That's what I was thinking when I crawled out of bed yesterday and saw that I only had one hour to wrap it up before getting to school -- and realized I would need more. It's what I was thinking about when I got to my desk there and turned on my computer and reacquainted myself with the piles of paperwork that need to be ploughed through before the end of the semester. And it's what I was thinking about when I decided to check my Socalmom email account and found this message from Andrea J. Buchanan:
GIRL Blog Book Tour - You're Up!
Just a reminder that you're up on the tour today! Today is the last day of the blog tour -- but if you can't get to it today, I don't mind a few stragglers towards the end of the week.
You know exactly what I was thinking then, right?
I knew May 30 was my day to write about this wonderful book, the third in the series of essay collections by women writers edited by Andi. I remember being relieved that my turn came at the end of the tour -- AFTER our NY trip. And I remember thinking that, since we were flying out on May 26th, I would have a couple of days to write it up. I even toyed with the idea of taking the book with me on the plane and writing my post out in longhand on the flight over (but abandoned that idea because my family would never allow me to do something that requires focus while I'm seated between them for five hours).
Do you think I should have looked at a calendar? And written it down?
Because when I walked into school yesterday morning, my head full of pithy observations about Manhattan, its sights, the food and that New York attitude... I had no idea that yesterday was May 30. I thought it was still the 28th. Or something else with a 2 in front.
But I'm afraid something else is going on here. While I couldn't wait to write down my observations about the last two books, It's a Boy and Literary Mama, I think I've been avoiding this one. Ironic, as this was the book I was most looking forward to reading. After all, I'm the mother of a girl, and when Andi announced she was looking for submissions for these books, I briefly considered writing one. But even though I can blather on and on about topics that can charitably be described as trivial, when it comes to the important things in life: like how I feel about the most profound relationship I've ever had -- the one with my daughter -- I draw a blank. It's there... but frustratingly, I cannot put it into more than a few words.
The women featured in this book don't have that problem. Andi has collected essays from some real powerhouses, including name writers like Joyce Maynard and Jennifer Lauck. As with the previous books, the writing is strong, sometimes funny and often thoughtful. This book is everything I expected it to be...
...and yet, I had a hard time reading it. Well, not reading it, because it's actually a very quick read. But I didn't LOVE it -- not the way I did with "It's a Boy." And that's weird because, as somone pointed out when I was reading the first book, I don't have a boy.
Maybe it was because I received this book at a point when my time was extremely limited. Or maybe it was simply my mood. An anthology should be read in little spurts, when there is time -- not in one big swoop as one does when trying to crank out a review on deadline. In that way, these are perfect books for a mother's lifestyle, as it is difficult to finish any project that requires more than 30 minutes of focus.
Or maybe it goes back to Andi's raison d'etre for creating these books. After giving birth to a girl and becoming pregnant a second time with a baby that turned out to be a boy, she was surprised at the things people would say to her: "Countless people told me how easy boys are; how loving, how sweet, how special, how different from girls -- often, and appallingly, right in front of my three-year-old daughter." I remember when my own sister became pregnant for the third time, after becoming mother to both a boy and a girl -- and that she was a tiny bit disappointed when baby #3 was not a boy. I wondered if she knew something I did not.
While I was reading the essays in this book, it struck me that the tone was somewhat less joyful than the pages of "It's a Boy." And maybe that's why I couldn't relate -- because my relationship with my daughter has been nothing if not joyful. Andi offers a possible explanation for this in her introduction: "But the concerns of writers in It's a Boy were about the otherness of the male gender: What the heck do you do with a boy? It's a Girl writers ask the same question about their daughters, but what prompts it is not the fear of the unknown, but fear of what they know all too well."
She concludes: "Mothering a girl, according to these writers, makes a woman face herself anew, reliving her own experiences growing up as a girl. The mother of a girl must plumb the depths of the girlhood she'd thought she had safely escaped - but this time through the eyes of her daughter, whose experience is necessarily different. The pain and joy of this reliving, the merging of mother and daughter experience, and the bittersweet, inevitable separation between the two, is at the core of mothering a girl -- and at the heart of the essays that make up this book."
So that's the answer: It's not that the women are less joyful. It's just that it's complicated.
That's something I do get. There's a section devoted to the pressure society puts on us to be beautiful and how we navigate that with our daughters. The writers here show pride and ambivalence; In The Most Beautiful Baby - Take Two, Maynard recounts how, when her daughter was a baby, she wrote a tongue-in-cheek article about her being the most beautiful in the world... and how she grew up. Jenny Block confesses to multiple plastic surgeries, which helped her own self-esteem -- and her fear of the example she's set to her own daughter. And there's lots of lament about weight issues. I definitely get that.
I laughed out loud at the contrast between Miriam Peskowitz's feminist upbringing and her daughter's desire to be a Cheerleader: "'And mom, you know, cheering teaches us to spell,' Samira pointed out. 'That makes it good! We can spell Philadelphia - no f's.'"
As with the previous two collections, there are entries here that were very touching. Girl Talk, Suzanne Kamata's tale of raising a deaf daughter in Japan comes to mind. Communication is hard enough when you speak the same language, but Kamata had to learn sign language to help her girl through school -- Japanese sign language. After this and her haunting contribution to "Literary Mama," I am fast becoming a fan of Kamata.
Time is of the essence. I got up at 5:00 a.m. to write this piece. At 6:30, I had to awaken Megan (who needed to finish her homework from last night). I made her breakfast, washed dishes, folded laundry, fed the cats, cleaned their boxes... and then showered and dressed for my own day at school. I've lost my train of thought here -- and at 7:40, must get my daughter and self out the door.
I just reread Passing It On, the concluding essay by Lesley Leyland Field, a beautifully written account of womanhood and motherhood and helping your daughter find her place in the world. I take it back. I felt the joy... and the pride. And I'm looking forward to reading it again, properly, in bits and pieces, so I can take it all in the way I should.