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45 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loving Every Word of It, March 19, 2003
This review is from: Mother Shock: Loving Every (Other) Minute of It (Paperback)
We are a culture that discourages mothers from discussing their doubts, insecurities, fears, and failures as mothers. We want motherhood to seem ordinary, not extraordinary. But to see the heroism in motherhood, we must explode the myth that it is easy and ordinary by acknowledging the dark elements that are part of the whole experience of motherhood. Heroes are recognized as heroic because they do what is difficult, because they venture into the darkness. We need to reveal motherhood in all its shades to counteract what we see in mainstream magazines. Articles like "10 ways to lose the baby weight" and "5 Steps to Making Time for Yourself" trivialize the intense, life-altering heroic adventure that is motherhood. Motherhood is subject worthy of more complex treatment, worthy, even, of literary discussion. MOTHER SHOCK meets this need. I applaud Andi Buchanan's vision, her honesty, her style, and her heroism.
The book is based on an analogy between mother shock and culture shock, which plays out beautifully in the four part structure, with each chapter representing a different stage of mother shock: mother love; mother shock; mother tongue; and mother land. The author defines "mother love" as a honeymoon stage of maternal bliss, "where the newness of the experience is exciting rather than overwhelming." Mother shock, in contrast, is a period when lack of sleep, missing cultural cues, shaky confidence, and unmet expectations combine to create crisis, even postpartum depression. Mother tongue describes a time when mothers become more "acclimated to the routine of living with an infant" and learn to "speak the language." Finally, mother land tells of adjustment to the new role of mother. The journey is worth following.
MOTHER SHOCK is not written in memoir style; rather the individual essays draw from ideas germinated in Buchanan widely syndicated web column, "The Dark Side" on her web site, ... . Quotes and definitions at the beginning of each section set the stage for what follows, and the essays are nicely selected to fit each description. I especially liked that the author didn't stick to chronology. I gained a broader sense of her development as a mother from grouping essays from different time periods together. It made each chapter seem less driven by a "thesis"--to prove this stage of development--and more by a common connecting thread, loosely woven.
In addition, the style is clean, tight, and direct. The pacing is quick, and moves the reader along with grace. The alternating uses of pathos and humor kept me guessing and intrigued, laughing as well as crying. The changes in format, some pieces written in journal style (aka Anne Lamontt), some as lighter, more humorous essays, and some as deeper, more philosophical reflections, helped give the book variety, like a well-made quilt, with parts that harmonize with the whole. The depth of intelligence and insight, too, set this book apart, making it an antidote to the few, careful, personal narrative essays that make it into mainstream magazines in which a mother must face some small failing in herself but in the end, only become a better mother for it. I respect the essays in the book while I don't the ones I read in mainstream magazines because they allow for ambiguity, ambivalence, and complexity. All is not neatly packaged, wrapped up, and prettied up, which makes these essays more literary than journalistic.
Alicia Ostriker says in "A Wild Surmise: Motherhood and Poetry" that "If [we] believe that the activities of motherhood are trivial, tangential to main issues of life, irrelevant to the great themes of literature, [we] should untrain [ourselves]. The training is misogynist, it protects and perpetuates systems of thought and feeling which prefer violence and death to love and birth, and it is a lie." Buchanan debunks the myth that a mother's life is tangential to larger social issues affecting society. She shows us that there are no separate spheres, where mothers and children live protected and safe from the big, bad world. In particular, her essay, "Changed World" explores life as a mother after the events of September 11th, 2001, and "Forgetting" discusses the fear a mother feels as she faces the thought of her child's death. In "The Concert" and "Piano Lessons," Buchanan links motherhood to her career as a professional musician. Buchanan's exploration of the common creative connection in making music and raising children caught my attention as one of the better discussions of the similarities between mothering and art I've seen. In "Zen Mom, Beginner Mom" she shows how the practice of Zen helps and parallels motherhood. Throughout the book, she shows a woman engaged with the great themes of literature through her work as a mother.
I also appreciated the bold honesty with which the author addresses her early desire to suddenly return to her old life without baby in "Giving Birth to Ambivalence." Mothers need to hear this and need to talk about it. Like a good friend who speaks only in truths, MOTHER SHOCK drew me in and offered me a cup of coffee. I felt that I got to sit at the big table with all the other moms, talking of grown up woman things.
Yet, all is not serious. In fact, one of the delights of this book is its humor. "Loving Every (Other) Minute of It" includes a delightful list of what mothers don't love about being mothers. Each line starts with, "I don't love every minute of" and goes to on include such activities as watching Elmo, getting sleep interrupted, doing laundry, singing the Barney song, and picking up blocks. In "I am an Idiot," the author describes her attempt to take her baby to a business lunch meeting, which ended up with "general freaking out and ketchup-flinging on Emi's part and near tears on mine." "A Fine Mess" takes on a study that says higher achieving children come from cleaner homes. And "Fear of the Double Stroller" pokes fun at the author's fear of her work load doubling with another child. All address serious subjects with a lightness of touch that is refreshing and laugh inducing.
Since I became a mother of an active toddler, I don't often find books I can't put down, but I found myself running after my little Sarah with this book in hand. Thank you, Andrea Buchanan for this much-needed book that shows that motherhood can be the subject of literature.
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