Erika Schickel, the author of "You're Not the Boss of Me," is the girlfriend we had in high school and college who was soda-through-the-nose hilarious. We never imagined her as a mother, but in this collection of essays, Schickel shows us how that zany girlfriend became a mom. Quirkiness aside, she's the mom we should all aspire to be: real. Schickel takes us beyond the facade, letting us see inside the woman who saw everything as a joke.
"Boss of Me" is neither another instruction manual advising us on coping with breakfast cereal confrontations, lost children in the park and toilet training, nor is it a book of cutesy stories about kids doing the darndest things. Schickel's collection is anything but strained fruit and should be required reading for all uptight moms attempting to raise their preschool summa cum laudes with flawless parenting.
"Boss of Me" begins with Schickel's own physical growth during pregnancy, and her descriptions are never pablum. "Week 20 -- Your baby is now the size of a small clutch purse," she tells us. "Week 25 -- Your baby is now the size of a crock pot.... Week 36 -- Your baby is now the size of a Barcalounger."
Schickel takes us into a Jiffy Pop version of playgrounds, wiping butts, the multicultural school day and...lap dances at strip joints. She challenges us to have fun like she always has. Yep, Schickel shows us what relaxes her and what keeps her mojo going as a mommy.
Although lap dances might not be expected on a mom's night out with her girlfriends, Schickel has learned that "a woman is so much more than the sum of her ever-changing body parts."
She's not a "Trad-mom" or an "Alterna-Mom" either. "Trad-Moms read labels for caloric content, Alterna-Moms read labels for potential toxins." she explains. "Trad-Moms put their toddlers on leashes at Disneyland, while Alterna-Moms strap their young to their bodies and hike them up mountains."
The book delivers the audacity promised by the title, not as much in regard to raising kids as in the author's learning to take charge of her life. By doing so, Schickel understands - and so does the reader - the internal pain behind her humor. Along the way, we find out that she stashed a marijuana supply in a Play-Doh can - and that her lingering addiction offered another place to hide.
When her parents divorced, "dividing up everything they owned, books, friends - us," and Schickel was sent to boarding school, sisters were separated. She observes how her own daughters experience the love-hate relationship of sisterhood that she missed out on.
Ultimately, Schickel must come to terms with her inability to let others take care of her, that she can't always be the boss of herself. while recovering from foot surgery, she makes us laugh as she mines the fields of her psyche. But sometimes this sounds too much like a therapist explaining why she couldn't let herself heal.
Maybe Schickel thought a clinical tone at certain moments would keep her rich chocolate writing from turning into marshmallow fluff, but she's not that kind of mom - or writer, either. Like a lap dance taken to the peak of arousal, the more poignant scenes could have used that last beat of climax.
Schickel says she at first resisted becoming a writer and went into acting, but "You're Not the Boss of Me" proves she made the right choice. She does her forefathers, uncles and cousins proud.
She's a smart mom, an honest writer and, gradually,a not-so-hard-on-herself boss. And she's still the girlfriend we love to hang out with - we giggle and snort ourselves silly before we can put this book down. -- The Los Angeles Times, January 29, 2007
Now that we can't move a muscle without signaling lifestyle, the literary ground lies thick with parenting memoirs, a dreary subgenre practiced by midlife boomers convinced that they alone have pioneered discovery of the joys and sorrows of raising children in the modern age. Often as not, the memoirist is peddling a full-service parenting philosophy that shows up all other child rearing as false or faulty - and holds out the royalty potential of her or his priceless apercus doubling as self-help manuals. Still, there are exceptions. Like many other tales from modern motherhood, Erika Schickel's "You're Not the Boss of Me: Adventures of a Modern Mom" looks suspiciously like a series of recycled freelance essays cobbled together, just barely, with stitched-on themes, then rushed in to print by a publisher looking to tap into the angst of the overprivileged. We'll forgive her that because she's a frisky, surprising writer, opinionated and blessed with a smart bullshit detector. Schickel, who's in her 40's and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two daughters, comes from a long line of writers, from whom she strenuously sought to differentiate herself by becoming first a sexual and cultural rebel, and then an actress. Before she became a mother, Schickel writes at the end of this disjointed but bracingly candid book, "I had been a svelte, rising actress-about-town." That might be stretching things a bit - IMDb has her guesting for a lot of series television, and she played a shrink in Toxic Avenger, Part II way back in 1989 - but we won't quibble. Childbirth turned Schickel into " healthy, robust, two-hundred-pound postpartum person," the bit parts stopped coming, and her agent fired her on official letterhead. For which we should be grateful, because the howling creative void that ensued caused Schickel, now at home with her kids, to take up her pen and become what she was meant to be, a writer. "You're Not the Boss of Me" mines these essays extensively, and could have done with judicious editorial pruning of her ruminations on her foot surgery, her unlovable cat, the shepher's pie she made for the multicultural potluck at one daughter's school and the sugar cookies she tried to bake for the other's homeroom teacher. Ballast aside, though, Schickel has a singular voice and a point of view untrammeled by current parenting bromides. Her father is the wonderfully cantankerous film critic and book reviewer Richard Schickel, and whether by genetic inheritance or osmosis or both, she inherited from him an unwillingness to be snowed by fashion or cant - as well, perhaps, as a useful truculence born of a childhood scarred by the ugly divorce of her warring parents. Schickel strives dilligenly to be an "alterna-mom" but she has neither time nor stomach for the cloth diapers, the irreproachable but tedious I-messaging of playground mediation, the endless runs to Whole Foods for organic this or that. "I sucked at Alterna-Momming," she writes, "I simply didn't have the conviction required to actually stuff a birthday pinata with raisins and string cheese. I could talk the talk, but I couldn't walk 10 feet in their Birkenstocks... Realizing that I didn't fit in with the Traditional Moms or Alternative Moms, I felt lost, unmoored, alone in my convictions. I was just a Slacker Mom with a guilty conscience." Schickel doesn't heap contempt on either of these two groups, but she rightly skewers the tiresome and self-defeating tendency to theorize everyting a parent does. "Life-stylers rankle me," she writes. "People lacking in imagination about themselves sign up for lifestyles... All these Alterna-Moms would claim to be square pegs, misfits, rebels, and yet there's a feeling of mindless conformity here... I could see these children after a few years of child-centric education; muddy, unable to read, tantruming in the yard, telling their mothers to go fuck themselves, having their every feeling validated, no matter how shitty. It made me shudder." Perhaps because she works at home, Schickel doesn't use her platform, as so many mommy memoirists do, to slag off on traditional mothers who choose not to work. Her own child-rearing habits, like those of her self-selected women friends, are defined by common sense and a practical feel for human limitation. She listens to her kids, but not endlessly. She yells when tired or frustrated (in my book, any mother who says she never yells is either lying through her teeth or headed for early cardiac arrest) and gives them cereal and pancakes front-loaded with sugar. She relies for support and therapy on her girlfriends. Still, no one would accuse Schickel of being a regular mother. When she needs to get out of the house she heads, apparently with the blessing of her husband, to a Westside strip joint for a steamy lap dance. And she copes with the intrinsic boredom of much mothering by slipping out into the yard on a regular basis for a joint. She'll doubtless get a lot of tut-tutting about this in the letters columns, and frankly if I heard this from anybody else I'd be rolling my eyes - there goes another entitled poseur trying to pretend she's not someone's mommy. But Schickel isn't striking attitudes, or playing rebel girl (okay, maybe a little). She's a woman of appetites she's unwilling to give up, but with enough intelligence to figure out that when her marijuana consumption is getting in the way of taking care of her kids (and ruining her skin), it's time to lay off the weed for good. In supple, economical and often very funny prose, she lays out the central dilemma of modern motherhood - that you can love your kids with the deep, dark inchoate love no other relationship offers, and still feel as though you're drowning when you have no escape and no other stable identity to your name. -- The LA Weekly, February 14, 2007
Surfing the wave of mommies-gone-mad memoirs, author Erika Schickel - whose work has appeared in the L.A. Times and BUST - makes a splash with "You're Not the Boss of Me," a collection of fresh, funny vignettes about being a mom and a writer and the problems with trying to maintain both a motherly temperament and a womanly sexuality. In the essay entitled "Journey to Another Girl," previously published in L.A. City Beat, Schickel and a friend leave their children and husbands at home one evening to go to a local strip club, where Schickel's interest is piqued by a dancer with a "Marlene Dietrich meets Mae West" vibe. The lap dance that ensues in both sensual and uncomplicated, leaving the author breathless and wanting more. At the other end of the spectrum is "Bum Wrap," a brief scatalogical inquiry into the joys of potty training. Although she handles her kids' "taupe-colored mole sauce" in stride, Schickel tries everything to get her youngest daughter to wipe herself, dreaming of the day she'll "emerge from the bathroom with a sparkling, self-cleaned anus." In "Fire Escape," the author, a certified pothead who insists that reefer is a defensible parenting aid, rethinks her habit when her kids find her stash, and realizes that quitting might help clear up her "pizza-like" acne. Schickel's unabashed style, and her willingness to scrutinize her own values with self-abasing humor, set this book apart. -- Bust Magazine, Feb/Mar