks NM: “Are you reading a script?” And all I can think, is, FINALLY, someone says something you might hear in real life.

Or I could point out how icky it is that in this work of “fiction,” NM finds the meaning of life in a workbook called A Course in Miracles, which happens to be the actual basis for seminars the author teaches in real life. Coming soon to a town near you: Taylor G. Wilshire (author) Teaches A Course in Miracles, Which Tate (“fictional” NM) Says Saved Her Life.

But I’ll just skip to the ickier and ickiest parts that make me want to pull out every strand of hair on my head. While jumping up and down on the ashes of this book.

Ickier Part of The Book of Mom

I think we can agree that the whole point of this book is figuring out how to embrace and enjoy (or at least survive) Mom-hood.

Right when NM reaches the bottom of her incredibly whiny downward spiral, she realizes that she and BF should create something together, “like a book that empowers children.” (I could point out here that TGW (author) is also coming out with a series of children’s books, but I’ll restrain myself). BF says the book should have a “parenting edge, like ‘Get off your cell phones, Blackberry, and email and be present for your children. . . . kids can’t wait, and we don’t get that time back with them. It’s lost.'” And NM says, “So your message is that parents should be connected and one with their children, living fully in the moment” (p 92).

The children’s book is written by NM and illustrated by BF. It is a success, and NM has to fly out-of-town for a signing on the same day that her oldest son has a special performance at school. He doesn’t understand why mommy won’t be there for him. NM explains:

I will be there; not in body but in spirit. . . my spirit is who I really am — it will be wrapped around tightly hugging you, embracing you. My words will be in your head telling you how much I love you. . . . If you get sad or scared, remember my heartbeat is tugging your heart. . . . I will be there every minute that you are there; I will not miss one beat, because my love will be all around you. . . . I’ll be the invisible power that walks in front of you and behind you. (p 175-6)


Ickiest Part of The Book of Mom

Maybe we can agree that the other whole point of this book is that motherhood is a challenging, important thing, that, if approached with wisdom and love and balance, will be fulfilling. Also, armed with this new self-knowledge, a woman will feel that what she does as a wife and mother is of incomparable, intrinsic value.

NM’s strained marriage plays a big role in The Book of Mom, and, since the roles of mom and wife are often inseparably entwined, this should be a strength of the book. The biggest breakthrough in NM’s marriage comes when she is finally able to get her husband to see her as an equal partner after her new writing career takes off and she is a “working woman now. A working woman who got paid, that is — with money and respect.”


Of course there is nothing wrong with being a work-at-home mom or a working mom or a mom from Mars, but, please, do not tell me that those are the only options for a woman who expects equal partnership with her husband, or, heaven forbid, happiness. Do not advertise your book as a paean to finding sanity in being a stay-at-home mom and then slyly conclude that the only way you see it working is just that — for the mother to start really working. Have the guts and the wisdom and the insight, damn it, to share how you found being a MOTHER to be a viable role for women.

Or write a different book called The Book of Mom Who Earns Money. Just please don’t ask me to recommend it.

I Am Mommy: Hear Me Blog

I reached new heights of productive procrastination last week. I shampooed the carpet and played board games with the kids. I even held a giveaway for the book I was avoiding reviewing to try to generate interest on my part. But now I can’t write my Mother’s Day ode until I get this out of the way. Mom’s imprinting with the Saturday morning chores strikes again. Speaking of The Book of Mom giveaway, Darla won it, and I’ll do you a favor and chuck it for you, unless you’d like to read it and, with such low expectations, be pleasantly surprised.

Review Disclosures

I am a mom and consider myself an expert on mom-ing.
I read books and consider myself an expert on reading books.
The very nice publicist asked me if I ever recommended books on my website and I promised to say exactly what I thought of it. She still sent me the book. Confidence like that is priceless in a publicist.

The Book of Mom bites. The End. (Or did you want to know why?)

First, it’s “fiction,” which means that the author wanted to write in first person but wanted to brag about being a former Fortune 500 executive, a former Type-A over-activitating Mom, a current burnt-out Who Am I? whiner-mom, and finally a born-again embrace-the-now REAL BOY MOM. Perhaps this hasty exaggeration is an attempt to portray EveryMom, but it actually reduces the protagonist to caricature.

Second, the revelations in The Book of Mom, including “motherhood is hard,” “being mom takes over your identity,” and, most revelatory of all, “even mom needs time to herself” would be revolutionary, soul-nourishing, and emancipatory, maybe, in a pre-Mommy Blogosphere or pre-Erma Bombeck or heck, pre-Virgin Mary (talk about a hard labor and your identity being entirely subsumed in your child) world.

Even Dooce, for whom I have expressed my love numerous times, kind of belabors the point in a recent Declaration of Mommy Blogger Independence post recently:

. . . I have every reason to believe that one day you will look at the thousands of pages I have written about my love for you, the thousands of pages other women have written about their own children, and you’re going to be so proud that we were brave enough to do this. We are an army of educated mothers who have finally stood up and said pay attention, this is important work, this is hard, frustrating work and we’re not going to sit around on our hands waiting for permission to do so. We have declared that our voices matter.

I cried while reading this post, as I often have violent emotional reactions, including anger, to Dooce’s writing. But, really, am I the only woman IN THE WORLD who never expected motherhood to be one long trip to Disneyworld without the sweating sunscreen and sore feet? My own mother, whom I would have chosen if I could have chosen any mother in the world, never told me that motherhood was a funfest. She said, or let me see (I’m the oldest of five), that it’s hard and unrewarded and exhausting and the most important thing I would ever do in my life.

Mommy Bloggers have been criticized recently for endangering and/or exploiting their children, disregarding privacy boundaries, and, worst of all, being even more narcissistic than ‘regular’ bloggers. I think these first two concerns are valid and have to be negotiated every time a mother leaves the house or picks up the phone to her best friend.

Narcissism is a criticism of a different order. Incidentally, if you exploit your children for gain on a blog or in a book, does that rule out narcissism, or are the kids only an extension of yourself and therefore a manifestation of your narcissism? Also, if you don’t make money from your blog, can you be “exploiting”? Mediocrity = virtuous mothering. Success = bad mom.

Another disclosure

I didn’t read past the first two chapters of The Book of Mom. It seems really unfair that I would negatively review something I didn’t finish, but I didn’t have to drink a whole Dr. Pepper to know it tastes like medicine or watch an entire episode of Baby Van Gogh to know it would rot the brains of fragile-minded toddlers.

Oh, I could skim the rest of it and at least pretend I’d given it a fighting chance. But that’s not how I choose the books or blogs I read. When I’m reading personal essays (most blogs and this book, however it is marketed), I like to read (and write for that matter) about everyday life in a way that makes me enjoy everyday life more. When I’m reading for escape (what I look for in “fiction”) I like to read books with words like swashbuckling, bitter-enemies-become-passionate-lovers, gothic-atmosphere, and female-detective-tracks-serial-killer on the back cover.

If you’re going to write fiction without any pirates or star-crossed lovers, but instead hold up a whinging, self-important mirror to the Modern American Mommy, at least try for some original complaints. I don’t know any mother who doesn’t wish she could go to the toilet by herself for once.

Which is not to say that Mommy writing or Mommy blogging is without value. Even though I need only pick up the phone or go to the playground to get commiseration on the joys and trials of motherhood, reading blogs that celebrate motherhood and books like Judith Warner’s that, while flawed, eloquently express the anxiety and frustration that accompany mothering is reassuring and liberating.

I read Rocks in My Dryer for a taste of Oklahoma-goody-two-shoes mothering and Confessions of a Pioneer Woman for a bit of cowboy escapism with my slice of life as a country mother and Scribbit for a dose of Northern Exposure Living mixed with Alaskan Family Fun magazine. That a 200ish-page book could be published and printed without a similarly-original hook to interest the busy-mom reader is frankly mind-boggling.

That’s all I can say about The Book of Mom, because, after all, I couldn’t finish it, and after more all, I’m self-interested enough to want to address the narcissism issue. When Socrates (via Thoreau for me) said that the unexamined life is not worth living, was that narcissistic? Does the talent of the writer influence whether her examination of life is narcissistic or not? (see Mediocrity, above). Could I ever make everyone happy by doing or writing what I think would please them? Would I stop writing about my kids and husband if they asked me to? (Dooce says absolutely).

In trying to construct my own philosophy of What One Should Write on One’s Blog, I was inspired by Jessica Hagy’s popular Indexed blog (via Freakonomics for me). In my legible-for-once handwriting:

I can only hope that when my daughters are old enough to be mothers themselves, they will read what I have written about them, and what thousands of other mothers have written about their own children, and know that I never lied to them: I didn’t enjoy the potty-training or the whiny, high-pitched voices or the syrup on the carpet or the embarrassing runs to the ER for croup or the daily ruining of nice clothes or the stinky poop in diapers or, worse, on the carpet, but I did enjoy them. I enjoyed making them laugh by playing the Look Away game and the chubby fingers tugging on my face to get my attention.

They are the reason I am not even more self-absorbed and impatient and intolerant. They are why I get up in the morning and why I feel guilty when I stay up too late. They are why I am who I am today.

And, narcissistic as that may be, I like who I am today. I like that three beautiful, innocent, forgiving, loving, growing, changing human beings call me Mommy.

I am mommy: hear me blog.

Mommy blogging’s what works for me this week. For a more complete review of The Book of Mom, especially if you find it unfair that I’d review it without reading the whole thing, see The Book of Mom, Redux.

“Because cats love cardboard boxes (however small they are)”

ginger-book-charlotte-voake.jpgDick got mad on Saturday because “now Sally yells at me too.” I don’t know about you (well, I do know you and you, but not you, yet), but it’s great that whenever Dick loses all patience (not a common occurrence, thankfully), I somehow, digging deep, find just enough to talk him and the kid down, and soon peace reigns again.

Until I completely lose it (quite common), and Dick takes over. Though it is annoying when he gets mad at me for swearing in front of the kids. Doesn’t he know that I know it’s bad? Duh.

Sally also yells at her sister sometimes. Usually not Spot; even Sally realizes that Spot is guileless and innocent. But Susan, well, she’s an imp. She messes up the OCD piles of books and babies and barbies that Sally has constructed. She leaves her clothes all over the floor, and then she starts with the licking and kicking and pulling hair, usually at bedtime. And Sally, my sweet firstborn who is twice as old and twice as tall, runs to mom to complain. Hit her back, I say. But for once I’m glad to not be obeyed.

My sister and I shared the double pineapple bed, named for the pineapple bedknobs (as in Bedknobs and Broomsticks) when we were young. I remember good times like when we gathered all the extra quilts in the house and piled them on the bed. Don’t remember if that was inspired by The Princess and the Pea or not, but I do remember the covers were so heavy. We felt like royalty.

But mostly I remember lying there and kicking her, and kicking and kicking and kicking. She didn’t remember this a couple weeks ago. She does remember the time I made her keep quiet all night about her arm being hurt after we were jumping off the bunkbed. It was broken, of course.

Sally and Susan share a room, but not a bed. Sally has taken to arranging the furniture lately. She makes signs: My Library, Guest Bed (in the closet), and Tramplen (her bed — notice she didn’t ask us how to spell that one). And Susan torments her something fierce at bedtime while we sit in the living room and pretend horrific screamings aren’t happpening in the back.

When we finally toddle off to bed after gluttonous viewing of old Seinfeld re-runs, we find them, like Ginger and the new kitten, together. Because a cardboard box, or a toddler bed that’s really too small for either of them, is just not as good without your favorite sister.

sally susan toddler bed

Thanks to Angela in NYC for sending this book to Sally before Susan’s arrival. It’s a bit subtle (I mean for a preschooler), but now it’s Susan’s favorite book, even though it obviously hasn’t stopped her from finding somewhere to sharpen her claws.