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.