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reading tiger

Reading Wednesday Belatedly Celebrates Mother's Day

I bought Ayelet Waldman's Bad Mother because of a case of mistaken identity. I mistook her for a different mom-writer with a vaguely similar name, located on the other coast. Ayelet Waldman is local; she is the wife of Michael Chabon and, thus, located at Ground Zero of the Berkeley Parent phenomenon. Even more so, she was briefly Internet-famous for writing an essay saying she loved her husband more than her kids and publishing it in Salon. Heaps of concern-trollish scorn ensued. And so this book was born.

When I purchased Bad Mother, then, I was not one of the folks who was consciously aware of this backstory and hoping for some more juicy bits. I was expecting a light and snarky book that maybe inappropriately wallowed in being a "bad mother" in the way that I express glee at forfeiting Berkeley Parent Points by feeding my kids French fries. You know, bad but not too bad. A mild protest against the impossible social expectations of capital-M (liberal, white, middle-class) motherhood.

I got a lot more than that. Right out of the box, Waldman challenges exactly that kind of Bad Mother Lite posture as the guilt trip coping mechanism it is, and then wrestles with where exactly that guilt trip comes from in the first place. This book is not a structural critique of the institution of motherhood, but it is aware that there *is* a critique and that it is much-needed, and that informs the personal essays that make up the book. In other words, I came for the snark and instead I got a fairly meaty, thoughtful meditation on some personal dimensions to contemporary motherhood. Overall, I was surprised and pleased.

My favorite Berkeley Parent moment in the book was when someone leaned over while in line at somewhere like Arizmendi Pizza and said to Waldman, who was bottle-feeding her infant, "you know, breast is best." And got a weeping meltdown about how her baby was born with a palate defect and *couldn't* nurse in return. Me, I would not have wept. I would have screamed the same content, spittle flying, until someone called the cops.

I particularly appreciated her completely frank discussion of the medical abortion she sought out between her second and third kid, thanks to an amniocentesis that turned up a rare trisomy. It wasn't clear whether the trisomy would cause any problems or not. She aborted anyway. But it wasn't an easy decision and, in a book called "Bad Mother," you can guess the emotions it stirred up.

There is one essay, near the end, that fell flat for me. It was a naive discussion of patriotism and kids from a liberal, post-Obama, pre-Ferguson POV, filled with optimism for the best of what America could be. In the wake of Black Lives Matter et al, it was a little painful and I imagine Waldman probably knows it and regrets it now. That's OK. She was smart enough not to end the book there, so between you and me and the author we'll just pretend it never happened. Or await her follow-up essay. Either way is good.

Meanwhile, my copy of Jessica Hopper's book arrived a day or two ago. It has *gilt edges*. This tickles me enormously.


Wow, that sounds a lot better than what I thought it would be! I too thought it would be that light snark and I'm not interested in that at all: this sounds great.