Jill Lepore is very bored with all of us

In her critique of two recent parenting memoirs, and parent magazines in general, in the most recent issue of The New Yorker, I can just imagine author Jill Lepore rolling her eyes when she says,

If you’ve ever read a parenting blog, and I don’t say you ought to, you have a good idea what lies at the heart of these books: ersatz confession….Lots of people find this kind of thing winsome, I guess…. But as long as we’re trafficking in unsought revelation, reading these books made me think of nothing so much as traipsing to the playground with a twelve-month-old who merrily toddles off to the sandbox while I, despite hiding behind a newspaper and attempting to appear exactly as approachable as Napoleon Bonaparte, find myself cornered by a stranger: “You have a baby? I have a baby! Doesn’t parenthood beat all?”

Now, I certainly am predisposed to dislike Jill Lepore, dismissive as she is of the parenting blog oeuvre, but seriously: what is she talking about? Is there any mother reading this who is just SO sick of all the friendly parents striking up conversations with her wherever she goes? Because I’m not sure that has ever happened to me. I find the playground horribly boring precisely because it is so anonymous, because while Maddie can have a stare-down with any child of her approximate age and then fall into an amicable sharing of the steering wheel atop the toddler climbing structure, I have never spoken more than a few words to another adult there. I might murmur, “Sorry about that,” as I redirect Maddie from flinging sand at some other kid, but I never get a response, let alone make a friend.

It is precisely that isolation that I think has made parenting blogs so successful. We want to read one another’s experiences, and find common ground, and feel relieved that we’re not the only ones committing each and every parenting transgression highlighted by the magazines in our mailbox each month.

And this is where Ms. Lepore’s critique gets even stranger: she gets into the creation of Parents magazine, and how such titles prey on the increasingly uncertain mothers that they target, and that part of her essay is actually very interesting, and I guess I will even say you should check it out, although it has nothing to do with the ostensible point of her essay: parenting memoirs and why she is so disgusted with them.

I am particularly sensitive on this point because I have, for the last few months, been working on a book of parenting essays for Harper Collins that, God willing, will be on bookshelves by Mother’s Day 2010. This requires an almost ludicrous timetable, but I didn’t know that when they asked me, so I said yes. This is why my blogging has fallen off considerably. I will be back once the book is completed in the fall. Until then, I’m going to be posting here at least once a week, and I hope you will keep reading.

Anyway, I’ve been working my ass off on this book, only to have Ms. Lepore say that she is SOOO bored with books like mine, and who wants to read them anymore? She blows off Ayelet Waldman and Michael Lewis’ latest efforts thusly:

I used to like that conversation. Lately, though, it’s been getting old: all the mothers want forgiveness; all the fathers want applause.

But I don’t think she’s right about that. I think all of us who write about parenting, whether in essays, blogs, Facebook updates, Tweets, or emails to our old friends, are after something much simpler: it is about reaching out from the alienation and guilt that parenting brings us all, and taking the risk of saying, I feel this way. Do you, too? I still want to read those stories. And I hope, by May 2010, there will be a few others like me left as well, no matter what Ms. Lepore thinks.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy July 12, 2009 at 8:53 pm

You're absolutely right, Amy. I started reading a few blogs during my pregnancy because the women who wrote them didn't paint their own pregnancies as a glamorous bliss-fest, and it soothed my turbulent soul to know that I wasn't the only woman that wanted off that particular ride, NOW.

Once I became a mother I kept reading the parenting blogs and essays because they evolved with me. They gave me whatever it was that I so desperately needed at that time: advice, commiseration, or simply an alleviation of the loneliness that giving birth seemed to have brought down on me. It was good to have a companion in motherhood, even if it was just a virtual one that I only got to meet up with in weekly installments.

Now, I mostly read them only because I've gotten to know the writers and their families and I find them entertaining and relaxing after a long day of kid-wrangling. Sometimes they give me things to look forward to, and sometimes it makes me laugh or smile because I can look back on that time in my life and say "yeah, I've been there". But every now and then I find that I still need to know that I am not the only one out there going through whatever it is that is causing my current mommy freakout, and it's good to know that I can always find the kind words and kindred souls out there when I need them most.


Roxane B. Salonen July 13, 2009 at 5:03 am

Amy, first off, I want to encourage you in your memoir writing. I've written a memoir as well, and though it isn't parenting-oriented, I understand the commitment and "pouring out of one's soul" it involves. You will not please everyone so don't try. But I love what you've revealed here. Obviously, there is a reason so many mothers are reaching out in this way. For me, it is a life-giving force to have this exchange, and as a writer, it is a natural way for me to move through what is, many days, very difficult emotionally. I wouldn't worry a moment longer about how others might perceive your work. Just keep plugging away at that thing. I will be delighted to read it, and I hope you will read mine, too, when the time comes. All best, Roxane


Mollie July 13, 2009 at 3:00 pm

I second the what-is-she-talking-about reaction to that particular scenario. On the whole, parents at the playground are anything but friendly, at least in NYC. But I have another WTF reaction, which is: Do you really let your twelve-month-old head to the sandbox alone while you sit somewhere nearby and read the paper? Did you mean to say "five-year-old"? Because if not, those parents who keep bothering you are probably trying to trick you into paying a minimum amount of attention to your infant child, so they can feel better about not doing it for you.


Jeanne July 13, 2009 at 8:37 pm

I agree with Roxane – I think here are a host of reasons why Mom's and people in general read parenting blogs, essay's, memoir's and such. No matter what Ms. Lepore believes or wants, I think there is a natural curiosity in all of us to want to know how others are thinking about our subject of interest or how they are handling our same (or close to same)parenting situations. And why not? What's that saying, now…two heads are better than one? Then why not 1000 "heads". People all over the world have new and interesting idea's, techniques and "way's" – and guess what? I want to know them! Like Roxane said – "lifegiving force to have this exchange"….of course it is! YES! Thats what we do as "a people"….we learn & grow, at least partially, by garnering idea's and such from others. None of us knows all…..but all of us know some, so if people like Ms. Lepore gets bored with this stuff, then fine…step aside. The rest of us who love sharing, laughing and learning will move forward and soar. Too bad she will miss out on some fantastic people and their wonderful views and ideas!


LNeumann July 14, 2009 at 4:20 pm

Well, obviously I'm biased, because I'm here and reading your blog (which I think is great, BTW, can't wait for your book). But, really – what??

Most of the time I take the kids to the playground _hoping_ for some adult conversation, just so I can stop talking about fairies and trucks for a little while. And, yes most of the time parents talk to other parents about – gasp – parenting! Maybe it's different up here in Canada, but usually people are friendly, polite, and not intrusive.

And, I'm with Mollie – you let your 12-month-old sit and eat sand while you read the newspaper? Really?


Marketing Mama July 15, 2009 at 5:34 pm

A few things:

It's awesome you are writing a book and I'll be first in line to buy it. I'll also pimp it on my blog and say I knew you back when.

Second, I totally agree that parents at the playground stick to themselves. I like bringing along friends and their kids so I have someone to talk to (in addition to my lovely children whom I play with dotingly).

Third, I do my DAMN best to smile and say hi to other parents at the playground and have occasionally had good conversations.

Fourth, I find her comment interesting about mothers always seeking forgiveness. What's up with that? Because we always feel guilty? God, I hope my blog doesn't exude that. Yes, it's hard being a mom – no matter what – we all know that. But I don't whine and complain and sound like I need forgiveness for working out of the house or any of my parenting wins or losses – whatever lady. There are a million and three mommy-bloggers out there – I think she needs to keep looking beyond the ones who detail their lunch menu and nap schedule and have something to say.


Nellie July 16, 2009 at 1:14 am

Working mom, so I don't have the park experience and I'm fortunate enough that my hubby accompanies us on the weekends. First, You need to advertise the heck out of this book on this blog! Can't believe you haven't mentioned it before, b/c I will be buying it and I'm sure I will be giving it as gifts to all my mommy friends too! Second, your show needs to come to Houston…lots of us would love a good girls night out.


hayley July 16, 2009 at 1:27 am

Amy, I've never commented on your blog, but have been reading for a little while and now am compelled to.

I totally agree with you. The isolation of having a blended family is what prompted me to start writing my blog (about my blended family) as well as take a break from fiction writing and work on essays about parenting… which, ironically, or not, Parenting magazine just bought one. So I am certainly one of the people that Jill Lepore wouldn't like. Okay, so she'd think I was a dope.

Anyway, I love your blog. I can almost hear the inflection of your son's voice. I'm planning on seeing your show sometime soon… just missed the one in SoHo.


Amy July 17, 2009 at 4:14 pm

aw you guys are the best! Look, eight copies sold already! Time to get back to work… thanks again for the shot in the arm. amy


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