Part memoir, part journalism, part history, part downright strange and hilarious, American Parent
takes readers on a unique tour of the world of new mothers and fathers. As Sam Apple embarks on his own journey into parenthood, he decides to put his background in journalism to good use by talking to a wide range of experts. Along the way, Apple visits with the mohel who circumcised him, enters a trance with a childbirth hypnotist, goes on a stakeout with a nanny spy, and attends a lecture on Botox for new mothers. Apple is full of questions, and none is left unexplored: Is the Lamaze method a Stalinist plot? (Yes.) Are newborns really fetuses that are born too soon? (Sort of.) Is there a universal theory that can explain the origins of circumcision in many diverse cultures? (Maybe.) Does it sting when you pour baby shampoo into your own eyes? (Big-time!)
And yet for all the unusual twists in this story—at one point Apple fantasizes about a father losing his mind and refusing to remove his BabyBjörn—the strangest twist of all might be that at its core American Parent is a deeply serious and personal book about the way emotionally vulnerable and confused new parents can get lost in the increasingly complex labyrinth of baby products, classes, and fads.
Parenthood is the oldest subject of all. In American Parent, Sam Apple makes it feel entirely new.
"How Not to Travel with Your Baby": An Essay by Sam Apple
Our one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment was beginning to feel like a toy-filled prison. It had been almost a year since the birth of our son Isaac, and my wife Jennifer and I had only gone out in the evening four times. We needed to get away.
On the recommendation of a friend, Jennifer made reservations at the Don CeSar Beach Resort in St. Pete Beach, Florida.
I wasn't entirely delusional. I knew that the trip might be difficult.
Still, my hopes were high. And I felt justified in my optimism after Isaac made it all the way through the 45-minute cab ride to the airport without a single scream. I was so thrilled by Isaac's screamless performance that I lifted him over my head in triumph as soon as I stepped out of the cab. This is one of the great things about being a parent of a small child: every non-event is cause for celebration.
This particular celebration, however, was short-lived. A few moments later, I discovered that I couldn't release the wheels of the $250 car seat-stroller combo I had invested in for the occasion.
But then so what if I had to drag Isaac through the airport in a wheelless stroller? I wasn't going to let a broken contraption ruin our first family vacation. Nor was I going to have our fun interrupted just because I had accidentally pushed the button on the self check-in terminal that indicated I was carrying hazardous materials. Let the security officials search me all they pleased. Indeed, I was still prepared to enjoy our trip even after we arrived at the security checkpoint and realized that while I was lifting Isaac over my head in triumph, our cab driver had taken off with Jennifer's carry-on—complete with her brand new Apple laptop.
Over the next three days, I had plenty of opportunities to figure out that our string of mishaps was never going to end. I might have come to this realization when Jennifer, trying to cheer up a grumpy Isaac with a little roughhousing, accidentally lifted his head in a moving ceiling fan; or when we somehow managed to melt The Don's complimentary chocolates onto the sheets of both queen beds in our room; or when I grew paranoid that the cleaning woman would think that the chocolate on the sheets was not chocolate at all; or when Jennifer and I got into an argument over whether I should leave a note on the bed that said "chocolate" with an arrow pointing to the stain.
But it wasn't until I spilled a panzanella salad on my pants for the second time that I finally understood that mishaps are not the exception but the rule of traveling with a baby.
The first panzanella salad ended up on my pants almost as soon as we arrived at the hotel, as I stupidly attempted to carry three meals in one hand and Isaac in the other.
The second panzanella salad didn't end up on my pants until the last night of the trip. I was carrying the leftover panzanella in a doggie bag as we strolled along the seven-and-one-half miles of powdery shores. As I stopped to admire the perfect sunset, truffle vinaigrette leaked out of the bag and onto my pants.
Under normal circumstances the sight of truffle vinaigrette on my crotch would have been cause for alarm. But by that point, I understood that the key to a successful trip with a baby is accepting the mishaps as inevitable and adjusting your expectations.
I was in a beautiful place with the two people I loved most, and all the panzanella salads in the world on my crotch couldn't take that away from me. —Sam Apple
(Photo © Aaron Liebman)
Lest new parents forget the age-old reasoning behind choosing baby names, circumcision and infant sleep training, journalist Apple (Schlepping Through the Alps
) gathers some helpful, not terribly groundbreaking but pleasantly humorous information for clueless, fully participatory first-time fathers. After dispensing in the first chapters with the hard-sell commodities market offered by the baby industrial complex (with his own wife several months pregnant, Apple admits to a kind of personal identity crisis when trying on the BabyBjorn at a mega–baby store), the author regards the various rituals of child birthing and raising in these snappy essays with a fresh, healthy skepticism. He wonders (without pursuing very deeply) whether the naming of a child brings happiness or grief. He takes a look at some of the labor-easing efforts that have emerged over the decades, such as water birth, Lamaze and hypnosis, and their histories and debatable rates of success. (Readers might be amazed to learn that the so-called Lamaze method originated in Soviet Russia as a way to avoid the use of pain medication.) As part of his unorthodox hands-on research, he tracks down his own mohel
(a Jewish circumciser, nicknamed the Yankee Clipper) and accompanies the founder of a nanny-surveillance outfit on a stakeout. Throughout these instructive essays, Apple maintains a calm, bemused tone. (June)
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